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Thimbleweed Park: Classic Style, Modern Thinking

Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert's latest game is shaping up to be a weird, wild adventure—and one not just meant for LucasArts veterans.

Preview by Bob Mackey, .

Though Kickstarter isn't without its horror stories, at its best, this crowdfunding service has allowed some previously impossible ideas to come into being.

Take Thimbleweed Park, for example. While classic adventure games—like Day of the Tentacle—are now seeing new life through enhanced remakes, selling a publisher on a new game in this classic style makes for a less likely opportunity. That's why Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert took to Kickstarter roughly 18 months ago with a pitch to create "an undiscovered LucasArts adventure game you’ve never played before." And, based on the small portion I played at GDC, Thimbleweed definitely feels like a throwback to those LucasArts days of yore.

Even though they strove to be much more approachable than their contemporaries, the LucasArts games weren't flawless, and definitely had a specific audience in mind—one much more willing to sit with a game than we citizens of 2016. For this reason, classic adventure games carry a certain degree of baggage: They have plenty of devotees, sure, but when the topic comes up, it usually gravitates towards reminiscing about those "How could I have known that!?" Moments. Thankfully, Gilbert recognizes that adventure games carry a certain degree of infamy, and has set out to make Thimbleweed Park approachable for newcomers and diehard LucasArts fans alike.

That doesn't mean Thimbleweed will be easy, though—just more manageable. Coming at this project with 30 years of game development under his belt has given Gilbert a thorough understand of where adventure games can go wrong. Rather than providing a more modern solution like a hint system, Thimbleweed instead gradually opens its world to prevent players from being overwhelmed. The introduction of each character takes the form of a playable flashback, which limits said character to a small area for the sake of setting up a central puzzle and establishing their personality. My hands-on demo included the introduction of Ransome, a foul-mouthed clown, and tasked me with finding all of the appropriate items to put on his insult comedy performance. While my time with Thimbleweed included some gentle nudging from Gilbert—at my request—the puzzle I played through came off as clever, but not entirely impossible.

Based on what I played, Thimbleweed provides the player with just the right amount of breadcrumbs without leading them all the way to the solution: Puzzle-relevant dialogue always remains in the game once you absorb it, which wasn't always the case with even the best LucasArts adventures.

While Thimbleweed aspires to evoke the feeling of an adventure game from 25 years ago, its look definitely feels a lot more modern. Sure, the character and backgrounds have that warm, low-res charm, but packed with more detail than any early-'90s PC could muster. Simply put, it's an absolutely gorgeous game, but one that doesn't betray its old-school roots. For Thimbleweed's visuals, Gilbert employed former LucasArts companion Mark Ferrari and stellar sprite artist Octavi Navarro, and their talents are definitely on display in Thimbleweed's beautiful environments.

Of course, the small slice of Thimbleweed I played isn't exactly representative of the ambitious whole. With multiple playable characters crossing paths—each with their own abilities—Gilbert is striving for an evolution of the original Maniac Mansion, a game quickly coming up on its 30th anniversary. Whether or not he can reach this goal is still to be determined, but based on what I played, Thimbleweed might just be the Ron Gilbert adventure game we've been craving since the '90s.

[Disclaimer: I backed Thimbleweed Park on Kickstarter, but in no way benefit from its success. I'm also an adult human predisposed to like adventure games, so what are you gonna do?]

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