Thimbleweed Park: Welcome to PunTown

Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure game published by Terrible Toybox LTD as well as designed and developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, often recognized for their previous works with LucasArt Games; such as Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. The two admired the charm, simplicity, and innocence of the adventure game genre so much that they wanted to create a game that harkened back to 1987, when adventure games were at their peak. Thus Thimbleweed Park was born.

The story is set in 1987, in a town with a suspicious murder to solve. You start out with two characters to play as, agents Ray and Reyes, who were sent to investigate what is going on in the strange, once affluent but now nearly forgotten town of Thimbleweed Park. Of course, these two opposing personalities have their own interests in the case and soon realize there’s far more to the town than they could have ever imagined.

As the game progresses you unlock more characters, each of which has their own unique personalities and abilities, whether it being savvy with technology or just happening to have access to locations you wouldn’t have access to otherwise. It takes a bit of trial and error as well as logic to figure out who might have unique storyline progressing dialogue with different NPCs, but eventually, you figure it out. This can sometimes lead you to have repeated conversations with some NPCs, particularly when swapping between Ray and Reyes. But this shouldn’t discourage you from trying since it is important to figure things out from various angles.

In fact, one of the key things to remember while playing this game is that each character has their own strengths and weaknesses, whether it be simply having easier access to certain items than others characters or having more knowledge about a specific item or subject. That’s right, that means you’ll have to keep in mind who has what item in their inventory, where you left them and what they can do. Fortunately, each character comes with a “To Do” list of sorts to give you a bit of a hint as what your next steps should be with them and they are capable or trading items with other controllable characters if one has something the other needs.

Thimbleweed Park sparked a sense of nostalgia as I spent my time solving puzzles, going through dialogue and furrowing my brows as I ran my cursor over everything on the screen just to find the one thing I might be missing to solve a puzzle. It reminded me so much of the days when puzzles were the main draw to a game instead of shooting everything in sight, looting without consequence and explosions. Back before people griped about whether some characters facial expressions moved just right, or if the hair looked realistic. It was about the story and you liked it. Heck, even the basic graphics back then seemed amazing to us. It didn’t even occur to us to go online and complain about trivial things. Not that there were that many places to do that then.

You know, back when there weren’t a million YouTube videos and countless guides online showing you how to get things done other than terrible text ones riddled with typos where half the challenge was deciphering the writer’s directions. That’s right young’uns, there was a time where you had to solve puzzles without having the solution a click away! (Does anyone else miss basic text guides though? Where you can CTRL-F to quickly find your answer instead of sitting through the intro of a video and ads? Just me? Okay then…)

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You may spot a few memorable characters in the crowd. Like Green Tentacle,  Nurse Edna, and Dr.Ed to name a few.

 

There’s something appealing to point and click games during lazy day, a game without the sounds of gunshots and explosions flooding your ears every second. The visual simplicity of the pixel art style adds to the game’s charm. Weaved within the storylines are plenty of both blatant and subtle jokes, references, puns and even a few breaches of the fourth wall – which I found quite entertaining. Even the voice acting is well done, adding to the believability of the characters. Ray sounds as if she’s fed up with life, her exasperation clear in every word while Reyes sounds like a nice guy despite his temporary partners’ personality raining on his parade.

One minor issue I had with the game was the inability to skip past certain conversations if I’d heard it before. Mind you, this is a common problem in most games since it’s hard to find the balance between letting people skip dialogue they’ve heard before, and risking them skipping something important. So really, it wasn’t that big of a deal. It’s just one of those things that make you go “Oh crap, I already asked that. I should pay more attention.”

I would have liked a bit more reasoning behind why some of these characters work with each other, particularly when it comes to Ransom, who’s not someone I’d ever describe as a nice and helpful guy. The first time I could control him to hand something to Ray I was wholeheartedly anticipating some bitter commentary from a clown that seems to hate the world, particularly anyone wearing a cheap suit, but he was as silent as a mime instead of his loud and obnoxious self.

Something to keep in mind before you start the game is that If you choose to play on Casual, many of the puzzles are simply taken right out of the game rather than dumbed down or solutions heavily hinted towards, something that can be pretty apparent when you’re expecting something to be a bit more difficult than it is.

Considering the main charm of point-and-clicks is figuring out the puzzles, I’d suggest just going straight to “Hard Mode” and tackling the puzzles head on. That choice is final though, so don’t think you can skirt around difficult puzzles by switching the difficulty modes mid-game.

(PS. The only correct choice is “Toilet Paper Over”. Unless you have a cat, that’s pretty much the only time that “Toilet Paper Under” is an acceptable choice.)

There are a few differences between Thimbleweed Park and the games of old. Your characters can zip along distances faster, you can save at any time and there is even an autosave feature. You’re able to toss inventory items that no longer seem to have any use into the trash with confidence since your character will never toss an item that still has one and your character carries about a tiny checklist so you don’t lose track of what you should be doing. There are no real dead ends and absolutely no chance of death. Well, let’s be clear on that: there’s death but it’s death to move the story along, not to end your game.

I do feel that younger generations would miss out on some of what the game has to offer, particularly when it comes to the jokes that are purely references to previous games, such as Monkey Island or older movies they may not have seen (Note:  The game has been updated to include an option regarding “Annoying In-jokes”, but honestly I’d opt to keep them in. After all,  you can google something if you’re curious and learn something new). Regardless, you can feel the love that was put into the game, whether it be from the carefully chosen music and sound effects,  the characters or that you’d be hard-pressed to find a single frame where there isn’t something extra tossed into it that’s a reference or a joke. Heck, they even included acknowledgments to their Kickstarter backers within the game, talk about appreciation for your fans!

Thimbleweed Park is great for those of my generation that grew up when point and click adventures, such as Day of the Tentacle which is also known as Maniac Mansion II – a favorite of mine. I can still recall the days when I played Heroes Quest, Police Quest and Space Quest, having to use my imagination to give a bit more detail to the pixelated characters. I even remember how I spent one weekend playing Grim Fandango straight through and adoring Manny Calavera and his hilarious sidekick Glottis (that’s right, I haven’t gone completely senile yet.)

For those of us that like a dose of nostalgia, this is the game for you, and it’s reasonably priced at $21.99 Canadian. It’s chalked full with chuckles and I would recommend it for anyone that could appreciate every bit of this charming gem. For those interested, it’s available on Xbox One, Windows, Linux and Mac. It should be available on Android/iOS soon, assuming you’re not reading this review far later than it was released and well then it’ll already be out there. Which then begs the question, why did you wait so long to get the game? Sheesh.

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