Price: £22.99 Developer: Terrible Toybox Publisher: Terrible Toybox Platform(s): PC
Let’s not beat about the bush, eh? Thimbleweed Park is the new game from Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnack and is deliberately designed to evoke the feel and structure of the classic LucasArts adventure games. This it mostly achieves. From its quirky tone to puzzles that will make your brain drip out of one ear, Thimbleweed Park is a clever facsimile of those iconic titles from the late 80s and early 90s.
Nevertheless, if you lined them all up in an identity parade, you’d probably pick out Thimbleweed Park as the one that did it. Beneath the brightly coloured pixels and oddball characters lies a darker edge, and this works both for and against the game overall. Thimbleweed Park has a considerably deeper story than most LucasArts adventures, a twisting and gripping murder mystery that is far more than a platform for jokes. At the same time, it’s a story that’s less well told than the most notable LucasArts games, lacking the same sharpness and wit that made those games so memorable.
Thimbleweed Park kicks off with a gunshot, a nice visual gag, and a dead body in a river. Dispatched to investigate are “Agents” Ray and Reyes. But both sleuths arrive at the scene with no knowledge of the other’s involvement, and neither seems particularly interested in the murder itself. Indeed, what begins as a straight-up whodunit gradually expands into a broader tale about this strange, dying town and how its fate links to the condemned pillow factory on the fringes of the county.
As an adventure game, Thimbleweed Park’s structure is staunchly traditional, right down to the verb-based interaction system, which has you construct in-game actions out of a verb, an item in your inventory, and an object in the game world. The puzzles mainly involve searching for items and clues, weeding out the red herrings, and finding the appropriate use for the genuine articles. There are a few concessions to modernity. The game lets your right-click to perform context sensitive actions and provides you with a map early in the game that helps you scoot around Thimbleweed County with relative ease.
Thimbleweed Park’s most notable feature is how it lets you control five different characters. Alongside Rey and Reyes, the game puts you in the oversized shoes of Ransome the Insult Clown, afflicted with a gypsy curse so he can never take his makeup off and is bound to the county’s borders. Meanwhile, you can also play as Delores Edmund, niece of Pillow Factory magnate Chuck Edmund, and a game developer for MucusFlem Games (wink wink). Bringing up the rear is Franklin Edmund, Delores’ ghostly father who is scared of his own shadow (or at least he would be if he had one).
While each character has their own story and connection to the murder investigation, the game is surprisingly generous in how it lets you approach its puzzles. Most areas of the map can be explored with most of the characters, although some are prevented from accessing or escaping certain places. The majority of conundrums can also be solved by anyone, while there are several larger scale puzzles that require you to place characters in various locations of the map, then quickly switch between them. For example, you might want to get an NPC to leave a building by making a phone call but also have someone in that location to snoop around while that NPC is gone.