Have I ever mentioned I love a good mystery? Maybe it started with my childhood affection for Encyclopedia Brown books, or perhaps even earlier with my adoration of Disney’s The Great Mouse Detective. Whatever the case may be, my fondness for sleuthing didn’t really take hold until I got into the Ace Attorney series. The sorts of bizarre and colorful lateral-thinking puzzles that lie at the core of the many murder mysteries throughout the series clicked with me instantly. So it’s no wonder that when I read in the now defunct Nintendo Power magazine that Shu Takumi, the creator of the Ace Attorney series, was making a new game about an amnesiac ghost trying to solve his own murder, I was immediately intrigued. Read more Ghost TrickThat Was a Thing ›
A few years ago, Gary Winnick and Ron Gilbert wanted to make a spiritual successor to their hit adventure game Maniac Mansion. While many independent developers (and a few bigger studios as well) made their own homages to the point-and-click genre, the prodigal sons had returned to bequeath us with Thimbleweed Park, a love letter to LucasArts games of yore straight from the proverbial source. Initially released in 2017, this tongue-in-cheek hit now finds its way to the Nintendo Switch, perhaps one of the best platforms to play it on.
Set in the distant past (er, 1987), Thimbleweed Park begins with a murder. A body is found in the river of the small Podunk town and two FBI agents are sent to investigate. What follows is a multi-faceted story that takes our protagonists from one end of town to the other in search of clues in a plot that is both funny in a deadpan way and a genuflection of the likes of Twin Peaks or the X-Files. It’s told from multiple points of view, everywhere from a foul-mouthed disrespectful clown to the ghost of an owner of the local pillow factory. The story weaves its way through flashbacks and back in a satisfying manner, bringing plenty of context to what’s truly going on. A nice dash of fourth wall breaking humor and reverent in-jokes round out the package nicely.
Thimbleweed Park stays true to its roots not only in presentation, but in game mechanics as well. If you’ve ever played an adventure game you know the drill: investigate your surroundings, talk to people to infer some clues and use items you’ve picked up to solve puzzles. Rinse, wash, repeat. The game gives you a plethora of ways to maneuver Agents Reyes and Ray and crew that all feel well-suited to the way you want to handle it. Whether with a pro controller or using the touch screen, picking and choosing verbs, inventory or just moving to new locations feel natural. The game also offers both a casual and hard mode, with the differentiator being how many steps it may take to solve a puzzle. Considering there isn’t really a lose state in Thimbleweed Park, it’s worth noting you’ll miss out on a bit of content going with the former option.
For everything Thimbleweed Park has going for it, it does still fall into the trap of being a bit obtuse for its own good, as adventure games are wont to do. For the most part solutions to problems are sensible, it’s just a matter of finding the right item in the right place, which usually requires you to fumble your cursor around each screen until you come upon the magical McGuffin that’ll set the wheels of the game back in motion. Mileage may vary depending on the player and their skill at seeking and finding objects, but you will occasionally get hung up and your patience may wear thin.
Gilbert and Winnick have most definitely channeled their past selves to make Thimbleweed Park the proper descendant Maniac Mansion they’ve been wanting to make. If you’re a fan of SCUMM adventure games, wry humor, plumbers dressed as pigeons and plenty of irreverence we can’t recommend this game enough. If you’re new to the genre and can count on two hands how many times you’ve pointed and clicked in a game…well, we’d recommend Thimbleweed Park as well! It’s intuitive to play, it doesn’t intentionally obfuscate the player and did we mention there’s a couple of plumbers dressed like pigeons? Who doesn’t like pigeons!?