FBT points and clicks his way to disappointment
I feel terrible disliking Thimbleweed Park - because it’s really good. It’s a beautiful, elegant, clever, loving return to the games that I hold most dear – that late 80s-early 90s point and click adventure era of LucasArts, Revolution Studios, Trilobite, where games couldn’t get any better – and haven’t. Which is the problem with Thimbleweed Park.
FBI Agents (or are they?) Reyes and Ray arrive in Thimbleweed Park to investigate a body. Their investigation leads them to people who stood to gain from the death of local industrialist and Pillow maker, Chuck, but the evidence points to a local drunk – case closed. Only, the ‘agents’ return separately, revealing they each have ulterior motives for investigating the crime, and become caught up in the town’s secrets and suspect’s stories.
As I *click* on *click* to progress through a game produced by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, the Gods of LucasArts, I’m in pixelated clover. This is the purest, most innocent return. But eventually all it does is remind you why we don’t do this anymore.
This is a hipster game, for those who still run games on an A-Drive floppy because they play better. It’s just a little too retro. Reaching a door and having to click ‘open’ then on the door is just tiresome in a modern game, even one trying to emulate the games of yore where I still gladly do the clicking. We don’t need a down-to-the-pixel remake of the era, we need a new era of adventure games that matches the fun of those days – and this isn’t strong enough to be either. Having an ironic pixel look and a Verb Interface isn’t enough.
Thing is, point and click games never left us. We still play them, they reappeared as Apps, and there’s no end of P&C games aping, homaging, referencing and ripping off the era. The ones that work, like Oxenfree or Darkside Detective bow to the OGs while doing something new. And are witty. But unlike the forgotten game you’ve rediscovered as intended, TP is somewhat self-aware, and that quickly makes it a bit smug and cringey, like an aging rock band on yet another farewell tour, going through the motions.
There’s only so many times Chuck’s niece, Delores, can go on about how much she wants to work for ‘MMucas Flem Games’ before it becomes tiresome – it’s been 30 years, get over it. One minute it’s trying to be a legit P&C game emulating the era, the next its throwing you out of the moment to hammer home some bitterness.
And the cheeky 4th-wall-breaking and jokes feel a bit Dad-joke like. Just throwing in a reference to a 30-year-old game is not a joke. Back in the day, “I’m selling those fine leather jackets” was an in-joke. Not now. Oh how hilarious, a tentacle reference. It just feels desperate not nostalgic, and critically, those games of the era had their own personality. TP's whole gig is "we're just like those games" instead of being a game. As a parody of supernatural and procedural TV shows it tanks too, taking obvious routes and jokes when those genres have already sunk in to self-parody. It’s just a facsimile of what we did back then and reminds you why we stopped.
If I wanted a classic point and click adventure, I’d go replay Monkey Island. Back in the day, clever gags like Guybrush escaping being drowned by placing the rock he’s attached to in his inventory ruled, but here they’re replaced with solutions that feel try-hard. Maybe I’m out of step with logic-bending, jokey solutions, but they feel a bit too see what we did there?! Yeah, I did, stop it. Do something that makes me like this game for itself, not where it came from.
And we get endless puns about being in video games, about saddo gamers and game designers, and ‘odd’ characters that are just annoying, like the groundsman whose job it is to dig holes then fill them with dirt which he repeats over and over while you’re scouring for pickups. And in a startling display of smugness, Ron Gilbert actually appears. This ends up feeling arrogant, like the boys are back.
Like Manic Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, we can swap characters, primarily the two Feds but later the various suspects too as we discover their possible motives. This works really well, in that you might be stumped by what seems to be a puzzle but is in fact a limitation of the character, so you swap and merrily breeze through. As a puzzler it’s solid work and there’s two settings, Casual and Hard – Casual causes some puzzles to be solved and feels almost a walking sim – which would be great if we were walking through some gentle parody/love-in to the era. Hard is what you’d expect, everything needs to be click and collected, but another nice touch is talking to the other Fed triggers a sarky hint.
I didn’t really enjoy this, but almost everything I’ve bitched about was intentional - Gilbert and Winnick intended this as a ‘lost’ LucasArts game and TP looks the part and plays its part well, it just feels like its a game that was lost for a reason. Maybe it’s just me, TP was lauded by critics and gamers alike, but I would have liked to see the mighty Gilbert and Winnick return and show us how it’s done now, not repeat what they used to do. It’s all here but the writing just doesn’t have that energy, that pure joy they claimed they wanted to recapture. It did had me searching for all the LucasArts (sorry, LucasFilm Games) titles I had knocking about my libraries, adding them to a ‘must play’ list. Just a shame this didn’t make the list.