Being a huge fan of LucasArts point-and-click adventure games, I was on board with Thimbleweed Park from the start. Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, and David Fox of Maniac Mansion fame would once again be working together on a new game in that classic style. Having recently played and beaten the game, I can confirm that this game is everything that a fan of adventure games could ever want. There’s a lot to love about this game, as it is truly belongs in that era (in this case, that’s a good thing). The official statement on the Kickstarter page sums it up perfectly:
“It’s like opening a dusty old desk drawer and finding an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before.”
Recently, a few Kickstarter games, which also had an emphasis on nostalgia and revival, have fallen short of their expectations. The biggest example is Mighty No. 9, which not only faced significant issues with delays, but also failed to live up to the prowess of its spiritual successor, Mega Man. It seemed that Mighty No. 9 lacked the essence of what made Mega Man great and was seen as a failure among fans. Thimbleweed Park is a shining example of how to create a successor to a classic game because it retains all of the core elements while offering something new.
A common problem with Kickstarter games is the turnaround time, which often puts pressure on developers and causes backers to become impatient. This has most noticeably happened with Star Citizen, but Shenmue 3 and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night still seem to be far out as well. None of the aforementioned games are as simple as Thimbleweed Park, but its two year turnaround time is still impressive, especially considering the high quality of the game. The core team also hosted a podcast that regularly gave updates on the state of the game. This was a great way for backers to keep up with the team and get excited about the ideas they would throw around. Everything about the podcast felt modest, which made me feel at ease with what the end product would be. It helps to know that the folks making video games you like are great people.
With all the charm and wit of old school LucasArts point-and-clicks, Thimbleweed Park succeeds in being a worthy successor. It truly feels like a game from that era, with a few refinements that do away with some of the frustrations. There are no dead ends, which allows free exploration of the world without needing to worry about making a mistake. Puzzles, while challenging, are not so obtuse that they nearly force you to use a guide. They rely on logic more than anything else, but still have plenty of head-scratching moments.
Thimbleweed Park is filled with easter eggs and references that fans of the genre will appreciate. There are nods to those who hold a place in their hearts for games like Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. After all, these were very special games. As someone who has a deep appreciation for the point-and-click adventure genre, I loved seeing cameos from the green tentacle and Guybrush Threepwood. The famous mansion is obviously seen here in a reimagination of sorts, but it still gave me a great sense of nostalgia. From the opposite perspective, Thimbleweed Park is such a great standalone representation of the genre and style that it may encourage people to go back and play older titles that they may have missed. Then they can come back to Thimbleweed Park and be able to see where all the easter eggs come from.
Along with the great references, there are excellent rewards for Kickstarter backers, which are a motivation in themselves. Backers at a certain level had the opportunity to record phone messages on an in-game answering machine and write short stories that are featured in the mansion’s library books. Not only is it cool to have your voice and/or writing featured in an adventure game, but it serves as a time capsule. Having listened to a number of the voice messages, they range from people singing songs to talking about current events to leaving messages for loved ones. What a way to preserve your moment in time!
There is a lot of relation to classic LucasArts games in Thimbleweed Park, but the game is its own entity. The new quirky cast of characters aren’t just rehashed versions of fan favorites, but instead compelling protagonists all their own. Delores Edmund in particular embodies everything that is great about adventure games. She’s a young lady who wants to become a game developer at MMucasFlemm (a reference to LucasFilm, where Gilbert, Fox, and Winnick started it all) despite her uncle’s wishes for her to take over the family pillow factory. Franklin, her father, is also a playable character who is his own crazy journey to self-discovery. Delores has become my favorite game character of 2017 thus far, due to her modesty and fun personality. She is a relatable character with big dreams and a lot of heart. Ransome the Clown, on the other hand, is an angry foul-mouthed clown who treats people with a lack of respect. He learns his lesson in the long run, and never ceases to be entertaining with his crude dialogue options.
Thimbleweed Park retains the spirit of old school adventure games, while offering a fresh plate of new ideas. Throughout my time with the game, I laughed and cried with the characters, and felt nostalgia at seeing the wonder in the setting of Thimbleweed Park. To my surprise, it wrapped up in a way that was completely unexpected, but was a wonderful tribute to all things that embody adventure games. Gary Winnick, Ron Gilbert, David Fox and the rest of the team have poured their heart and soul into this game that was funded out of love and nostalgia. The end product is something very special. It’s a true Kickstarter success story.