There’s a new Ron Gilbert adventure game and you can play it now.
Don’t ask who he is. If you don’t know, just go play Maniac Mansion. And The Secret of Monkey Island (plus its sequel). Gilbert helped create both of them, along with a string of other classic adventure games.
His latest — co-created with Maniac Mansion collaborator Gary Winnick — is called Thimbleweed Park and it is a Kickstarter darling. The game’s crowdfunding campaign kicked off in 2014 with a $375,000 target that had nearly doubled by the time it ended — with $626,250 pledged.
Two and a half years later — and just shy of a year after the original release target — Thimbleweed is here in all its lo-fi glory. Let’s see what the critics think.
Thimbleweed Park lets you take control of five very different characters, each with their own skills and specialties. You’ll move them around the town, picking up anything that isn’t glued down to try and figure out the mysteries that surround you. It’s set in 1987, though there’re some anachronisms to be found if you want to get pedantic. The story begins as a murder mystery, and borrows some of its trappings from several early ’90s favorites like Twin Peaks and The X-Files. Later on, there’s even some stuff in there that calls back to The Matrix. It does a great job of setting the mood and maintaining tension, even though you can play at your own pace and there’s only one (easily avoidable) way to get yourself into a failure state.
Polygon (Whitney Reynolds)
These multiple viewpoints are a straight lift from Maniac Mansion, and it works. While the different characters don’t have particularly different skills, they have different knowledge and limitations. One character might be afraid of heights where another will happily climb, and another might know useful information about vacuum tubes where another is clueless. Some puzzles take multiple characters working together in different locations to solve, similar to the Maniac Mansion sequel, Day of the Tentacle. All of it added together to make clever ways for me to get my brain working in several directions at once to solve puzzles. And, when my brain wasn’t quite working, I could quickly switch to a different character to get away from whatever puzzle thread I’d gotten stuck on.
IGN (Ryan McCaffrey)
It helps to have so many playable characters. While you might assume that having five people and five inventories to manage could overwhelm you, Thimbleweed Park’s alternative paths are instead welcome, and later puzzles require multiple characters to work together from different locations. For instance, at one point, you’ll need to distract a reporter with one hero remotely, via radio, so the one in the room can get what he/she needs. On that note, every playable Park-er eventually gets a map, which effectively serves as a much-needed fast-travel system.
Fortunately, most of the … puzzles are logically consistent with the world Thimbleweed Park presents, and each character’s notebook keeps a running checklist of everything you need to do to progress the story which helps to keep you on track if you start to feel overwhelmed by your ever-increasing inventory. There’s even a casual difficulty, which strips out a lot of the more vexing puzzles for a more streamlined experience (much like Monkey Island 2’s “magazine reviewer” mode). For a game as rooted in the past as Thimbleweed Park is, it does a lot to help give newer and less-experienced adventure game players plenty of chances to succeed without consulting a strategy guide.
Kotaku (Jason Schreier)
As the game goes on, these puzzle chains grow increasingly silly and complicated, as do your interactions with the inhabitants of Thimbleweed Park. (My favorite: an intrepid newspaper journalist who really wants to win a Pulitzer.) The puzzles can get difficult but rarely feel unfair, and when you solve them, you’re usually rewarded with something fun, be it a new area, some gorgeous art, or a good joke. (There are lots and lots of good jokes.)
PCWorld (Hayden Dingman)
[O]n rare occasions characters are removed from your control for story reasons, along with their inventories. Just realized you need an item you left on that other character? Too bad, because you’ll have to wait 5 to 10 minutes for them to return. I won’t spoil why that happens, but will say it’s frustrating the times it does.
And while I grew a bit annoyed at how many seemingly useless red herring items are in the game, I was doubly annoyed at how cavalier the game is with your inventory. Thimbleweed Park is split into eight chapters, and sometimes the game just decides to pare down your inventory without warning, removing a bunch of fun items before you’ve really explored their potential. A shame.
We may long for the golden era of Adventure games but the genre is far from dead. Thimbleweed Park represents a triumphant return to classic LucasArts Adventures. It’s a lovingly hand-crafted story from the masters of the genre. If you have any affinity for a pixelated adventure that makes you think as much as smile, do not sleep on Thimbleweed Park.