As a kid who grew up in the 1980s I was able to witness the birth of the video game industry. With it came a wide spectrum of new and innovative ideas, some of which would form the foundation of the very same genres we play today. Completely by chance my Grandma, of all people, introduced me to the graphic adventure style of games. She was always into games, whether they be solitaire, or crossword puzzles, or even various computer programs. One summer day she gave me a call saying she needed help with a new game she checked out from the library and wanted to know if I could come over and help her figure it out. I immediately got on my bike (was only 13 at the time) and rode over to assist her. Sure enough, she was stuck outside this mansion with no way to open the locked door. The game? Maniac Mansion. I asked her if she had looked under the welcome mat, because that’s where everyone hides their keys, right? She hadn’t so I slowly move the on-screen cursor to select the mat and pick it up and there was the key! I was immediately hooked.
From there my love for adventure games spread wide and far. From Zork to King’s Quest to Shadowgate, I had an insatiable appetite for puzzle solving and adventuring. Despite being incredibly popular in the ‘80s and early ‘90s, the genre sort of faded away. Street Fighter II and Mortal Kombat captured the attention of gamers and that gave away to first person shooters and the like. Eventually history tends to repeat itself and what’s old is new again, and that’s where we are with Thimbleweed Park! It’s a graphic point and click adventure game from the creators of Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island. It was Kickstarted for PC (disclaimer: I paid a $15 donation to get the game funded) and now it’s finally on the Nintendo Switch. Does a game that looks like it was ripped out of the late ‘80s still work in today’s gaming environment? I’d say so! In fact, it’s a nice change of pace from what we usually get on consoles.
As is central with any graphic adventure game, the story has to be good and entertaining to keep a player’s attention. Thimbleweed Park features the same crazy humor and strangeness that was found in Maniac Mansion, and it holds up fairly well today. Obviously comedy is a hard thing to nail and not everyone finds the same things funny, but for someone like me who has played through Maniac Mansion countless times I found it to be very entertaining. The premise is rather simple. You play two FBI agents who are called in to investigate a murder in the small town of Thimbleweed Park. They just happen to sort of resemble Mulder and Scully from the X-Files. Yes, there are references to that show and Twin Peaks, among many others. In fact, if you’ve played the old LucasArts games, there are plenty of in-jokes for you to chuckle over.
Like Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, you control multiple characters in this game. You can alternate between them on the fly, and often they will need to be in separate locations to solve puzzles. You’ll come across a ton of different items in the game, and you’ll want to pick up everything you can. There most likely will be a use for each one, and you’ll have to figure out when and where to use them. Don’t worry though, unlike some of the harsher adventure games from the past, you really can’t make a wrong move here. The gameplay mechanics are ripped right out of the system used for the prior games, with you controlling a cursor and clicking verbs and objects to make a command. For example, you can click on “Open” and then click the “Bottle” icon in your inventory to open the bottle. While this may seem cumbersome at first, it actually works rather well and the Switch version features some shortcuts to make it even faster to issue commands. You can use the touchscreen to simply tap the items if you’re in handheld mode. Otherwise you can utilize the ZL and ZR triggers to swap characters or the L and R shoulder buttons to highlight hotspot items. The D-Pad also will allow you to quickly move the cursor to various verbs. This all flows very naturally after you’ve spent a little time with the game.
The graphics are supposed to look like a game out of the late ‘80s. For the most part they suffice, although I think the text could have been high resolution and no one would have complained. As it is, some things are a bit too pixelated for my tastes, but it definitely exudes an old-school aesthetic. More colors are definitely used on the screen at once, which gives the game a nice coat of paint, but overall the game won’t win any awards in the graphics department. I do wish the developers had included a mode for upgraded graphics, like we saw with the recent remake of Full Throttle.
Audio fares a bit better. The game’s soundtrack fits right in with the time period (1987) and unlike the original Maniac Mansion, the characters are fully voiced. We saw this become standard with later games like Day of the Tentacle, and for the most part Thimbleweed Park sounds like it could have been recorded from that time period. In other words, the voice actors don’t sound anywhere near as good as today’s games do. In fact, they almost deadpan their deliveries so much that at times I winced. It does fit the game’s retro look and feel, but I think higher quality voice work would have benefited the game in the long run. It’s not horrible, but it’s not great.
These types of games live or die by the stories they tell and the puzzles they present. Thankfully both aspects are well represented here. The story is very entertaining with lots of twists and turns. I grew to like the main characters, although some of the secondary ones really tested my nerves (I’m looking at you Sherriff-ino). Others, like Ransome the clown, were fantastic and I really enjoyed the various characters I’d come across. The puzzles in the game were also pretty elaborate affairs. They required some serious thought and a lot of trial and error in a couple of areas. There’s an easy or hard mode in the game, which will determine how many puzzles you’ll need to solve. If you’re familiar with this type of game I’d suggest the hard mode to get the full spectrum of what the game has to offer.
In the end, Thimbleweed Park delivered pretty much what I was yearning for: a return to the classic point and click adventure game genre. The humor didn’t always click with me, but for the most part it delivered an entertaining story and I thoroughly enjoyed my time with the game. If you’ve never played one of these games before, I’d say this is a great title to test the waters. The Switch port is very nicely done and is one of the few games that might be better in portable mode because the pixels aren’t so blown up and the touchscreen controls are just more intuitive. Overall, a solid effort and another unique game to add to your Switch library!
Thimbleweed Park Review
- Graphics - 7/107/10
- Sound - 7.5/107.5/10
- Gameplay - 8.5/108.5/10
- Lasting Appeal - 8/108/10
Final Thoughts: GREAT
Graphic adventure games are seeing a renaissance, so who better to bring them back from the dead than the creators of Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island? Thimbleweed Park feels like a lost game from that era that has finally been found. It’s filled with zany antics, mysterious characters, and devious puzzles. A great Switch game to play on the go!