As huge fans of the classic adventure games made by LucasArts, there were two Kickstarters made by veterans of that company that got us excited. The first, Tim Schafer and Double Fine’s Broken Age, was the most high profile and brought crowdfunding to the public’s attention (for better or worse). It was beautiful with some lovely writing and acting, but wasn’t altogether satisfying. The second, slightly less high profile Kickstarter was Ron Gilbert’s Thimbleweed Park. Whereas Double Fine tried to create an updated, modern adventure game, Gilbert and developer Terrible Toybox have defiantly aimed to create an adventure that could fit neatly in the 80s/90s period of LucasArts between Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. Will it result in a more satisfying game than Broken Age? Let’s see.
The story runs thusly. It’s 1987. Adventure games are on the cusp of revolution, but in the quiet, weird little county/town of Thimbleweed Park there’s a dead body in the local river and two suspicious FBI agents investigating the murder. The town’s been going downhill since local eccentric businessman Chuck Edmund died and his futuristic Pillow Factory burned down, not to mention the fall from grace of local celebrity Ransome The Clown. Nevertheless, something’s very odd in Thimbleweed Park, everyone’s got an ulterior motive, and a dead body might be the least of your problems.
There’s a lot of things that impressed me about Thimbleweed Park, but if I was to use one term to describe the game it would be “fan-pleasing”. Terrible Toybox really bend over backwards to make the game as chock-full of fan-friendly moments as possible, mostly to the 1987-1991 period of LucasFilm Games (nee LucasArts) adventures that the team are best known for but also with numerous references to the likes of The Simpsons and Star Trek. It never gets out of hand like it did in Randal’s Monday, but there were moments when I felt “wow, seriously, another one?”. Then again there are others that’re just great, like how one of the guests at ThimbleCon ’87 cycles between all the game’s developers (Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, David Fox) as you enter and exit the room.
Thimbleweed Park is a decidedly expansive game. It very much feels like a proper direct sequel to Maniac Mansion in that you get the Mansion but now you can explore the entire surrounding area too. Basically you’re just given a general To Do list (which gets updated as you explore and talk to people) and from there you can explore most of the game at will, starting off confined to town in the first two Acts then by Act 3 you have access to the entire county. It sometimes feels too much to process, but at the same time I never, ever felt wanting for something to do. It’s as open-world as 1980s-style point-n-click adventures can possibly get and it’s a credit to Terrible Toybox that I never felt really lost.
For the most part the puzzles are kept fairly simple (but still occasionally tricky), probably as the pretty damn large play area would make anyone’s brain melt if they were even Grim Fandango level of subtle. There weren’t any I didn’t enjoy really and I happily and satisfyingly worked most of them, with the exception of not realising the Quickie Pal had a bathroom. For the most part the simple, direct solution is the best, with thinking definitely required, although there are definitely a few “adventure gamey” puzzles too. For example, an early puzzle required setting a log on fire in a fireplace. The kitchen is next door. The answer is a little silly, especially as there’s an unusable gas hob oven in frame at all times, but no less satisfying.
I do have a couple of actual complaints sadly, although fortunately nothing that spoiled the game or that I couldn’t accept. Firstly I don’t mind that with five playable characters a fair amount of puzzles require multiple characters to solve. The problem is that in Maniac Mansion the characters are all friends with a singular goal: save Sandy, save the world. In Thimbleweed Park though none of the characters know each other, much less trust each other, and each have their own individual goals. Even the two FBI agents kind of hate each other. But they still know each other’s goals through you, the player, and so for example you can tell the ghost character (who none of the others know exist and who knows nothing outside the hotel location) to phone someone he’s never met up and make a heavy-breathing phone call in order to distract them so Agent Reyes (they’ve never met and never will) can steal something. I can accept it, but it kind of breaks the immersion and the storyline a little.
Secondly, and this is also basically nitpicking but I feel it could’ve been handled slightly better (hint: patch), is the way goals and puzzles are spread over Acts. Basically as you progress throughout the game the ‘To Do’ list for each character obviously gains missions, but not all of them can be completed until the next Act. An early goal for example in Act 2 asks the two Agents to talk to suspects Delores and Ransome The Clown, who become additional player characters. It is however impossible to talk to either until Act 3, despite several puzzle solutions requiring them, and Thimbleweed Park does not tell the player this. This continually happens throughout the game and it regularly means that you end up chasing objectives that are actually impossible to complete at the present time, and that’s more than a little annoying. Not game-breakingly annoying since you will never be wanting for things to do, but I just wish Terrible Toybox had made this a little clearer. A note in the notebook would’ve done.
