While I was wandering around PAX West last year, I kept catching glimpses of a game through crowds of people that looked just like a modern version of Maniac Mansion. I wasn’t ever able to actually play it, but I watched a bunch of it and took note of the name because I knew it was something I wanted to check out. At the time I had no idea that it really was a modern version of Maniac Mansion, made by Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island fame. That game, of course, is Thimbleweed Park.
Jump forward six months and I’m staring at a pixelating corpse as two suspiciously familiar looking FBI agents start to investigate.
I’ll admit, I had some trepidation about the game initially. I’ve tried other “remastered” adventure games that I loved in the 90’s and none of them had quite lived up to the memories. There are just too many things that have changed in game design in the last 20 or 30 years to be able to pretty up the graphics in a game and have it still work.
Within five minutes of starting Thimbleweed Park, I knew this game was going to be different. It may look like Maniac Mansion (but let’s be honest, it looks significantly better, with gorgeous pixel-based graphics that are locked in at 60fps) but it doesn’t play anything like it or any of the other SCUMM based games that came out of LucasArts in the 90’s.
Gone are confusing and opaque puzzles. Instead, you are gently challenged with puzzles that make actual sense and are solvable. Plus, if you get stuck you can always switch to one of the other four characters and work on their storyline for a bit. Movement is fluid and I never felt like my character was awkwardly walking from point A to point B using some unintelligible pathfinding algorithm like you often did in Full Throttle or Grim Fandango. The voice acting is superb and each of the characters has a fantastic and distinct backstory and motivation within the game.
The story is what really makes Thimbleweed Park special. The story starts, as I mentioned, with two FBI agents that have come to the city of Thimbleweed Park to investigate a murder. Luckily, the town’s patron Chuck Edmund is a genius when it comes to tube-based machines and he’s created three crime solving computers that will take the clues you find and tell you who committed the murder.
As you start exploring the town looking for clues, you’ll meet tons of other characters including the three other playable characters: Delores Edmund, the niece of Chuck Edmund who has decided to not take over the Edmund pillow factory and has instead become a video game developer; Franklin Edmund, Claire’s father who died suspiciously and is a ghost in the game and Ransome the *Beep*ing Clown, a foul-mouthed circus performer who is cursed to always wear his makeup and remain in Thimbleweed Park. Each character has their own checklist of tasks that they need to accomplish, many of them by themselves but sometimes with the help of other characters.
The story quickly moves beyond the murder mystery that it starts out as quickly evolves into something much deeper. Even on easy mode, the game will give you ten hours of really fun gameplay, hard mode will add an extra 7-10 hours on top of that. Unfortunately, you can’t switch difficulty levels once you’ve made the choice at the first of the game, so you’ll need to decide how challenged you want to be before you start playing.
Even though I loved this game, there were a couple of things that I didn’t enjoy. Fast traveling isn’t available until after you find a map of the town a couple hours into the game and I didn’t actually realize you could use it to travel everywhere until I was almost done with the game. It also seemed kinda strange that most of the time your characters couldn’t talk to each other, you weren’t even given the option to say hello, which felt very strange when you were on the same screen.
Finally, at the end of the game, each of your characters is given the opportunity to wrap up their quest line. Unfortunately, completing Delores’ quest actually ends the game, regardless of whether or not you have completed the quests for the rest of your characters. In retrospect, she does ask if you are really sure, but not in a way that made me realize that I wouldn’t be able to complete all of the quests. This meant that my game completed with half of my characters quests unfinished. It was still possible to go back and finish them from my last save, but it left me feeling a bit incomplete.
The biggest take away when I finished Thimbleweed Park though was that I really didn’t want it to end, which is probably one of the biggest compliments you can give a game. It’s beautiful, has terrific voice acting and music, a wonderful plot full of colorful and funny characters and maybe most importantly, it made adventure games delightful and wonderful for a modern audience. Go buy it.
Our Recommendation: Buy it
I loved everything about Thimbleweed Park except for a couple of nitpicky details. It’s beautiful, has terrific stories and characters and scratches the 90’s adventure game itch perfectly. Go buy it right now, you won’t be sorry.