Thimbleweed Park Review-a-Reno – PC

For those of you who say adventure gaming is dead I have two words for you – Thimbleweed Park.   For most modern gamers, adventure gaming has devolved into either hidden-object quests on mobile devices or the interactive stories in Telltale games, but take it from me; a person who actually worked for Sierra during the height of adventure gaming; this is how you make and play a “real” adventure game. So, yes; I am a bit biased, and for those of you who don’t share my enthusiasm of historically accurate trips down the memory lane of adventure game design you may want to adjust the score down a point, but I still put forth this is one of the best new adventure games I’ve seen or played since the early 90’s.

I went to work for Sierra back in 1989 just at the time they were moving away from text input and switching to a mouse and icon interface. Text input dated all the way back to games like Zork, where you had to type in endless combinations of verbs and nouns to get things done, and programmers had to account for endless possibilities; even when they didn’t affect the game. LucasArts came up with the brilliant idea of presenting a menu of clickable verbs and by clicking on a word and then on an object in your inventory or a part of the visible environment you could recreate all the fun of a text parser with none of the typing. That is the interface that drives Thimbleweed Park, and it’s just as simple and refreshingly functional as it was back in the late 80’s

Created by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, creators of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion, it’s not surprising this game oozes with all the familiar charm of a classic LucasArts game.   The story is set in 1987 (perhaps to match the retro game design) and follows the classic murder-mystery formula as you play a pair of FBI agents sent to investigate a suspicious murder in the sleepy and creepy town of Thimbleweed Park. Ron and Gary are masters when it comes to crafting an adventure game, and this ranks right up there with their best work.

Neither I nor my $700 video card are big fans of the recent trend of 8-bit and pixel-art game design, but in this case the design is not only topical; it is actually quite beautiful, and after about 15 minutes you won’t look at this game any differently than you would a modern title running in 4K. Despite the low-res look of the game there is a surprisingly amount of detail lurking in the giant pixels. The use of color and lighting is impressive and the entire town of Thimbleweed Park has this creepy Twin Peaks vibe about it, while nearly every person you meet is just as creatively designed and just as creepy including the sheriff…err…coroner…err…whatever-a-who.

From the opening moments of the game to the mind-blowing finale you are totally captivated by the story and the entire cast of characters, five of which are playable. The quality of writing, both in story and dialogue is the stuff awards were made for, and Thimbleweed Park is guaranteed to make you smile until your face hurts. The level of sophisticated and self-referential humor is unparalleled, as in-game characters make quips about a cutscene running too long or the lack of a manual save game system. They even poke fun at Sierra.

Gameplay is your classic adventure formula where you explore every location, pick-up every item you can no matter how seemingly useless, and talk with everyone you meet exhausting all possible branches of the dialogue tree.   In some instances you have the ability to switch between characters, like with Agent Ray and Agent Reyes, but later in the game the plot will bounce you around to other stories like Delores, the aspiring game designer who desperately wants to work for a fictitious version of LucasArts. Her story has one of the most revolutionary moments of realization in the entire game. There is a sequence where you must search a giant library for a single book. This is a three-level library with multiple sections on each and dozens of clickable books per section. Not only did the designers create unique and often humorous titles for these books, you can open each and every one and read two complete facing pages of text – and it’s not gibberish. I’m guessing there are nearly 200 books that somebody took the time to think up titles and write original text for; all for atmosphere and humor. Kudos to the writers who put in this effort and rest assured that I plan to read every last book to honor your creativity. I’m almost done with the first floor.

Controls are delightfully simple thanks to the retro-80’s interface, and while my gaming room is not keyboard and mouse friendly and I prefer to use a controller, this is one of the rare games that can be played with just a mouse and it works even better than a gamepad. The mouse offers faster and more precise cursor movement. Just click to move or double-click to run, while left and right mouse buttons give you instant access to the two most popular verbs without having to click the actual words.

The audio package is outstanding with great music, sound effects and some quality voice acting delivering one of the best funniest scripts of recent memory.   I can’t begin to count the number of laughably quotable lines scattered through the game. Thimbleweed Park invites international adventure gamers to join the fun with subtitles in German, French, Italian, and Spanish.

There is so much I love about Thimbleweed Park, but I can’t really talk about any of it lest I spoil the fun and surprises for you. Younger gamers might enjoy experiencing the type of games their parents played 30 years ago, but this game with all its witty banter and insider jokes is clearly targeting those old enough to have played these classic adventures back in the 80’s. It’s one thing to relive your past playing HD remakes of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle, but there is something surprisingly genuine about playing an original 2017 adventure that was made to look and play like a game created in 1987. Thimbleweed Park is a time-capsule classic; a wonderful achievement in retro game design, and a masterclass of script-writing and storytelling. Mostly, it’s a game you don’t want to miss.

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