Nostalgia is everywhere you look today. From remakes to remasters to reunions, the past has made it to the present and is filling the void left when a certain piece of media’s credits finished rolling. Thimbleweed Park is an interesting take on nostalgia, because if you were to simply look at this point-and-click adventure game from Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert, you may think it was brought straight from the 1980s or 1990s. While in some cases this can be a double-edged sword, as some of those point-and-click adventure games frustrations were faithfully brought over, the good far outweigh the bad in this fun and rewarding adventure.
Thimbleweed Park starts as many crime dramas have before it, with a murder. Two FBI agents are called in to investigate this crime committed in the quiet town of Thimbleweed Park that proudly states its population of 81 on its city limit sign (which happens to drop to 80 after the murder in a comedic moment). These two agents, who happen to be the first of many playable characters you will encounter throughout your 15-20 hour playthrough, have their own histories and agendas and its up to you to work together to figure out the mystery set before them.
Throughout this adventure, you are tasked with solving puzzles, picking up items, talking with NPCs, and learning the ways of the world. While exploring and solving puzzles, references galore are encountered, and they call back to old LucasArts games, Monkey Island, and much more. In addition, the fourth-wall is broken at times as well, like when the FBI agents commenting that they need to take a photo of the corpse because it will soon start pixelating.
Playing the game is a faithful recreation of the verb-based gameplay known to the genre. At all times, you have access to certain commands like “Open”, “Pick Up”, and “Push”. You use these in combination with items in the game world, such as “Open Gate”, to enact change and complete your goals. It’s fun to experiment with different combinations and doing so showcases the strong writing, humor, and thought put into each carefully crafted pixel of this game.
As for the puzzles themselves, while most are great and offered a great sense of accomplishment on completion, there were still a couple that had me stumped for upwards of an hour. In full honesty, there was one puzzle that I just could not figure out for the life of me and I had to…look up a hint. I know…I know…but the answer was so obtuse and I wasn’t even close to figuring it out. Besides those few frustrating moments, I truly did enjoy myself, and Thimbleweed Park even offers a notepad for each character that keeps a list of the tasks that need to be completed, so that helped me stay on track. I also see this as being great for those who don’t have to play this for review and can take their time with the game. If they don’t play for a week or so, when they come back it will be easier to jump in and know what needs to be done next.
If that last paragraph scared you off, or you feel intimidated by this genre, Thimbleweed Park tries to offer a way for a broader audience to enjoy its story. The game can be played on Casual or Hard mode and while I recommend most people play on Hard mode because that will give you the most complete experience, I appreciate the gesture and thought behind the Casual experience. It allows players to experience the story and humor, without banging their heads against the walls when it comes to puzzles. Certain puzzles and questlines are simply removed from the game to allow for a more streamlined experience for those looking for that type of thing. It’s not a perfect solution, because you will literally miss parts of the game and buildup because content was removed, but the thought behind giving newcomers an easy way into the genre is a noble one.
One of Thimbleweed Park’s biggest strengths are the characters and their interactions with one another. There are some puzzles where multiple characters must work together, sometimes in different locations, to accomplish a shared goal. Each character also receives a map later in the game, and it acts as a fast-travel system and helps with backtracking and exploring areas that may have not been searched thoroughly enough. I enjoyed learning more about these characters, their motivations, and how they interacted with the world.
Playing on the Nintendo Switch was a good experience, though it doesn’t quite attain the precision and feel of a mouse. Using the analog sticks to move around felt floaty and a bit slow, and while there is touch screen support and the use of the L and R buttons and D-pad allow shortcuts to the verbs and items in the world, it didn’t feel as comfortable as I was hoping for. It is by no means a gamebreaker, but I felt it important to note. Controls aside, the Nintendo Switch is a great home for these type of games and the portability makes them shine. Being able to work on a puzzle for a bit, suspend it, and continue during a lunch break at work made the experience just that much more enjoyable.
Thimbleweed Park is a great game from one of the masters of the genre and it deserves a place in your library if you have any fondness of those older titles or love stories and puzzle solving. While the faithful recreation of a point-and-click-style game may have been a brought forward some of the baggage of the past, the good shines through and through. I am still thinking about the story and the characters and am sad my time in this world is over. While the controls can’t quite match a mouse, I strongly recommend giving Thimbleweed Park a try and I’m hopeful this won’t be that last we see of these games. They deserve a place in our medium, and Thimbleweed Park is a great step towards cementing that fact.
Thimbleweed Park for the Nintendo Switch was provided to Marooners’ Rock by Terrible Toybox for review purposes.