Thimbleweed Park Review
So this is it. This is my goodbye to the point’n’click adventure genre.
Double Fine’s Broken Age disappointed me. It was supposed to be a revival of the genre; in the end it was a watered down, lacklustre mess without a soul.
On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve enjoyed Telltale’s more story-driven and cinematic output. But it is many layers removed from the games that made me a fan of the genre. Sure, there was story and personality, but nary a puzzle to be found. And little pointing’n’clicking involved.
So Ron Gilbert’s return to the genre had me hoping for one last adventure in the vein of Monkey Island, Beneath a Steel Sky, and Broken Sword. Games that were part of my early gamer identity.
And it delivered, when it comes to sharing structure and style with those classics. But it wasn’t all I hoped for. I guess by this point, it’s time to bring out the old cliché: it’s not you, it’s me.
Visually, it’s everything I’ve ever wanted from a retro throwback. A lot of indie games try for the pixel art aesthetic but most come off as cheap knockoffs of gaming’s early beaus. A few — like the object of my previous review, Blaster Master — manage to get the “enhanced” 8-bit presentation right. Almost none do justice to the artwork of the 16-bit / Amiga era.
Thimbleweed Park manages to do this, and then some. If you’re into pixel art, you are in for a treat. From scenery to characters to inventory items to little flourishes like glowing one-pixel fireflies gently swaying over a river, this game is a true homage to the pixel art of yesteryear. It manages to enhance the style of its forebears without moving too far away from them. Sold. Other developers, please take note: this is how you do it.
The puzzles are also up to the standards of Ye Olden Days. They are never obvious, but rarely too obtuse. I’ve had a couple of annoying hiccups, though. In one occasion, I wasted two hours running around looking for an item to advance the plot.
Little did I know that the piece of paper I needed was wedged between the pages of a book I had inspected several times. My failing? I had used the “examine” and “use” commands, and the character claimed the book was useless. Little did I know that I had to “open” the book.
Mea culpa, of course — you “open” a book, that’s the correct verb. But I can’t help but feel that the game is a tad too anal about its verbs. At the very least, the “examine” command should have nudged me in the right direction.
I later found out that this particular puzzle was only present because I had chosen to play in “hard” mode. So, once again, fair enough. I guess many would rather pick the “casual” option to enjoy the lighter puzzles and storytelling.
And this is where my real problem with the game begins. It’s not that well written.
There are copious amounts of character dialogue, and the acting is quite pleasant. But it’s boring filler, for the most part. There are a couple of funny jokes and true wit buried there somewhere, but not enough.
My biggest criticism is that I got to a point where the only reason I was going deeper into the conversation trees was due to the vain hope that there might be a hint buried there that would help me solve the next puzzle. Spoiler alert: there rarely was. It was a chore. When reading dialogue in a character-driven game becomes a chore, that’s a red flag.
The story itself starts in a promising manner. There’s a murder to solve, but it’s soon established that some of the characters have hidden agendas. The problem is that each character’s narrative barely develops past square two.
In fact, near the end of the game, a pretty big narrative twist happens. It’s unexpected, I’ll give it that, but it’s also uninteresting. And it sweeps most of the previously hinted at plot-lines under the rug. They are rushed to completion, or completely done away with.
The final bit of the game feels rushed. It feels as if, running out of time and / or money, the developers were forced to truncate a lot. I wonder if the twist itself didn’t come about as means to a quick conclusion. Either way, it’s a disappointment.
And it is a shame, because a combination of damn near perfect pixel art and endearing voice acting makes Thimbleweed Park a lovable game.
If you mostly care about having some brain-teasing puzzles to solve, and don’t mind stomaching the mediocre writing and unsatisfying narrative, you’ll get your money’s worth.
But if you’re looking to find a story and characters that will make you relive the feeling of point’n’click adventures of old, you’ll be as dissatisfied as me. It has more soul than Double Fine’s Broken Age, but not by much.
Full disclosure, because people have pointed out that they care about these things: I’ve bought Thimbleweed Park on GOG.com with my own monies.