A childhood spent on an Amiga 500 joking around with sentient robot Joey in Beneath a Steel Sky and completing The Three Trials to become a real pirate on Mêlée Island in The Secret of Monkey Island prepared me to lead a life of adventure. (Games, that is.)
I’ll leave you to imagine my reaction to news that Terrible Toybox would release Thimbleweed Park on Nintendo Switch, an adventure game that is as much a comedy as it is wrapped in mystery. From Monkey Island and Maniac Mansion creators Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, 15,623 backers had pledged $626,250 to help bring the classic point-and-click adventure game to life in Kickstarter campaign, and now, some several months after it first saw release, we can now take it anywhere on the plucky portable home console.
It’s 1987, and when a dead body is discovered rotting in a river under a bridge just outside of town, federal agent Ray and junior agent Reyes are called in to investigate. After a slightly peculiar encounter with the costume-clad Pigeon Brothers, you talk to the evasive local sheriff about the “murder-a-reno” to then meet the suspiciously near-identical coroner. With everyone dodging your questions, you resort to exploring the town to learn more.
Rewinding the clock back from the more cinematic adventures that we mostly see from Telltale Games these days, Thimbleweed Park is an unashamedly old-school point-and-click adventure. That sees you use verbs such as Open, Close, Give, Look at, and Pick up, to interact with either the area that your character is in or the item that you want to use. The earliest example is for Ray to ‘Give’ the Polaroid film to Reyes so that he can ‘Use’ it with his Polaroid camera to take a photo of the decaying body, which, for newcomers, should hopefully give you some idea as to what to expect.
With each character’s inventory soon filling with items like a circus flyer, empty tuna can, hotel keycard, and the random specks of dust that are everywhere, the puzzles that they are needed for can often feel obscure and will frequently challenge the player to think in unconventional ways. Whether placing water and a letter in a microwave to steam off a stamp, or throwing a dime down a sewer drain as one character so that the other can use it on a booth to call for help.
Those that are worried about needing pointers can not only turn to walkthroughs that have been hastily scrawled online, but there’s also an automated HintTron 3000 hint line that you can call in-game that will, hopefully, give you a hand.
It’s at this point that it is worth mentioning that you can switch between characters in Thimbleweed Park, something that is far more interesting when playing than, perhaps, it is me writing it here. Not only will you hunt for clues with Ray and Reyes, but flashbacks will present the chance to learn more about the town’s history as Ransome, a clown that becomes cursed to forever wear his makeup, pillow salesman Franklin, and Delores, his daughter and an aspiring computer programmer who chooses to pursue a career in the games industry rather than to inherit the family business.
It’s safe to say that in a town as cooky and creepy as Thimbleweed Park, not everything is quite as it seems. But, as the many LucasArts games that came before it, it is a game that thrives on its dry sense of humour as much as it does in breaking the fourth wall. The script is packed with gags and the voice acting excels at delivering them, leaving you to become engrossed in the mystery around this rundown, forgotten town.
It won’t come as a surprise that playing with the Joy-Con or Nintendo Switch Pro Controller is somewhat cumbersome compared to the ease of a mouse and keyboard, but, at least on Nintendo Switch, you have the chance to play with touchscreen controls that lend more immediacy to your interactions. That pushes this toward something that is best experienced in Handheld mode, then, but that’s not to say that those wanting to use a standard controller will necessarily have a bad time.
Thimbleweed Park is a triumphant throwback to the heyday of the adventure genre, a golden era revered for its compelling storytelling as much as its wit and charm. It succeeds on all accounts and while undeniably aimed at those that miss the classic point-and-click adventures that they grew up with, its characters investigate a modern mystery that many will happily be enthralled with. And, if you hadn’t guessed already, the dead body pixelating under the bridge is the least of your concerns.