I spent a good part of my younger days playing games from the duo of Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, and there is a good chance you did too, assuming you are as old as me, at least. Games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion went a long way towards confirming me as a lifelong gamer, such was the impact that they had in my formative years.
So, when in 2014 the dream team announced that they were going to make a “spiritual successor” to these games and asked for Kickstarter backing, I was seriously tempted to throw a few dollars their way. I didn’t, in the end, but was increasingly excited to see what they would produce. In 2017, they unleashed the finished game onto the world, and more importantly onto my Xbox. It’s this article which is going to have me running a ramble down Memory Lane, stopping to smell the flowers and chatting about my time with Thimbleweed Park. Take a stroll with me, won’t you…
The story of the game was the usual kind of convoluted affair we had come to expect from Gilbert and Winnick. Without saying too much for fear of potential spoilers, Thimbleweed Park revolves around two investigators who are called into town to investigate a murder. Agents Ray and Reyes come into the town of Thimbleweed Park and from there the story spirals into a weird kind of parallel universe, almost, involving a shocking conclusion (remember, no spoilers), ghosts, computer programmers, clowns and a cast of many people, including some truly weird characters. My personal favorite was Ransome the Clown, who was cursed to forever wear his makeup after insulting his audience. Maybe Chris Rock got off lightly at the Oscars?
The first thing to say about Thimbleweed is that the style of it was bang on in regards how the old games played in my memories. The graphics had a very appealing pixel art kind of look, and the way the whole game was designed was based around not only the older games from Gilbert and Winnick’s time at LucasArts, but also around the detective shows such as The X-Files and Twin Peaks, was delightful. The graphics were nicely stylised, the characters were interesting, and even playing as a ghost was quite interesting.
Soundwise, things were also of very high quality, with full voice acting throughout, and this has continued to be built upon post launch, with the characters now able to talk to each other, offering hints about what they should do next in the context of a conversation, for instance. The presentation certainly seemed to meet the goals of the two creators, which is reportedly that they wanted Thimbleweed Park to almost be a lost LucasArts game that had been lying in a vault for years, rediscovered and sent out into the wild.
There was a hint system introduced, which came in after my initial playthroughs of the game, and I have to say that it could have been very useful indeed. See, in true Monkey Island style, it isn’t always obvious what you need to do to advance Thimbleweed’s storyline, with things built along the same lines as the classic titles – a list of verbs on the screen, along with lists of objects and characters. The idea is that you build a sentence that instructs the character you are currently controlling to perform an action.
So, for instance, something along the lines of “Use Coin on phonebox” or commands along those lines, although they could be a bit more complicated if required. Quite often I remember hitting a seeming dead end, and frantically kept trying to use everything on everything else until I accidentally stumbled across the correct combination to allow me to continue. Of course, these days with the advent of the World Wide Interweb, finding help with any section of almost any game is only a Youtube search away, but I really tried to beat this game on my own the first time.
After that, it was fair game, and it did turn out that I had missed some sections of the game entirely, so like the old days, multiple playthroughs are rewarded. Being able to swap between characters on the fly was also a nice touch, as if you couldn’t advance with one person, sometimes the answer would lay with moving a different character down the story path until progress again became possible.
Playing as all the characters, exploring the (frankly bonkers) storyline – which is killing me not to reveal – and finding all the little nods to popular detective fiction was a lot of fun when Thimbleweed Park released back in 2017.
But what about you guys out there? Did you play this game when it released? Were you a fan of Gilbert and Winnick from back in the day? Have my scribblings piqued your interest and now made you want to give it a try? Let us know in the comments!
You’ll find Thimbleweed Park available to play on Xbox One and Xbox Series X|S from the Xbox Store. It’s also on PlayStation, Switch, PC and mobile devices.