App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Thimbleweed Park is a traditional point-and-click adventure game created by one of godfathers of the genre: Ron Gilbert. It takes a ton of cues from classic games from Gilbert's back catalog (e.g. The Secret of Monkey Island) while also providing a lot of modern conveniences and new mechanics, which ends up making the game feel nostalgic without also feeling archaic. While this balancing act is admirable in a lot of ways, it's hard to appreciate considering Thimbleweed Park tells an uninteresting story full of lame gags, underdeveloped characters, and an infuriating sense of self-awareness.
A classic case
Thimbleweed Park–much like most adventure games–is about solving some kind of mystery. In this case, the mystery revolves around a murder in the small, quirky town of Thimbleweed Park, though the game spirals out into something much bigger than that by the end. At the start of the game, you are put in control of a pair of federal agents investigating the crime and working with the local officials and community members to find the culprit.
If you've played older adventure games–particularly ones using the SCUMM engine–Thimbleweed Park's gameplay should feel completely familiar. Players have to interact with their environment by tapping on things, but in doing so they also have to select from a menu of verbs to define their interactions. Using verbs like “Pick up,” “Talk to,” “Open,” “Combine,” and more, players will have to gather evidence, get information from residents, and even solve a few puzzles to push the story forward.
A multi-faceted mystery
Where Thimbleweed Park really shines is how it combines more modern gameplay elements and ideas with its classic look and feel. In older adventure games, players might frequently feel stuck or lost, but a lot of Thimbleweed Park's newer mechanics pretty much eliminate this problem.
It's hard to ever feel like you're out of options in Thimbleweed Park primarily because the game puts you in control of multiple characters. Throughout the course of the game, you can bounce between up to five different people, each of whom has their own sets of motivations and objectives. Conveniently, if you ever need to be reminded of what those motivations and objectives are, each character also keeps with them a list of things to do, so even when returning to the game without a clue of how to move forward, you have a handy resource there to remind you. It's a lot of little things like this that make Thimbleweed Park one of the most approachable point-and-click adventure games out there, particularly for those not familiar with the genre.
Mechanically speaking, Thimbleweed Park is a pretty impressive package, but when it comes to storytelling, the game really struggles. The plot is a meandering mess that doesn't make a ton of sense, and its late game revelations feel like a series of excuses for its shortcomings. Specifically, the game's ending sequence presents a clumsy, unearned twist that feels more like an attempt to cover up production issues than an actual conclusion.
By the end of Thimbleweed Park, there's a ton of unanswered questions, and you don't feel like you've meaningfully discovered anything. You've simply completed checklists provided to you from a set of completely flat characters full of charmless one-liners, and you've received series of poorly constructed and loosely connected plot points in return. To top it off, the game does a ton of fourth-wall breaking to acknowledge all of its poor storytelling as if doing so excuses it as “funny," when it isn't. It's simply infuriating.
The bottom line
In the heyday of adventure games, players would put up with being stuck and pixel-hunting because–in doing so–they could expect to be rewarded with an interesting story and entertaining characters. Thimbleweed Park is a game that provides very elegant solutions to the mechanical problems of traditional adventure games, but then completely fails to provide any sort of satisfying narrative payoff in return. As a result, Thimbleweed Park is easy to play, but extremely hard to enjoy.