Thursday, September 21, 2017

Review: Thimbleweed Park


Right out of the gate I may as well put up the fact that I’m a big fan of the classic point-and-click PC adventure game genre. While I haven’t played all of the best the genre has to offer I have played my fair share of them. Among my personal favorites are classics from LucasArts like the Monkey Island series and Full Throttle in particular. The mix of unusual characters, ridiculous situations, belly-laugh-inducing humor, and creative problem-solving in these games are what I’d hold up as the gold standard for the genre. After being in a somewhat dormant state for a number of years the classic genre is now roaring back in the form of Thimbleweed Park, and it absolutely shines on the Nintendo Switch!

The basics of the story involve a dead body that has been discovered, prompting two people who call themselves agents (Ray and Reyes who channel a Mulder and Scully look to some degree) to show up on the scene. Starting from their introduction you’ll be challenged to follow a variety of clues, to undertake missions (often in the past) as additional characters that reveal additional elements of the overall story, and to put together a picture of what has happened in this unusual town. As everything progresses you’ll also learn what secrets it seems that just about everyone is hiding.


For those unfamiliar with the genre the game is dictated through pointing at objects or people in the environment and assigning verbs (provided in the lower-left of the screen) to establish actions. For instance, early in the game you’ll need to knock out a light to conceal where you’re going. To do this you’ll need to find a rock, pick it up, and then use the rock on the light to break it. Once you do this a few times it will make sense and then you’ll be off and running. What makes the Switch perhaps the ideal console to play this on is that you have so many options for control and how you want to play. In docked mode you can certainly point the cursor at things using the analog stick, just as you would on other consoles. However, it is in handheld mode that the game truly feels like a perfect match for the system, with touchscreen controls proving to be far more efficient and intuitive for this sort of game.

The absolute highlight of Thimbleweed Park is its humor, and if you don’t find yourself laughing at some of the ridiculous dialogue and situations you encounter you should seek medical attention to have that thing sticking out of your hindquarters looked at. As with anything humorous not all gags will connect with everyone but you can’t deny the developers of the game swing for the fences throughout. From the running jokes involving the sheriff / coroner / hotel manager, to the Pigeon “Brothers” you’ll run into a few times, to quirky things like your growing collection of specks of dust there’s something in the game for everyone. If you’re like me and know your classic adventure games do yourself a favor and be sure to turn on the in-jokes as well to get even more commentary on classic games sprinkled here and there. The main thing to keep in mind when you’re talking to someone is to always be sure to talk about the most unusual options in the list first. I made this mistake only once by picking what could be considered a sensible choice and the game “punished me” by moving on with the story and I had to then choose between losing a little time to go back to a previous save (the game has a great autosave feature, BTW, to make this relatively painless) or lose those dialogue options for good. I went back to my save, of course, I couldn’t believe I had passed up the chance to talk to the sheriff about the health violations at the local diner. Lesson learned and going back was SO worth it!


Getting into what limited issues I see in the game the list is generally short. If you’re looking for something fast-paced and action-oriented obviously you’re barking up the wrong tree here, Thimbleweed Park is meant to be played through at a leisurely pace so you can savor everything it has to offer. As with all adventure games in this genre there will undoubtedly be some puzzles you may find aggravating, or spots where you simply can’t tell what you’re supposed to do. The great news here is that you can get assistance within the game anywhere you can find a phone. The context-based help isn’t foolproof, there are times where you’re amidst enough possibilities that it can’t quite tell what you may want or need to know, but it is a great tool for getting some low-level hints without simply telling you what to do outright... though to a point you can keep asking and it will tell you more. Considering this is a classic Achilles heel for the genre as a whole I really appreciate the effort put into trying to alleviate people’s pain.

While the point-and-click adventure genre flagged and faltered a while back I think it coming back more “lean and mean” in indie form is probably the best way for it to find success again. Thimbleweed Park is simply an excellent game and puts the genre’s best foot forward to help find a new generation of fans. With so many great games on the Switch that ramp up the challenge and tension it is a great move in the opposite direction, providing an experience that you can take your time to walk through and savor… while giggling along the way.


Score: 9

Pros:
  • Delivers a “Best of the genre” overall experience
  • Has a cavalcade of strange and quirky characters to interact and laugh with
  • Providing the options to play both on your TV with a controller or handheld using the touchscreen the Switch may be the ultimate platform for playing the game
  • In-game hints work to overcome the biggest traditional problem in the genre


Cons:
  • Searching everything is necessary but can be tedious
  • Situations where you understand what you need to do but can’t deduce the specific sequence or elements required
  • May not be very funny if you’re dead inside and suck the life out of parties


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