Thimbleweed Park (Wikipedia: “Thimbleweed Park”) is a retro-modern take on the classic graphic adventure game. Made by some of the very people (i.e., Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick) who made Maniac Mansion (among other games), it is set in a run-down town visited by a pair of FBI agents investigating a murder.
Thimbleweed Park definitely shows the experience of the creators and of the art of adventure game design itself. It is a layered story that shifts from the murder to the characters living in and visiting the town. It is a solidly-built game with some head-scratching to puzzle your way through.
The game features two modes of play: hard and casual. I played through on hard first, and I think that’s the way to go. The casual mode is there if you just want to get through the story, but it’s very much a carved-out version of the harder playthrough.
Besides the no-deaths and puzzle dependency methods, each character has a journal or to-do list that helps the player keep track of what’s on the character’s plate at any point in the game. A lot of thought went in to trying to keep gameplay smooth and not let the player feel too stuck or lost, and I can say that I beat the game without getting any hints. That’s a good signal that the game is well made, as my general record for adventure games is that I eventually break down and get at least a few hints before I beat them. (To be fair to me, most of the time I know the solution and only need guidance on some minute detail about where to click or that I needed to do some non-obvious thing first. Like you can’t butter the bread unless you let the butter soften, or you can’t tie your shoes unless you study a knot-tying book first.)
The game was funded via a Kickstarter campaign, and there are some nice in-game contents that reflect those pledges, including the books in the mansion library and the extensive phonebook of Thimbleweed Park. (There are achievements for reading enough books and calling enough answering machines, but even if you don’t go for those it’s worthwhile to spend some time with the backer-contributed content. Some good stuff there. It would have been nice to have an direct interface to browse through them out of game, possibly after beating the game.)
The phone system does play an in-game role as well. The game-related phone numbers (listed in red in the phonebook) are worth jotting down out-of-game, to save the trouble of getting a character to look at the phonebook if you’re focused on a puzzle or goal.
Thimbleweed Park took me about 19 hours to complete, including all achievements. I like adventure games, and I enjoyed this one. Each one has its own quirks and offers a different take on the genre.
Parts of Thimbleweed Park are a comment commenting on the genre and give the player an overview of the process. Ron Gilbert has written a bit about how he sees adventure game development and what he thinks makes a good one (see Grumpy Gamer, Ron Gilbert’s blog), and this game definitely reflects his philosophy of the genre well.
The parts played as a ghost were a high point for me. I think it’s an underrated aspect of games that let you experience foreign perspectives like that. I had a similar feeling in playing Amnesia: Rebirth (where the player-character is a pregnant woman). The character of Ransome the *beeping* Clown was also a fun addition.
If you like adventure games, this one is worth a spin.