With around a half century behind the video game medium at this point, it's clear that it is taking after other forms of entertainment media in at least one point: no idea that was ever bankable will stay dead forever. Genres wax and wane, creators leave their beloved IPs and return, companies collapse and get bought up by the next ambitious up-and-comer, and franchises thought to be rendered toxic by a low quality installment or five can spring back to life with incredible force. You can't stop this train we're on, even if you wanted to. Like many other genres, point-and-click adventures were declared dead a long while back, a condition which never really stopped them from going about their (substantially reduced) business anyway. It's not that they ceased to be released altogether, but it's certainly arguable that changes had to be made to accommodate survival. If you liked them just fine the way they were? Well, you were out of luck.

When Western gamers talk about "the way they were", they usually mean the adventure games that came from LucasArts during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Maniac Mansion, Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, Loom, and so on. If you weren't there at the time, you may not realize that these were the games that opened the genre up to a lot of people. Accessible, funny, and clever in both writing and design, LucasArts adventures completely reinvented the general wisdom about what an adventure game ought to be. That's what people are usually crying out for, and to the extent that any decent scratch is to be made in point-and-click adventures in the North American market, it must be made in service to that. Telltale Games hit the big time with The Walking Dead, but they never would have survived long enough to make that if they hadn't gotten rolling with new adventures based on Sam & Max and Monkey Island. Doublefine games broke Kickstarter records by promising a new adventure game from some of the people that worked on the LucasArts hits.

At first blush, Thimbleweed Park [$9.99] seems like another one of those affairs. It features some of the big names from the salad days at LucasArts like Ron Gilbert, Gary Winnick, and David Fox among others. It ran a successful Kickstarter campaign that hit all of the necessary buttons. The game's art style evokes Maniac Mansion with its large, expressive faces and jam-packed backgrounds. The pitch for the game actually described it as being "like opening a dusty old desk drawer and finding an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you've never played before". So you're probably expecting the Tales of Monkey Island/Broken Age special here: lots of references to pop culture and the older games, some funny jokes, a heartfelt scene or two to try to pluck the heartstrings, a few fourth-wall breaks to wink at the player, and simplified puzzles that don't get in the way of smooth progress through the story.

You will get that in Thimbleweed Park, at least for a while. You've got a wacky premise that riffs off of Twin Peaks and X-Files, with two agents independently arriving in a weird little town to solve a bizarre murder. It's not hard at all to find one of the game's many references to Guybrush Threepwood and his adventures. It takes all of five minutes for the game to shatter the fourth wall. But it feels a lot like Maniac Mansion, and such things are pretty rare these days, so you keep on playing. After all, LucasArts alumni doing the expected is still better than a lot of what's out there.

The game includes two difficulty modes, and while that's usually little more than an afterthought, you get two very different Thimbleweed Park experiences out of them. The Casual setting really does mean it. Many of the more complex puzzles get cut entirely. Almost every surviving puzzle is dramatically simplified to completely remove any potential friction. Basically, it's about on the level of the puzzle-solving in many of Telltale's post-Walking Dead releases. The missing pieces are quite noticeable at times, as you'll run into many items without a use and situations without resolutions, to say nothing of some conspicuously-placed key items. You get the same story in broad strokes, but the puzzle emphasis is cut down so significantly that it becomes more of a narrative experience than anything else. If that's what you're looking for, it's nice to have the option.

Thimbleweed Park on Hard mode is probably the closest thing I've seen to a classic LucasArts-style adventure in a very long time. It mixes some downright diabolical yet usually fair puzzles with off-the-wall humor, an odd twinge of horror, and an intriguing setting. There is some relief in the form of an in-game hint line you can call and some handy to-do checklists, but you're going to have to put on your adventure game-face to suss out the answer to a few of the late-game puzzles. The game likes to throw in red herring items and multi-step solutions are essentially the norm. Pick up everything, but don't expect to use it all. The art style and SCUMM-like interface help hammer home that nostalgic feeling even more.

But the thing is, Thimbleweed Park isn't what it appears to be. Not completely, anyway. As much as it trades on its nostalgia in a very authentic way, I reject the notion that you would have found this in that dusty LucasArts drawer. This game's riffs and call-backs have a purpose that goes beyond trying to reminisce about the good old days. I can't fully explain this without spoiling too much of the story, but this game has a lot of things to say about nostalgia, adventure games, and pop culture entertainment in general. In a lot of ways, it comes off like an incredibly personal story from its developers. It's coming from a very different place than those 1990s LucasArts adventures. An older place. Perhaps a wiser place. A scarred place in some ways, but so long after the fact that we can take solace in the wounds not being fatal.

This is a weird game that in its entirety isn't going to work for everyone. I'd go so far as to say that the more you like certain bits of it, the less you'll like others. That's a really unusual quality in a video game. I can't even really separate its mechanics and its story, because they are tightly woven together down to the very last puzzle. If you loved the gameplay of Maniac Mansion in particular, you'll probably really enjoy how Thimbleweed Park's multi-character puzzles are put together. You have access to every character rather than having to pick a team, so there isn't quite as much replay value, but the basic outline fits. Some of the puzzles feel quite mean-spirited in the moment, but once you've worked them out you'll probably be kicking yourself. That's about the right feel for a game like this, I'd say.

