Thimbleweed Park Xbox One Review

April 25, 2017 by  
Filed under Xbox One, Reviews & Features, Xbox

Publisher: Terrible Toybox  Developer: Terrible Toybox  Genre: Point & Click Adventure  

Players: 1  Age Rating: 12+  Other console/handheld formats: N/A

From Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, two men that had involvement in such classic LucasArts games as Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and Monkey Island, comes this new point and click adventure, Thimbleweed Park, though does it live up to the standards of its predecessors?

You get to play as a ghost, though of all the characters this one could have been put to much better use. You never really get to use all of his available actions.

At the start of the game you play as two FBI agents, Agent Reyes and Agent Rays – their names alone should give you an idea of the type of humour the game is aiming for – both of whom are out to solve the mystery of a dead body, with events taking place in 1987. The game starts out simply enough, with you roaming around, clicking on anything and everything that is interactive or can be picked up or talked to, and along the way meeting some very quirky characters. The start of the game is the best part, with gameplay running fluidly from one puzzle to the next, with each puzzle that is solved making you feel as though you have made a lot of progress. You meet characters, pick up items, work out where to use said items and feel a sense of achievement as you steadily move forward.

Whilst chatting to certain characters, you are introduced to other characters via flashback, characters who are part of a bigger story and who you eventually gain control. You are told about the story of a foul-mouthed clown called Ransome, a geeky computer game programmer called Delores, and her cowardly father Frank. When learning about these characters, you get to control them as you play through their backstory, about how Ransome the clown came to be so disliked and washed-up (and why he can’t take off his makeup), how Delores left behind her legacy of becoming a pillow factory owner and risked her relationship with her uncle to pursue her dream job, and what became of her cowardly father – and why you are playing as him in his ghost form. The introduction of each character is certainly a clever way to incorporate them into the plot and offers some variation in gameplay.

The design of the environments compliment the games quirky nature very well.

Once all characters have been introduced, however, to me the game starts to feel cluttered. You’ll be flipping between each of the five characters as you try to work out what to do, and this can lead to quite a bit of confusion. Some characters will pick up items that another character will need to use, some characters will perform actions that another won’t; there’s a fair amount of back-tracking to be done as you try to work out who needs to be where and for what purpose. It also doesn’t help when each character is picking up a ton of useless items. Of course, point and click adventures are known for their red herrings, though here it felt like there were too many, and once I completed a section it didn’t feel very satisfying knowing that I was still carrying lots of items. As obsessive compulsive as it sounds, there is something very satisfying about working out a puzzle and using all of the items, watching as your inventory slowly becomes empty, though that sense of completion never really reaches a head here.

I also found it odd that you have the use of five characters, and yet when they are on-screen together they can’t talk to one another, only when a character gives another character an item, or during cut-scenes. It would have been nice to have had them interacting a bit more with one another, making them feel like less of a group of strangers and more like a group of people pulled in to a conspiracy who need to work together. I also felt the characters could have been used more efficiently for puzzles – for the most part, you never use more than two characters at a time, and even then it is few and far between. During one puzzle, it looks like you do actually get to use each character at separate locations, used as one to solve a puzzle, but then it turns out only one character actually needs to do all the work. The most they work together is when they open a door. Other than that, each character is part of their own little adventure, though it would have been nice to see them bantering with one another more, building up a rapport and the group dynamic, though what little interaction they have is still amusing enough.

All characters leave their mark, no matter how minor their role. This bank clerk is being harassed by a prank caller.

I unfortunately played the game on casual mode, and even for inexperienced players, I would not recommend you choose this as a lot is taken out of the game and I do feel it has impacted my view. On Hard mode you have the addition of three extra areas to explore, more items to collect (that are actually useful), slightly more interaction between characters and extra cut-scenes, and more puzzles, some of which take longer to solve. I do wish I had started on Hard mode and feel that players will get a much more rewarding experience playing Hard mode straight away.

Despite the gripes though, that’s not to say I didn’t enjoy playing the game, as there is so much more to love. I found the tongue-in-cheek humour and fourth-wall breaking very humorous, as well as the games self-awareness, which is used very effectively here. The characters, both playable and non-playable, all have their own distinctive charm, from the candid diner worker who always tells her assistant to ‘shut up!’ whenever he tries to speak, to the naively optimistic ex-cake shop owner now selling vacuum tubes (and who also gives you the opportunity to rename her shop…), to a gypsy woman who owns a voodoo shop and who shares her passion for shrooms with the Quickie Pay shop clerk. There’s a couple of plumbers dressed as pigeons who keep repeating about ‘the signals’, and there’s also the sheriff, coroner and hotel manager who confuse the two agents as they look one and the same, which the agents are quick to point out. There’s also a character running around in a pizza costume. There’s certainly a slurry of entertaining characters here and with the dead-pan, satirical line delivery from the voice actors, it makes them all the more memorable and likeable. I also enjoyed the throwback to the 80s and 90s, with there being a ton of references to popular culture from that time, from TV, film and games, including games the developers of Thimbleweek Park worked on during those periods.

I also love the graphics of the game. Thimbleweed Park is definitely a love letter to those old-school point and click adventure games, as here the graphics look dated, though of course it is done intentionally. There’s certainly more fluidity to the characters movements, and more detail in the characters and environments, so you are aware it is still a modern day game, though it never fails to invoke a sense of nostalgia as you play thanks to the pixelated style.

The main characters don’t really say much to each other, only through giving items or short cut-scenes. Some more interaction between the main characters would have been welcome, and would have helped to improve their chemistry.

I also very much enjoyed the main plot of the game, which involves finding out what happened to Uncle Chuck, Delores’ uncle, the owner of the pillow factory, who is at the centre of the story. Whilst certain story elements can feel rather inconclusive, leaving you with unanswered questions, the games self-awareness is incorporated into the plot very well, and the game leads to a bittersweet ending, exactly the type of feeling that nostalgia can bring about.

The puzzles in the game do manage to give your brain a work out but are never overly ambiguous in the way that some point and click game puzzles can be (Grim Fandango being one example). There may be times when you have to resort to using a walkthrough, though these are the types of puzzles where you’ll be kicking yourself when you find out what to do, instead of leaving you thinking that you would never have thought to use an item in a particular way.

The town the story takes place in is also fun to explore and even though there is barely  anyone there, it still feels as though it is lived in, with phone books full of numbers and graffiti pertaining to people you hear about but never see. Through certain characters you learn a lot about the town and why it has become so barren, with many of the shops being closed and boarded up, and it all adds to the games sense of history. The length of the game is also generous, averaging at least 11 hours.

Thimbleweed Park is definitely aimed at those who have fond memories of playing those old-school point and click adventures, such as Monkey Island, Zak McKracken, Day of the Tentacle etc. I am not entirely sure the game will appeal to a newer audience though, to those people that missed the glory age of point and click games. Thimbleweed Park is definitely about nostalgia and will appeal mostly to older players’ nostalgic gaming pasts, though it is refreshing to see a game that doesn’t try to pander to a younger audience, one that still manages to capture the magic of past point and click adventure games whilst also feeling modern and up-to-date.