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REVIEW / Thimbleweed Park (PC)

 

You may have seen one of those “Top 7 Impossible Adventure Game Puzzle” videos on YouTube, referencing the painstaking process of completing seemingly unrelated and downright weird tasks just to accomplish one objective, e.g. the way that Metal Gear 2 requires you to obtain and hatch an owl egg to fool a guard into thinking that it is nighttime so that a laser fence will be deactivated. I mean, it’s just common sense. These types of puzzles have become the signature of point-and-click adventure games along the lines of Monkey Island and Zork. Weirdly enough, these preposterous puzzles are part of what made the genre so beloved.That’s what creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick were banking on when the Kickstarter for Thimbleweed Park went live late in 2014. It was funded to almost 200% of their original goal when the campaign ended in January of 2015, proving that the fans of the classics are hungry for more.

 

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Set in 1987, Thimbleweed Park first follows two federal agents, Angela Ray and Antonio Reyes, as they investigate a several-days-dead body found floating in the river near the small eponymous town. Although it quickly becomes clear that neither agent is being completely honest about their motives for pursuing the case, it is equally apparent that the locals also have something to hide, and aren’t happy about federal involvement. The game strikes a fine balance between charmingly meta and downright creepy.

As you explore the town and talk to the residents, you find that although the town used to be thriving thanks to the nearby pillow factory, but suffered huge economic downturn when the factory burned down. Most of the town is abandoned buildings, dark alleys, and eerily quiet outskirts, and although it seems to be getting closer to dawn as the game goes on, daybreak never quite arrives. And sometimes, you’ll notice something moving out of the corner of your eye, and realize – an NPC was watching you the whole time.

 

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One really interesting feature is the playable flashbacks that introduce a few new playable characters, Ransome the insult clown, Delores the aspiring game developer, and Franklin the sad-sack murder victim (he’s a ghost now). For those who are averse to walkthroughs and hints, the flashbacks are a nice break since you don’t have to worry about adding every possible object to their inventory JUST IN CASE. It’s also a great chance to get familiar with new areas before the become a part of the main storyline.

True to its spiritual predecessors, some of these puzzles are, shall we say, complex. To be honest, I started in casual mode; but because a lot of the clues from hard mode are still there, I got really confused about how to solve some of the puzzles. I ended up restarting in hard mode after about three hours of gameplay and let me tell you, it ends up being easier. You’re still doing crazy stuff like hunting down a record of theramin music and using radioactive waste to track people through the woods, but if you take the game a bit at a time, things will click.

 

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Now if you try to marathon it, you might end up frustrated and tired and just want to get through the stupid puzzle. (If you want to feel slightly better about yourself when you get to that point, check out this incremental hint guide by the lovely Meghann O’Neill). Make sure to keep an eye out for easter eggs and not-incredibly-subtle references to Monkey Island and other adventure games, as well as just some good old nerd jokes and 80s references sprinkled throughout the dialogue, the background, and even the titles of books in the library.

The ending, which I will not spoil, is SUPER meta and gives very satisfying endings to all of the playable characters. Except for Agent Ray, who I didn’t feel had as many hints about her true motives or goals as Reyes. But I do love how 100% done with everyone’s crap she is, so it didn’t bother me just a whole lot.

 

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Overall, I really enjoyed Thimbleweed Park; it provided a great mystery, a few good creeps without resorting to outright jumpscares, and didn’t take itself too seriously. I recommend it highly to people like my father in law, who was playing text adventures in his college dorm and still remembers the early point-and-clicks fondly. I also recommend it to anyone who likes to brag that they are  “out of the box” thinkers, because I would love to watch your brain implode while trying to solve some of these puzzles.


 

 

This review is based on a retail copy of the game provided by the publisher.

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