This iOS version of the game is quite nice. Point-and-click games aren't a new thing for this platform. They tend to take well to touch interfaces, and the same can be said here. I found choosing dialogue to be a little fussy sometimes on the smaller iPhone screen, but that may well just be my sausage fingers acting up again. There are plenty of options, even down to which way the toilet paper sits on the roll in the game's many bathrooms. I didn't encounter any bugs or glitches in my two playthroughs of the game, so it seems solid enough in that respect, too. It's a good port, and I've always felt adventure games make for a good fit for mobile devices. The game makes frequent auto-saves and you can manually save at any time in one of several files, so it's even decent for on-the-go play.

I'm not sure how well my enthusiasm is coming across in my words. I'm still sort of processing the game's story as I write this. I suppose the important thing to say is that I couldn't put Thimbleweed Park down until I finished the whole thing, and while I have some issues with pieces of its narrative and a puzzle or two, I'd still highly recommend the game. Thanks to its difficulty options, I don't even have to add a qualifier on there, but you'll get the most from the game if you have some adventure game experience already. Thimbleweed Park isn't exactly a 1990s LucasArts game in 2017, but it is what a 2017 game would look like from the people that made those games, and I think that's a lot more interesting than just diving for happy memories.

TouchArcade Rating

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  • curtisrshideler

    Nice review! I'm looking forward to this one for this Autumn. If I like it enough, I'll have to pick it up on my Mac too.

  • boydstr

    I am not a fan of the point'n'click genre but the graphics are really atmospheric but my highly anticipated game for now Morphite is coming within 2 days yeahhhhhhhhh

    • Brandon Smith

      have you played games like Day Of The Tentacle?

      I ask because "point and click adventure" has come to mean something very different than what this game is. I dislike modern "point and click"games because they tend to be "pointing and clicking" through some guys pre-determiend story that he wished was a movie, but that he didn't have the money or access to actually make.

      This is a classic adventure game insomuch as there is about 5 minutes of introductory story and then you are in an open world where you can go wherever you want and discover and solve the puzzles is almost any order you wish.

      • boydstr

        Hi, I want to asked something when you write”This is a classic adventure game insomuch as there is about 5 minutes of introductory story and then you are in an open world where you can go wherever you want and discover and solve the puzzles is almost any order you wish”is that your view about Timbleweed Park or do you talk about Day of the Tentacle and how do you steer the character trough the world is it by tap in the level where you want your character to go or with a virtual stick.

      • Brandon Smith

        Only a small bit of introduction and then an open world is my view of both Day Of The Tentacle and Thimbleweed Park. Thimbleweed Park is basically a spiritual sequel to Maniac Mansion and Day Of The Tentacle, so it plays very similarly.

        As for control, I played it on Mac and so I do not quite know how it plays on iOS and Switch. I do believe that you can control your character directly or with arrow keys, however. I think all the old PC adventure games used to support direct control as well as mouse control.

        When I say that I dislike modern point and click games, I mean games like Oxenfree that LOOK like point and click adventure games, but really only exist to tell a linear story with little player involvement other than picking the order in which your characters says things.

      • boydstr

        Thank for the update👍

  • Kahdmus

    Great review, very insightful. Thank you! 🙂

  • NightShadowPT

    This game is amazing. If you even remotely enjoyed LucasFilm games back in the day, you will love Thimbleweed Park. Best adventure I played in decades...

  • sickbigbrother

    Already had bought it for PC but as one of the greatest adventures of the last decade it deserves to be bought twice.

    Also, if you compare Gilbert's Thimbleweed to Schafer's Broken Age it becomes pretty obvious who the real genius behind some of the best Lucas Arts classics was.

    • OrangutanKungfu

      Poor Broken Age. It seems to get ragged on quite a bit, but I really enjoyed it. The puzzles weren't much more than speed bumps -
      although one serpentine solution made me reach for a walkthrough in the end - but it was well constructed, pretty and well voiced. Definitely excited by Thimbleweed Park, though. Only problem is deciding whether to get it on iOS or Switch. Will probably be the former, though.

      • Brandon Smith

        I disagree that Broken Age was a well constructed game. There aren't really any puzzles in Broken Age, and instead, it's more trying to figure out what Tim Schafer is thinking. It's always been the way with him, though.

        I can best sum up my frustration with his game design by the first scene in Full Throttle. The very first "puzzle" in that game is to use your fist on the barkeepers nose ring in order to slam it into the bar and force him to give you information. That's not a puzzle. There is no possible way that you would know to do that. the player isn't using their wits to solve actual challenges that the character's in the story come across, the plater is just trying to figure out what to click on in order to trigger the next scene of Schaefer's script.

        I really liked the story and the art of Broken Age. But I didn't have an ounce of fun playing the game. I wound up watching the last 1/4 on Youtube just because actually PLAYING it was tedious.

      • OrangutanKungfu

        That's fair enough. Thanks for your answer. We're both only stating our opinions. As you say, solving these puzzles often seems to be as much about working out how the game designers think as using your own ingenuity - and that could be applied to adventure games going back to the likes of Zork. I really enjoyed the last quarter of the game, and loved working out the little hexadroid puzzles. The worst puzzles, for me, were the snake, which was just a cruel solution, and the puzzle involving the cupcake, which was obtuse and a little arbitrary - one of those where you just keep using items on different people until you get the right reaction (and there is always a puzzle or two like that in most P&Cs).

  • Mry1975

    Does this work on iPad mini 1?

Thimbleweed Park Reviewed by Shaun Musgrave on . Rating: 5