Hands-On Preview: Thimbleweed Park – Hometown Investigations
Defined by classics such as Maniac Mansion, Grim Fandango, Day of the Tentacle, and more (many of which recently remastered and re-released), the point-and-click adventure genre has seen a bit of a resurgence in the eye of the public thanks to developers like Telltale Games, Double Fine Productions, and others lending their hand in creating new works with a classic edge.
Strictly speaking from the 1980’s and 90’s, few stood as tall when it came to creating adventure games like developer Ron Gilbert, the pioneer of titles like the Monkey Island series and the classic Maniac Mansion. Luckily for modern players, Gilbert is at the helm of a new take on the classic adventure game, Thimbleweed Park.
During our time at PAX East 2016, we had the chance to check out a demo of Thimbleweed Park, which comes as a “spiritual successor” to the era of classic adventure games from Gilbert and Gary Winnick (Gilbert’s longtime partner and artist/animator on games like Maniac Mansion and other titles from the era of Lucasfilm Games).
Thimbleweed Park follows five different characters that the player alternates between at their choosing, while investigating the environment with a simple set of commands (such as Open, Pull, Push, Give, etc.) to solve puzzles, open new dialogue options with characters, and more.
In our demo of Thimbleweed, the game started from the perspective of Agent Ray and Reyes (who have more than a passing resemblance to The X-Files‘ Mulder and Scully) investigating an apparent murder in a small US town in 1987. From a water-logged dead body, the player has to use their list of commands to explore the surroundings and uncover new clues and leads by investigating NPCs in the environment.
Meanwhile, in another section of the demo, players alternate to the role of a circus clown named Ransome, who finds himself not only plagued with a terrible curse, but also seeking a way to rid himself of the affliction. From there, the section with Ransome leads to some hilariously droll humor, light puzzle solving, and some unexpected supernatural twists that certainly have me eager to see what else lies ahead.
Just from a first glance, Thimbleweed Park wears its influences and visual inspirations on its sleeve, and not at all in a bad way. From its gameplay influences ripped right from a classic 90’s adventure game and 16-bit visuals, Thimbleweed Park feels like what you expect of a classic point-and-click game — of course, with more modern production value — but in all the right ways with plenty of charm and nostalgic appeal.
In particular, the style and setting of the game takes the best inspirations for its mystery solving and puts them into playable form. Rich in references to classic mystery shows like Twin Peaks and The X-Files, along with more recent hits like True Detective, Thimbleweed Park marks a bit more mature territory for an adventure title, but not without the charm and humor that have defined so many others in the genre.
With a simple interface and charming visuals, Thimbleweed Park comes together through strong, witty writing and a clear desire to push adventure games into a direction that appeals to both hardcore lovers of the genre and gamers that simply want to experience a well-told story. With a particularly sarcastic (but still fun) tone, Thimbleweed Park embraces its numerous visual inspirations, yet still spins its own tale in a bizarre, humorous fashion that kept me wanting to explore and speak to the other characters — not only to continue the investigations, but for glimpse into their oddball lives and view of the in-game events.
As much as the game wears some of its influences on a bit thickly, Thimbleweed Park nevertheless feels like a prime balance of honoring the traditions and language of point-and-click adventure games, but still progressing the genre forward in ways that reflect more modern developments. Aside from the clear visual enhancements of the 16-bit era visual style, Thimbleweed Park also streamlines and revises some of the more egregious quirks of the adventure game genre, such as convoluted, confusing puzzles and unclear objectives.
Though our demo of the game at PAX East was just a small slice of what’s to come from the final experience later this year, Thimbleweed Park nonetheless showed a witty, charming adventure experience that’s sure to delight both admirers of classic adventure game experiences and those looking for a pulpy, comical murder story. The rest of the investigations in Thimbleweed Park remain to be seen with the game’s final release, but I’ll surely be eager to see how the plot thickens in the coming months, and what other wonderful oddities wait in the town of Thimbleweed Park.
Thimbleweed Park will release for Xbox One, PC, Mac, iOS, and Android in June 2016.