Nostalgia is a tricky beast. Some creators will use it like bad wallpaper, covering the cracks of their leaky foundation while trying to remind us of the wallpaper in our childhood bedroom as if that would make us ignore what’s underneath. Other creators will use it to enhance the story or characters by dropping us deeper into whatever it is they’ve crafted. Last year’s X-Files reboot was the former, Stranger Things was the latter. Nostalgia can only take you so far, and if the product isn’t good to begin with then nostalgia won’t suddenly make it worth your time.
Thimbleweed Park drips with nostalgia. In fact, they could have called it “Nostalgia: The Game” and I would have nodded and thought it was a good choice. Thimbleweed Park exists solely to remind you of classic point-and-click adventures from the 80’s and 90’s, especially those from LucasArts, but it does it with a deft hand and excellent new mechanisms, making it far more Stranger Things than X-Files. This is nostalgia done right.
Thimbleweed Park begins with a murder and then puts you in the shoes of multiple characters, each with their own motivations. Some are trying to solve the case, some aren’t. Even the ones trying to solve the murder have their own underlying motives for why they’re in Thimbleweed Park in the first place. It all sounds very Twin Peaks, and yet this game is built upon the silliness found in games like The Secret of Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion. Thus, there are plumbers who dress as pigeons, cursed clowns, and a burned down pillow factory which supplied much of the town’s wealth. It’s all deliciously absurd.
You begin the game as agents Ray and Reyes, whose appearance is clearly based on Scully and Mulder, but who can’t really stand each other and each has their own hidden reason for being in the backwater that is Thimbleweed Park. You can switch between the characters freely, with some puzzles requiring you to be in different locales at the same time. You’ll also experience flashbacks which let you play as different characters in the past, characters you’ll eventually meet up with in the present. It’s all incredibly well done, and the fact that you can swap freely between characters adds a depth that wasn’t there when you were simply playing as Guybrush Threepwood.
I really don’t want to spoil any surprises, so I’ll keep the rest of the review as far away from the story as I can. Graphically, the game looks and feels like you’re playing a 90’s point-and-click adventure, all the way down to the cursor which is a huge white crosshair. The voice acting is magnificent, with Agent Ray and her complete and utter ennui being my favorite. The Sheriff is also one of the best characters in the game, but if I told you why I’d spoil the fun.
The game is littered with jokes, both newly conjured and those relying on knowledge of point-and-clicks from days gone by. They don’t all hit the mark, but there are so many that you can forgive the occasional miss. There’s a lot of breaking the fourth wall and winking at the player near the beginning of the game. It’s enough that in my first hour I began to worry if Thimbleweed Park was going to be a one-trick pony. It finds its own way quick enough, however, and references to LucasArts (lovingly called MmucusFlem in game) eventually die down.
As you’d expect in a point-and-click adventure, there are puzzles galore and, like those 90’s titles, you can expect the solutions to be twisted, ridiculous, and maddening enough that you will be pulling your hair out. In other words, they’re just about perfect. For example, at one point you can’t progress in the game without finding a map and, as luck would have it, they’re all sold out at the Quick-e Mart. To get one, you’ll need a bottle, a police scanner, and a copy machine which, as I type it out, makes perfect sense. There’s very few situations in gaming in which you get that “aha!” moment and actually feel good about figuring something out. Point-and-click adventures were full of them, and Thimbleweed Park continues the trend.
Thimbleweed Park is a love letter to a genre that has, for some reason, fallen out of favor. I’ve been playing for hours and hours (no, I still haven’t finished it and there’s no way I’m cheating and looking for hints) and every time I load it up and play, I sit with a dumb grin on my face. If you were never a fan of the classic point-and-click adventures from the 90’s, Thimbleweed Park isn’t for you. There’s nothing here that will change your mind. If, however, you were a fan of those games and have been longing for the good ol’ days, start downloading and prepare yourself for one hell of a ride.