From Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, creators of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, comes a new murder-mystery adventure titled Thimbleweed Park. Fans of point-and-click games have been eagerly awaiting its release since the Kickstarter launched in 2014, and the time has finally come to see if it lives up to the hype.
Join me, won’t you, as I see just how deep this rabbit hole goes?
Our tale begins in 1987, as two federal agents descend on the small town of Thimbleweed Park to investigate a murder. Right off the bat, things seem “off” about the town. Imagine a Twin Peaks-esque setting, sprinkled with a bit of Monkey Island and topped off with characters who are slightly creepy, but likeable nonetheless. For instance, the town sheriff ends many words with “a-rino” and bears a striking resemblance to the coroner, who uses futuristic machines to help match fingerprints, blood samples and photos to the deceased. They seem innocent enough on the surface, but their physical appearances are so similar that the agents call them out on it. They insist they’re not the same person, but it’s pretty obvious they are. Strange…
Exploring town, the weirdness continues. Why are there vacuum tubes powering everything from fire hydrants to toilets? There’s even a former bakery in town that now deals exclusively in vacuum tubes. And then there’s the wacky Pigeon Brothers (who are actually sisters) that keep saying “The signals are strong tonight…”. Oh, and they’re also the town’s plumbers.
So….just what is the importance of these “signals”? And why the pigeon suits? More importantly, who killed the guy down by the river, and why? There are definitely more questions than answers in Thimbleweed Park, and as silly as it all is, it’s quite entertaining to unravel all the mysteries.
During the investigation, agents Ray and Reyes meet more locals, three of which become controllable characters as the story progresses. Players are introduced to Ransome the foul-mouthed insult clown, a young female game developer named Delores, and a ghost eager to tie up loose ends and escape to the afterlife. Each character has his or her own motivations for finding the truth behind a bigger secret surrounding a suspicious fire at Thimbleweed Park’s Pillow Factory.
So not only is there a murder to solve, but there’s also a dark town secret to uncover. Who knew there could be so much drama surrounding pillow manufacturing?
Players will frequently have to switch between characters to solve puzzles and advance the story, but it never feels choresome or overly difficult. The majority of the puzzles are logical and there are so many other things to enjoy along the way, like browsing through the bookstore – spend some extra time looking around and I guarantee you’ll laugh out loud at the book titles!
Those who grew up during the glory days of Sierra and LucasArts will be right at home. Thimbleweed Park sports a UI very similar to Maniac Mansion, with a series of verbs to click on followed by a clickable object to interact with. If you’re new to these types of games, it’s super easy to learn and really only requires clicking the mouse on different parts of the screen. The game provides a decent tutorial system to familiarize yourself with the interface if you should need help.
There’s a casual difficulty option which features slightly less complex puzzles. A harder mode is also available for those who enjoy more of a challenge, or just want a slightly different experience on a second (or third, or fourth) playthrough. You can even choose whether the roll of toilet paper is “over” or “under”. How awesome is that?!
Steve Kirk composed the sounds for Thimbleweed Park, and he did a fantastic job creating music and soundscapes for a pretty bizarre world. It fits the mood perfectly.
Thimbleweed Park is a brilliant love letter to classic adventure games, and it’s a reminder that if something isn’t broke, don’t fix it. I absolutely loved everything about it from start to finish. The characters are witty and likeable, the music and voice acting are top notch, the story has twists and turns that kept me guessing, the puzzles are fun and logical (well, as logical as anything can be in Thimbleweed Park) and the references to a classic era of video games are numerous.
In other words, it has all the ingredients of a classic adventure game that will likely be on top 10 lists for years to come. The story is a dark murder mystery at it’s core, but at the same time, there are more than a few laugh out loud moments. That’s sometimes a hard formula to get right, but Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick nailed it.
In fact, if I had to choose one thing I was a bit put off by, it would be that Ransome’s insult jokes were maybe a bit too…..insulting. I mean, I really don’t want to make fun of the kid in the wheelchair, or say awful things to the elderly woman, I really don’t! Maybe I’m just too nice.
Of course, that’s all subjective. It just goes to show how great the narrative is and how much I became involved with Thimbleweed Park’s strange but lovable residents. If you want a memorable gaming experience, this is not one to miss. In fact, I’ll even go so far to say it’s Game of the Year material!
Thimbleweed Park is available now for $19.99 and is worth every penny. Pick it up on Steam or Xbox One. PlayStation 4 owners will have to wait a bit longer, but don’t worry – a release is coming later this year.
Just remember, “The Signals are Strong Tonight!”