Switching between different protagonists is achieved simply by clicking on the appropriate face icon in the top right. At certain times you are confined to the current protagonist, but after making key progressions with that character the option will open up again. Do keep a close eye on the active icons, as one time I didn't notice that I could play as Delores again after meeting her in present day. Up until that point, I was used to the characters other than Ray and Reyes only being available during flashbacks.
Even with most of the local businesses shuttered, there are many locations to discover in Thimbleweed Park, each with its own set of puzzles and mysteries, including the radio station, abandoned(?) sewers, the Edmund Hotel and family mansion, the forest and even the circus grounds. The challenge progresses quite gradually, scaling each time a new protagonist is added to the mix. These characters aren’t isolated, as you'll have to alternate between protagonists, exchange inventory items and have them work together to overcome obstacles. Protagonists have their own distinctive qualities and will be treated differently by the inhabitants of Thimbleweed Park. Fortunately, every character has a 'to do' list in their inventory, which notes what you need to achieve (some of which are shared between characters). This is an incredibly useful addition that keeps you on the quest at hand, though you can often pursue multiple goals at once.
While difficulty is always a delicate balance, even with two different levels to choose from, Thimbleweed Park manages to consistently find the happy medium with a healthy dose of clever puzzles and highly amusing, accessible objectives. With so many places to go, people to see, and things to do (and several characters to do them all with), you will be challenged at times but always with much enjoyment along the way. With thorough exploration, careful observation and a little lateral thinking, you should rarely find yourself too stuck. I had to use a walkthrough at one key point relating to a blood sample, and while the solution does make sense, I would have never figured it out. Overall, however, the puzzles are a fun addition that form the breadcrumbs of the story that make you want to devour them all.
Packed with humor, the script is a brilliant collaboration between Gilbert and his co-writers David Fox and Lauren Davidson. I often laughed out loud at certain scenes and characters, of which my personal highlight was undoubtedly Ransome the clown. His sharp wit and censored dialog is brilliant and unexpected at times, contributing greatly to the already humorous nature of the game. Even beyond the dialog, you'll find numerous things to chuckle at, from every machine being named a (Something)Tron™ to plumbers in pigeon suits and inventory items that will be instantly familiar to longtime adventure fans. There are many, many, in-jokes to Maniac Mansion, Lucasfilm ($1138?) and even a wink at Gilbert’s own life and career in the story of Delores trying to achieve her goal of joining MMucasFlem. Even the fact that the game itself takes place in 1987 has a nice nostalgic ring to it. Prior knowledge is by no means a requirement to enjoy the game, however. Thimbleweed Park is more a spiritual successor to Maniac Mansion than anything, meant to stand firmly on its own.
In an era where the games we play are increasingly in 3D, with perfect textures and immersive experiences through VR glasses, Thimbleweed Park stays true to its roots: Pixels. Lots of juicy pixels. I'm a massive fan of the retro-inspired games that use art similar to the genre’s golden era, and Thimbleweed Park doesn't disappoint. Featuring an art style that reminds me mostly of Zak McKracken with a touch of Monkey Island on top, this game is worthy of being added to that list. Don't let the old-school influence fool you, though, as the game is filled with techniques that would never have been possible back in the day. This is no 8-bit, 320x200 visual design, but a high-resolution, widescreen presentation filled with an abundance of gradient colors. It has great parallax scrolling as well, and multiple layers of depth, perfectly done in HD.
The background art by Mark Ferrari (whose Lucasfilm credits include Zak McKracken, Loom and The Secret of Monkey Island) and Octavi Navarro is utterly breathtaking, even more so considering that it was crafted pixel-by-pixel to create the beautiful scenes on display. The panoramic view of the town from on top of a hill is simply amazing. I found the opening scene gorgeous as well, with a train crossing in the background and the bridge tracks reflected in the water in the foreground, but there are many others just as stunning and highly detailed. The use of shadow and light is tremendous, from flickering bulbs to darkened alleys to illuminated signs, and walking around feels immersive due to the exceptional use of depth perception. These are not just beautifully drawn backgrounds with characters projected onto them; they feel completely unified in one cohesive world.
Animations are simple yet well done; getting all of our protagonists to puke at some point is a pure devilish joy to see (and do). Even some of the inventory items are animated, with small details added like a blinking indicator of low power. There are several cinematics throughout the game, all of which feel complementary, never forced. During cutscenes and conversations with other characters, the verbs/inventory area slowly fades out and back in once finished, which is a nice touch.
Adding to the outstanding art is a fantastic score by Steve Kirk that will ensure you remain fully immersed. The game's opening music with piano chords and guitars directly sets the tone for the unusual experience to come. The eclectic pieces throughout fit the different areas and plots like a glove, as well as the eras in which the events take place. Jaunty circus-style melodies with trumpets give way to snares being hit mysteriously in the background to provide a haunting atmosphere.
Most areas have ambient sound effects, from winds howling in the circus grounds, to crickets chirping when examining the map, to dogs barking in the streets of Thimbleweed Park, all done in a way that's non-repetitive and enhances the overall experience. It sounds so authentic that at one point I was convinced that dogs were barking outside of my apartment. It wasn't until I noticed it was 3 AM and quiet as a mouse outside that it dawned on me that some of the noises I heard the last few hours were actually part of the game. It's truly that immersive.
Part of what makes Ransome so hilarious is the excellent voice-over that accompanies his dialog. His voice is raw and rough, which makes a perfect match with the raunchy things he says. With just one exception (the starting character with a German accent who sounds a little weird, but who fortunately never appears again), this praise applies to everyone in Thimbleweed Park. Each person’s voice fits their personality incredibly well, including the supporting characters with smaller roles. They don’t just speak lines to advance the plot; they all have their own distinctive quirks and mannerisms and sayings that truly make them unique.
This blend of riveting story, bizarre characters, engaging gameplay and top-notch production values makes for an incredibly deep and compelling adventure game that pulls you into its world and doesn't let you go until you unravel all of its crazy secrets. No matter what you think this mystery will be about, nothing prepares you for what is in store. I spent at least 20 hours playing the game, and that was pushing myself through to the finish, with a few puzzles I solved more by accident than skill, which could have otherwise taken much longer. By far one of the best adventure games I've played since the nineties, it flies directly to my personal top three. Although nothing will replace my nostalgic fondness for Monkey Island, Thimbleweed Park has created an entirely new set of thoroughly memorable experiences that I'll cherish for a long time.
Author's note: I've recorded my entire playthrough of Thimbleweed Park, which are available in episodes of around 30-45 minutes. If you're interested in seeing it (edited for a more viewer-friendly experience), check out the first episode.