Thimbleweed Park: review

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  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PC, Mac
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher:Terrible Toybox
  • Developer: Terrible Toybox
  • Players: 1
  • Site: https://thimbleweedpark.com/
  • Game code provided by PR

It seems that unintentionally, but undeniably, it’s retro review week for us. Monday was the wonderful Snake Pass, which reminds many people of the N64. Yesterday saw us review Yooka-Laylee, whose express mission is to remind people of the N64. And today we have Thimbleweed Park, which was designed to look and act just like a late eighties LucasArts adventure game.

Readers of a certain age will already know exactly what to expect from this game; more or less. For the benefit of younger readers, though (and to clarify a few things) we’ll give a brief summary. It’s a story-rich adventure where, rather than control characters directly, you click on objects and places surrounding said characters to move them around and tell them what to do. For extra retro spice, there are words along the bottom of the screen so you can for example tell your character to “pick up” that “key” you just know you’re going to need further down the line. Adventure game veterans may be disappointed to find that classic messing around such as trying to “pick up” NPCs or “talk to” inanimate objects isn’t possible here, but that’s very much a minor quibble.

Two valves are essential to the healthy operation of the experience’s heart; puzzles, and humour. Puzzles essentially hinge on picking things up that you find and then using them in the right place and/or at the right time, sometimes combining them with other items in your inventory in between. Now, decades-old adventure games are notorious for indiscriminate use of illogical logic, involving complicated puzzle solutions that sometimes make little or no sense to anybody but the game designers who created them. We’re more than happy to report that, while some solutions are definitely more obscure than others, Thimbleweed Park doesn’t suffer from this problem. Everything makes sense in a way that a normal human being can understand. Puzzle-solving has another problem, but we’ll get on to that shortly.

Subtly but importantly, the graphics are actually a little sharper and more detailed than they really would’ve been in 1987.

Humour is everywhere here and as such, if it didn’t work it would have killed the game. So breathe a sigh of relief, because Thimbleweed Park is a funny game. What else would you expect, though, when the driving force is Ron Gilbert of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion fame? Things never get as regularly or ferociously hilarious as the best of the Monkey Island series, but there are still times where you’ll find yourself laughing out loud.

There are multiple playable characters, and you’ll eventually have a total of five that you can switch between. Why? Well, while for the vast majority of the game it doesn’t matter which character you use (and they can give objects to one another, allowing you to stick with your favourite – with one notable exception), there are several times where you’ll have to switch to a specific character. You might find that your current character can’t or won’t enter a certain place, or interact with a certain object. This might sound like it could get annoying, but these instances are so few and far between that it never is.

As for the characters themselves they’re all written well, but it’s a bit of a mixed bag. The acting for characters both playable and non-playable is rather inconsistent, and unfortunately the weakest links are the two federal agents that you initially begin the game with, who deliver their lines in two differing (but uninspiring) monotones. The other three playable characters are played much better though, our favourite combination of dialogue and performance being Ransome. This foul-mouthed clown was featured prominently in pre-release trailers and such, and is probably gifted with the best lines of the script. In terms of both dialogue and delivery, he puts us in mind of a toned-down Doug Stanhope.

Like many classic videogames, there’s a REALLY tall ladder.

We really enjoyed Thimbleweed Park but, the further we progressed, the more imperfections came to light. For one thing the almost constant nods and winks to the audience (an eighties-styled game released in 2017, LucasArts, adventure games in general; that kind of thing) rapidly crumbled from something that we enjoyed into something that we tolerated. Much more troubling was the frustration that could arise from failing to solve a puzzle through, we would argue, no fault of our own. As previously stated, the in-game logic is (99% of the time) perfectly fair and clear. That’s not the problem. The problem is that the nature of the retro, heavily pixellated graphics means that small objects you can pick up or interact with can occasionally be very, very easy to miss. Combine that with the fact that the various places are very far apart from one another (even when you unlock fast-travel to the main locations on the map) and it can be very frustrating to find yourself running to and fro in search of a vital item with no idea where, exactly, you should be looking. There were also two occasions where we got stuck because (we presume) we’d missed a single line of dialogue or “look at” speech that hinted at the next step to take.

The missable object woes can (probably) be sidestepped by playing on ‘casual’ mode, but come on; if you’re hardcore enough to be reading a relatively small blog like Critical Gamer, you’re going to want the full-fat adventure experience. We certainly did, and we enjoyed it, because the bottom line is it’s only frustrating to get stuck in a good adventure game because you really want to see what comes next. As for the story’s conclusion, well… it’s clearly meant to be ‘surreal and clever’, but we found it a little on the ‘overly familiar and self-satisfied’ side. We don’t doubt that some people will love it, though. And even we who moan don’t feel it ruins the game. It would take more than that to sour Thimbleweed Park, a game that answers the question “Have Gilbert and co still got it?” with a “Hell yeah”.

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you'll find something he's written in there. Luke doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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