Performance & Graphics
OS: Windows 7 64 Bit Service Pack 1
Processor: Intel Core 2 Duo 2GHz
Memory: 4 GB RAM
Graphics: Intel HD 3000 or better
DirectX: Version 11
Storage: 1 GB available space
Huh, well, if you can run any game more advanced than Ron Gilbert’s previous adventure game (answers in the comments section if you can name it, no not The Cave) you should be able to run Thimbleweed Park. You can even turn off the ultra-fancy transparent verb bar if you want. In general, you’ll be able to run this game.
The early-90s look however belies just how much detail is packed into every scene. At one point I caught the Sheriff dodging round the corner as I came into frame as if he was watching my every move. Ransome’s balloon can be seen on the overhead map. A rat sleeps peacefully in the foreground of the Quickie Pal. Every character has a unique vomiting animation. When you’re playing a living character in the haunted Hotel, ghosts can very subtly be seen in the background of scenes. The animation is simple pixel-art but it’s often really good and with loads of little character quirks. I love everything about how Thimbleweed Park looks.
The plant snaps at you as you walk past it.
Audio / Voice Acting
I was actually quite shocked to discover that Thimbleweed Park had voice acting. If any game could get away with not having VO it’s certainly a throwback to 1980s adventure games. Kudos to Terrible Toybox for going for it, and blow me down, it’s actually quite good. It’s not quite in Telltale or Naughty Dog levels of excellence, but certainly in 90s LucasArts-level and that’s perfectly fine for me. The whole cast do a great job anyway. The music is more subtle and ambient than I was expecting but is still good, I just don’t expect to be using the theme tune as my ringtone like I did with Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle.
I have to mention how much I love the characters, and the dialogue. If you go to adventure games hoping for great examples of both Thimbleweed Park is exactly what you’re after. The protagonists alone are superb. Agent Ray is deeply cynical and sarcastic, so of course I played as her the most. Delores is young, idealistic, wants to be an adventure game developer, and would be the fan favourite character if it wasn’t for Ransome the Clown. Cursed by the town’s resident hex-specialist so he can never take his makeup off, Ransome angrily swears in every sentence and it never stops being funny. It’s hard not to feel sorry for the ghost, but he’s excellent just because all he can do is talk to ghosts, look, zap, chill, blow, and complain.
Agent Reyes is the only weak link really, as most of his dialogue is recycled from Agent Ray but she says it so much more cynically. The rest of the characters are equally great, with the Sheriff being the standout of the NPCs since he’s pretending to be multiple people with different speech quirks. I just wish the Pigeon Brothers were in it more. They’re plumbers and paranormal investigators dressed inexplicably in pigeon suits, and they’re actually sisters.
Before I move on to the verdict I do want to bring up something that massively shocked me (while skirting around spoilers), and that’s the random occurrences. As you explore the town surprising events can happen. For example, I was exploring an area I’d been to a few times before and had picked clean of things to do and suddenly something happened and I lost one of my player characters! Suddenly I had a whole new basically optional mission and set of puzzles just because I wandered into the right place (even though I didn’t need to go there). Something similar would happen again at least once later in the game, and it makes me wonder how many of these random events I missed out on.
Where To Buy
Thimbleweed Park is available on Steam priced $19.99. Never pay more than 20 bucks for a computer game.
THIMBLEWEED PARK VERDICT
After the slight disappointment of Broken Age I’m happy to say that LucasArts veterans doing Kickstarters can still result in a great adventure game. Thimbleweed Park has a few small flaws but nothing that stopped me immensely enjoying myself. This is very much a classic comedy adventure in the LucasArts style, and that’s exactly what I wanted. Don’t expect massive dramatic character arcs but do expect really fun insane characters that you’ll want to spend all your time with, along with funny, silly dialogue that you’ll be quoting for the next 20 years (even if it’s just “Digging!”). The almost open-world design means that even simple puzzles are satisfying to work out, and the ‘To Do’ list is a neat idea to keep things in check. It’s just a shame that the game doesn’t make it clear when you can’t finish off a mission even when it lets you do 80% of it first, and having to use multiple characters to solve puzzles would be fine if they weren’t total strangers who don’t even like each other, and in the ghost’s case don’t even know that he exists.
Small complaints aside, anyone looking for a missing LucasArts adventure from the early 90s needs to play Thimbleweed Park and will be very happy with it. You know, that period filled with the best adventure games ever made from the best adventure game developer ever? Good. Play it.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Walking down the wrong place at the wrong time. Or is that right place at the right time?
Characters are all excellent and well acted, with great dialogue.
Open-world style design means you always have something to do.
Puzzles are never less than satisfying, and rarely so stupid you can't work them out. Perfect, basically.
Some cool random events keep you on your toes.
Why are the player characters working together? They don't even know each other!
Doesn't make it clear when you can't complete puzzles until later.
About Chris J Capel
Chris joined us in 2011 and loves Star Wars, comics and bad videogame movies.