When I sat down to play Seattle-based developer Terrible Toybox’s point-and-click adventure game, Thimbleweed Park, I had high expectations. Between my childhood affinities for the X-Files and pixel-art video games, I was sold as soon as I saw the lead characters:
But would the game live up to my expectations, or would I find myself having a hard time picking it back up? Point-and-clicks have a spotty history with my long-term attention span, but Thimbleweed Park did not disappoint.
The game opens in 1987 with a mysterious homicide on the outskirts of Thimbleweed Park, a town with only 81 (wait… make that 80) inhabitants. Sarcastic, unenthusiastic senior detective Angela Ray finds herself joined by a more chipper junior agent, Antonio Reyes; and both parties seem surprised by each other’s presence. Hailing from a head office in Albuquerque that Ray sardonically suggests doesn’t exist, it seems as though Reyes may also harbor a hidden agenda.
Heading into town to sort out details surrounding the murder, the characters learn of Thimbleweed Park’s main source of industry: a robotics company called PillowTronics, with a recently deceased founder named Chuck Edmund. Quirky folks scattered across a town littered in boarded-up storefronts provide clue after clue, unfolding a mystery much larger than the dead body our heroes found at the beginning of the game. We follow an assortment of colorful characters including an inspired young programmer, an ornery and vulgar clown, and a timid ghost as we learn of curses, murders, and family drama.
But some residents of Thimbleweed Park would rather their stories remain a mystery, and find it in their best interests to make sure the agents do not find the answers they’re looking for. Will Ray and Reyes solve the case, or will Thimbleweed Park’s most criminal inhabitants keep their secrets hidden?
Writing, Visuals, and Sound
One of my favorite things about Thimbleweed Park thus far is its playful, fourth-wall-breaking writing style. From satirical jabs at the gaming industry to self-aware dialogue aimed directly at the player, this mystery game doesn’t take itself too seriously. It strikes a nice balance between weaving a murder story you will want to see through to the end, and providing amusing moments that are fun and lighthearted. While the voice acting is occasionally a little slow for my liking, I haven’t run into any long-winded monologues and I’ve not found any of it off-putting enough to skip dialogue or zone out. Plus, slower is better when there aren’t subtitles, if you like hearing everything they have to say like I do.
As far as the graphics go, I found myself reminded of some of the games I cut my little gamer teeth on back in the day, but there’s an unquestionably modern finesse to things like color palettes and design that make it lovely and updated.
One of my favorite things about the way they managed the 2D space was how they presented a foreground and background in some of the areas you can explore; most specifically, the cemetery. You aren’t relegated to navigating a boring horizontal plane; there are, at times, winding paths that create a sense of depth very simply by using the scale of your character to denote distance.
I wouldn’t say the music is anything to write home about, but it’s also pleasant enough that it never struck me as repetitive, shrill, or annoying; it takes the backseat and adds a little flavor to your gameplay, and you won’t walk away with it stuck in your head.
The voice acting is unique. Whether due to the direction or the actors (or both), the delivery struck me as sort of indie, which I’d say counts in Thimbleweed Park’s favor. I found myself particularly appreciating Antonio Reyes’ accent, which authentically came from Mexican voice actor Javier Lacroix. In a time when far too many game companies shoehorn shoddy accents into their games (*cough* Ubisoft *cough*), Reyes’ accent was a refreshing change.
Gameplay and Controls
Thimbleweed Park is a point-and-click adventure, and its style is a throwback to SCUMM classics like Day of the Tentacle and Maniac Mansion. You have a box in the bottom left corner of the screen with action phrases such as “look at” and “talk to,” and after selecting one of those, you select the appropriate object / character on the screen. It keeps things interesting by using a relatively unique mechanic in which you alternate between characters you’re controlling, however.
The character-shifting makes for fun flashbacks; instead of the old cutscene routine, a flashback that could have left the player passively watching with a cutscene instead shifts gears and puts you at the controls. As the player, you actually play through bits of backstory and gain a firsthand understanding of the characters and their adventures / plights. It’s refreshing and uncommon, and keeps things interesting if you like changing it up every so often.
Additionally, you can split up between the agents. This means that if you’re getting bored with the interviews Ray is conducting in one part of town, you can switch to Reyes and take some time to continue his investigation. Having the option to switch between them keeps things interesting and was a mechanic I found kept me playing when I started feeling like putting the Switch down.
Personally, I found Thimbleweed Park to be the first game I’ve exclusively wanted to play on my Switch undocked. I tried it docked, but using the joystick as an impromptu mouse to select text and screen items became cumbersome far more quickly than I anticipated. The touch screen on the Switch makes for a more seamless gameplay experience in which I could focus on enjoying the game over navigating it.
If you’re in the mood for a plot-driven game that you can play at a leisurely pace, and you enjoy throwbacks to point-and-click adventures like Grim Fandango, this is an excellent game for you. Thimbleweed Park has the funky uniqueness of an indie game with the polish and well-roundedness one would only come to expect from developers like Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick, who came from LucasArts and were largely involved in the development of several major point-and-click classics including Maniac Mansion.
It’s also fun if you enjoy snarky, self-aware moments between the game and the player; or the fun challenge of jotting down something like a phone number found by one agent in one part of town to be used by another agent in a pickle elsewhere.
Thimbleweed Park is funny, intriguing, and clever; and it works so well with the Switch’s touchscreen that it doesn’t even seem like it was originally developed for another platform. It’s easy to pick back up and enjoy, and it’s available now for $19.99 in the Nintendo eShop.