A clear majority of adventure games feature a single protagonist. Grim Fandango, The Secret of Monkey Island, or even more recent games such as The Wolf Among Us, all feature one singular character of whom the player can take control of. So, when Ron Gilbert decided to make a comeback within the point-and-click adventure game scene, he decided to not double down, but quintuple-down, and create a game which would feature five playable characters. But as we know, quantity doesn’t always guarantee quality, so in order to find out whether the title in question, Thimbleweed Park, is any good, we’re going to have to dig deeper.

Thimbleweed Park is an old-school point-and-click adventure game, from its skin all the way down to its bone. From the visual façade, all the way down to the core gameplay mechanics, Thimbleweed Park is a game of old. However, the majority of the old-school components of Thimbleweed Park have received a visible face-lift.

Graphically speaking, Thimbleweed Park is much more similar to one of Gilbert’s previous titles, The Secret of Monkey Island, than your average Telltale game. However, the pixelated display has been adjusted to ensure complete clarity of minute features. All in-game characters feature slightly oversized heads to ensure that the player can clearly distinguish which NPC is which, but also, every single character’s chest is his/her largest body part. And due to the oversized nature of characters’ torsos, a higher level of detail is applied to this particular body part.

In addition to the base-graphics, Thimbleweed Park’s UI has also been adapted to modern standards. All in-game text, shading, and core-design of UI elements, is crisp and clear in order to ensure complete clarity of text on various backgrounds. However, if one desires to experience Thimbleweed Park like it was 1990, all the UI elements can be transformed to a retro look within settings, and can be switched on and off at will.

Modernisation of the core elements such as the graphics and UI is a welcome addition. However, the process of general uplifting was not applied to all components of the title. As in order to stay true to its roots, Thimbleweed Park was built upon an archaic controls system with a multitude of functions. In-game, players will have to look at, use, pull, push, and pick things up regularly. And in order to do so, one has to select an action, and then move the cursor to the desired location to complete the action. And within the early stages the controls feel neat – as their quirky, old-school nature adds a layer of complexity to the otherwise simplistic gameplay. But this sensation unfortunately doesn’t last forever.

Within the first couple of chapters, when one is still blinded by the faux nostalgia, the controls system feels great. But after about an hour, the mask slips, and the overly complex system becomes an inconvenience. And once one reaches a point in the title where multiple actions need to be done within a single room, the title begins to grate on one’s nerves. And by the time one reaches the finale, where he/she has to scroll down to either push or use, and interact with eight items, at least 12 times, he/she will simply feel fed up with all the unnecessary steps to such meagre actions. And even if Gilbert and Co were to insist on keeping this system, it should have been simplified, as binding each action to one of the face buttons would make Thimbleweed Park much more enjoyable to play.

The artificial barriers, which are created by the stone age era controls system, are surely disappointing as they can lead to blind fury, especially when one has to hear a description of a door four times in a row, because the standard action is not assigned to opening the door, but to looking at it. But if one wants to complete Thimbleweed Park, he/she will have to get used to it, as there is no way around it. And a lot of unnecessary actions can be skipped by selecting ‘easy’ mode, which removes a lot of needless steps from otherwise over-long puzzles.

Through inclusion of the ‘easy’ mode, Gilbert and Co have ensured that Thimbleweed Park is accessible to all, even the modern, new-wave gamer. And the modernity of the title is further reinforced through the aforementioned multi-character structure of the title. As throughout, players will have a chance to control 5 unique characters, from naive agent Reyes, all the way to Frank the ghost. And what’s the best about having to use five different characters, is that their interactions with the world all vary. As they perceive the world differently, and the world looks at them from a different angle. And it is a joy to simply walk through the titular town of Thimbleweed and just interact with the locals.

The interaction with NPCs is a sure way to keep one invested into the story, but it is not at the core of the title’s plot. And that’s mainly because the title in question has two separate storylines. The primary storyline revolves around the advertised murder mystery, whereas the other concentrates on a sinister secret which the town of Thimbleweed Park stores within its darkest corner. And the ultimate pay-off, which occurs during the completion of the second storyline is satisfying for sure, but the dissonance between the story and gameplay will surely ruin the fun for some.

The core gameplay dynamic, which requires the player to use all the in-game characters in order to complete the title, sure is fun – but to a point. And the point at which it begins to grind on the player is when one realises that there is little-to-no explanation as to why characters such as Ransom the Clown, and the federal agents, are working together, and how one can relay a phone number to the other, while in two opposite corners of the town.

And the dissonance between the player and reason, becomes especially jarring right at the end, where a ghost calls a ‘fan service’ in order to turn off an industrial fan, which allows one of the other characters to pass through it. And it is not just strange, but also lazy. And Thimbleweed Park tries to save face by being self-referential, and constantly breaking the fourth wall, reminding the player that it is just a game. But poor design choices cannot be simply explained by telling the player ‘’it’s just a game, live with it’’, especially after the player is told that Thimbleweed Park, unlike other adventure games, is masterfully crafted, as it has all the components of a successful adventure title, but without the downsides of one.

Ultimately, Thimbleweed Park succeeds at what it tries to achieve. It’s a sharp adventure game full of cutting-edge wit. It keeps one on his/her toes, while ensuring that the fun never stops, and that genre-centric jokes are targeted at the player throughout. However, unlike the adventure titles of old, Thimbleweed Park fails to reach the levels of the Day of The Tentacle, or Grim Fandango, as the world of Thimbleweed Park is simply not as interesting. And despite the satisfying story, the characters which are used to move it forward, in the end feel more like an afterthought. And neither of them is as memorable as Manny Calavera, or Hoagie, and that’s because they’re all lacking the depth and personality which they desperately require in order to establish themselves. And in years’ time, many will likely forget that Thimbleweed Park ever existed, but while it’s here, all should at least give it a chance.



Author

Kamil

My name is Kamil, and I'm the 'Feature Man'. I write news, and reviews just like everybody else, however, feature articles are my true forte. And this is not because I'm another self-centered, pseudo-intellectual games journalist, but because there are many discussion worthy matters which go unnoticed in the flurry of other video-game related articles. If you want to read more of my #HotTakes and #Opinions, or if you simply want to fight me over the internet, you can follow me on Twitter @Kama_Kamilia.