You can go home again.
Ignore the fact that you’re playing on a widescreen, flat-panel monitor and Thimbleweed Park actually could’ve come from 1987. The point-and-click adventure game throwback from Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert is as dedicated to its period-perfect presentation – in ways that go deeper than you can possibly imagine – as it is to its traditional item-based puzzle solving. It’s not a comedy like Monkey Island, and its voice cast doesn’t always do the best job of breathing life into the humor that’s there, but its occasional how-far-can-I-take-this conversation trees and densely packed puzzle chains make Thimbleweed as deep and memorable of an adventure game as I’ve played in years.
Thimbleweed clearly enjoys being a 2017 adventure game set 30 years earlier as its Mulder and Scully-esque main characters arrive in town, with different agendas, in order to solve a murder. References to LucasArts and Monkey Island are everywhere – from a “G[uybrush] loves E[laine]” scratched into the hotel elevator panel to an entire subplot about one of Park’s five main characters revolving around a quest to get a job as a “MmucasFlem” adventure game designer. (Don’t worry, Maniac Mansion fans: there are plenty of nods to that classic here as well.) And in typical Gilbert fashion, the fourth wall is broken so many times that it must be made out of the same foam the Kool-Aid Man busted through in 1987 TV commercials.
The meta works, and if you remember the point-and-click era as one littered with pixel hunts and puzzles of questionable logic, Thimbleweed Park not only fails to avoid that, it runs toward it and actively embraces it. Still, it offers a smart modern concession on the genre’s age-old “what do I do now?” problem: to-do lists. Every character has a running list of what they need to accomplish that can be referenced at any time, which serves as a welcome signpost to keep you on track without giving any specific puzzle hints or outright solutions.
It wasn’t enough to keep me from having out reach out to friends for a hint or two. I had the same problems I always have in point-and-clicks: either I didn’t see something I could’ve clicked on, or I just flat-out missed the logic in a puzzle. But most of the time, as ever, walking away and coming back later often gave me the insight I needed to get unstuck from the puzzle bog.
It helps to have so many playable characters. While you might assume that having five people and five inventories to manage could overwhelm you, Thimbleweed Park’s alternative paths are instead welcome, and later puzzles require multiple characters to work together from different locations. For instance, at one point, you’ll need to distract a reporter with one hero remotely, via radio, so the one in the room can get what he/she needs. On that note, every playable Park-er eventually gets a map, which effectively serves as a much-needed fast-travel system.
Even still, I spent over 20 hours unraveling Thimbleweed Park’s mysteries. Of course, some of those were spent wandering in confused frustration, but that’s par for the course in this genre. I should mention that there is a Casual mode, just as Monkey Island 2 had an Easy mode, but it cuts out approximately half of the puzzles and, thus, the gameplay.