By Adam Riley 11.02.2017
After an extremely successful Kickstarter campaign, Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick's concept of a classic point-and-click adventure for the modern age was given the go ahead to be brought to fruition. Former LucasArts brains teaming up to form a start-up called Terrible Toybox in order to show the world exactly how games of this ilk should be made? Dreams come true for many. With the likes of Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island under their belt, amongst work on many other classics, it is safe to say these guys are well versed in what makes an enjoyable, and amusing, experience. Compared to the competition nowadays, though, how does this new retro project play?
There has been a murder in Thimbleweed Park, and it is up to Detectives Ray and Reyes to get to the bottom of the mystery. Terrible Toybox has crafted a retro-inspired effort for this latest point-and-click adventure, bringing the world something that looks and feels like games from the '80s, but plays far smoother and logically than those earlier efforts ever did, complete with a gripping tale packed to the brim with intrigue and fantastic characterisation, and the chance to play as multiple individuals during the quest - from the two detectives trying to solve a crime, to a young girl living in a mansion that has grand aspirations in life, and even a grumpy clown that gets hit by a curse because of his downright rude ways. During the preview, four of the planned give characters were on offer - with the planned fifth one being a ghost - and whilst the final build will allow for switching between all of them, here it was a case of using the two detectives in tandem, whereas Delores and Ransome had their own separate scenes where they were individually controlled.
In some ways, the adventure not only takes on an old look, it actually still plays 'old' because of its reliance on a verb system of years gone by (Open, Close, Look At, Talk To, and so on), something that was phased out many moons ago because it was so slow and clunky to use. Context-sensitive button control makes so much more sense and avoids the pitfalls of causing frustration thanks to having to work through numerous permutations of verb-inventory item-scenery or verb-inventory item-person. There is nothing more tiresome in this genre than being faced with situations where each object currently being held needs to be used against everything and everyone nearby to find a solution, so add in the extra element of trying things out using different verbs, as well, means Thimbleweed Park treads back into very dangerous waters.
Those waters are only dangerous if the adventure is filled with obtuse puzzles to crack in order to make the story progress, though, and thankfully in the early build tested that certainly was not the case for the majority of the time. Sure, there were inevitable aimless wandering parts, but that was only because this was a ~15% sampler, so certain avenues of exploration were not accessible, but other than the odd outlier, the core puzzles on offer left a very satisfying taste behind, especially those that involved multiple elements to pull off. Want to find a map? Maybe even escape from being trapped underground? How about something as basic as printing off an application form? Well, prepare to be bamboozled by the mastery of Thimbleweed Park's creators - never unfairly flummoxed, more tested to the point of cracking a conundrum and having that fantastic sense of achievement and satisfaction only gained in the cleverest of games. Still, however, the verb system has a habit of slowing things down unnecessarily.
So impressive is Thimbleweed Park that playing in both Casual and Normal mode is recommended, in order to see how intelligently the brainteasers have been adapted for both hardcore point-and-click fans, and those hoping to just enjoy the story without too much headache. There are so many pleasing elements throughout.
Okay, perhaps Detective Reyes voice acting feels a little bit off at times, Ransome the Clown is one of the worst characters to grace a videogame in the past decade (the attempt at humour here, with his constant expletives, totally misses the mark), there is some disappointment in how the two lead characters seem to get the exact same responses from NPCs, and the verb system is one step too far into the past, but there are so many positives levelled at Thimbleweed Park that having anything other than a great time during the adventure is an impossibility.
Thimbleweed Park definitely hits the right notes more often than not, but there are still some reservations about the choice of gameplay system employed and some of the characters. It has extremely smart puzzles, with a stunning soundtrack, and brilliant retro-filled visuals, but the antiquated 'verb' approach rather than context-sensitive pointer style brings about unnecessary frustrations a few too many times. Thankfully, the intelligent puzzles and great storyline outweigh any negatives, wiping away any bad feelings. It will be interesting to see if this holds true in the final release, though. The gut instinct as of now is: yes, it will…