When looking at the achievements list for Thimbleweed Park, you’ll see some interesting things. Notably, you’ll find achievements for collecting specks of dust, the requisite pointless collection item of the game, but more importantly, you’ll also find an achievement for not collecting any of them. I think this is an excellent way to describe Thimbleweed Park. The game commits 100 per cent to everything it does, and there are jokes crawling along every inch of it, even in the achievements list. By the way, I didn’t collect a single speck.
Thimbleweed Park is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign from creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick that amassed over half a million dollars, double what they asked for. Adventure game fans will likely recognize those two names. If not, then know that these two gentlemen were behind some of the best adventure games to come out of LucasArts during their heydey. These are games like Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, and, of course, the Monkey Island series. These games focused on clever writing, inventive puzzles, and genuine humour and Thimbleweed Park emulates this expertly.
Thimbleweed Park is a traditional point-and-click adventure game created by the masters of the genre, but it’s significantly more than that. What you’ll find nestled between the nostalgic pixel graphics is love. Love for games and love for the fans. You don’t have to look far to find it, by every phone you’ll find a phone book filled with backer names and phone numbers that lead to answering machines featuring a recorded message from those backers. There are libraries bursting with books, each with names and excepts written by backers. I could understand thinking that these additions are shortcuts, that they were farming work out to their fans, but the sheer volume and quality of this stuff convinces me that these are nothing short of genuine appreciation.
The game tells the story of a murder investigation in the strange town where the people are eccentric and everything is powered by glowing vacuum tubes. Everyone has their opinions about what went on, but no one seems terribly concerned about the dead body, or the shady sheriff who might also be the coroner. Strange things are a foot in Thimbleweed Park, odd nefarious things.
The whole town is filled with memorable characters, from the Pigeon Brothers plumbers, who are sisters and dressed as pigeons, to the manipulative Chuck, a now deceased inventor and business mogul. All of these character spring to life through expertly written and fully voiced dialogue. There is a total of five playable characters, each with their own baggage, and each with interesting personal stories of their own.
Adventure games, especially old ones, can be intimidating to new players. They have earned a stigma for employing extremely convoluted logic in their puzzles as the main gameplay mechanic. While the puzzles here aren’t simple by any means, problems tend to come around because the player missed something rather than not understanding the puzzle creator’s mind when they decided to use a rubber chicken with a pulley on a zip line (Man, Secret of Monkey Island was weird). For instance, one puzzle near the end of the second chapter had me a bit frustrated. I had thought it out so that all I needed was a nickel to make a copy, but no nickel appeared. I scoured the town, double checked my inventory, and talked to anyone who would talk to me. That’s when I saw the answer literally written on the wall behind a character I was talking to. I felt dumb and smart all at the same time.
Now, as I said, that was a little frustrating, so I can understand someone not wanting to go through such an ordeal. Fear not, for there is a casual mode. If you still want to go on a weird, wild adventure without having to figure out how to make printer toner, you should start in casual with all the story, most of the goofiness, and less of the brain benders than hard mode. It even comes with a free tutorial, as advertised.
Thimbleweed Park is a phenomenal game for fans of witty writing and old school puzzle games. Give it a chance and you’ll find yourself with an exquisitely crafted experience that is as much a love letter to the creators’ previous works as it is for the players. If you would squeal with delight upon finding yourself in a recreation of the house from Maniac Mansion, then you should play this. If none of that made sense to you, you should play it too, for other, less nostalgic reasons.