A haunted hotel, an abandoned circus, a burnt-out pillow factory, a dead body pixelating under the bridge, toilets that run on vacuum tubes… you’ve never visited a place like this before. Five people with nothing in common have been drawn to this rundown, forgotten town. They don’t know it yet, but they are all deeply connected. And they’re being watched.
Time Played: 30+ hours
Console: PC / Nintendo Switch / PS4
Recommended For: Fans of the mystery and macabre in videogame form
The signals are very strong tonight… 🐦
Thimbleweed Park is what you get when you cross 80s retro adventure games with Twin Peaks, add X-Files’ Scully and Mulder to the cast, and destroy the 4th wall altogether. In short: It’s wonderful. I couldn’t have asked for a better puzzle game to spend the last *checks notes* 7 months playing.
Grizzly murder and terrible hotdogs
For a game set in the 1980s it’s got none of the neon garishness we associate with the era, no. Thimbleweed park is beige and brown full of dark corners, grizzly murders, and terrible hotdogs.
It all begins with two secret agents arriving in the mysterious town of Thimbleweed Park to investigate a body found underneath the bridge. Pretty soon, the body is the least of the agent’s problems, as they soon explore the town and talk to the denizens to find out what they know. There’s an abandoned factory on the outskirts of the town, a very haunted hotel, a bakery that only sells mechanical tubes, a fairground with one resident, and a vast labyrinth of sewer tunnels… To name a few of the delightful places you’ll get to explore in Thimbleweed Park!
More curious than the setting… I couldn’t have asked for a more unusual cast of characters in this mystery adventure game. Over the course of the game you play as five unrelated characters as their lives verge towards an apex that is the game’s finale:
Agent Ray – One of the two main characters we meet right at the start of Thimbleweed Park. Agent Ray is here to get stuff done and take no nonsense from anybody.
Agent Reyes – He is the second secret agent we meet, and a slightly more mild mannered counterpart to Agent Ray. From a different city, he is also assigned with investigating the murder.
Dolores Edmund – A budding young video game developer – keen to create adventure games no less – and one of the heirs to her uncle’s pillow estate. After leaving to work for a game design company, she returns for the reading of her uncle’s will, but not all is as it seems.
Ransome the Clown – One of the *beep* main *beep* characters who can’t stop *beep* swearing. Ransome was cursed after being characteristically rude to the town witch who then condemned him to spend a lifetime eternity living in the abandoned fairground. In 1977 and 78 he won the “Meanest Clown” trophies.
Franklin Edmund – The late father of Dolores Edmund, Franklin is the only playable ghost character! This means he can’t interact with the living, but he plays an integral role to solving puzzles from afar.
Point & Click Nostalgia
Thimbleweed Park is the modern day, logical conclusion to classic 1980s and 90s point-and-click adventure games. It utilises a “Use X on Y” mechanic that took my Gen Z brain a very long time to get the hang of. I also opted to play this game on Nintendo Switch, as I believe some games are best played hiding under a blanket at midnight and I wanted the flexibility of taking Thimbleweed Park with me on my own adventures. But the Switch is very unforgiving and between the left joycon strafing and the pixel-perfect clicks in some puzzles, I almost gave up many times.
I think I would have liked this game more back in the 90s – a simpler time when I had nothing better to do with my life. There’s a quote on the internet somewhere that calls Thimbleweed Park alienating to an audience who didn’t play games like this, and I kinda see it. The adventure aspect of Thimbleweed Park dragged a little bit. Between January and July I had an on-again, off-again commitment to this game and each time returning from a break feeling further away from the plot than before.
But each time oddly felt like coming home, with each resident’s funny manner of speech and quirks, repeatedly eating the mouldy hot dogs, and returning to the crime scene to poke the body. A strange kind of home, but home indeed. Perhaps I took so long because I didn’t want the game to end!
Two Modes: Casual or Hard
When setting up the game you can choose from many settings (including whether you want the toilet paper to face in or out), but the most important decision is whether to play Thimbleweed Park in Casual or Hard mode. I chose to play it in Hard. Regrets? Nah, not really. I’m here for the puzzle game and so I wanted to solve some puzzles.
That’s not to say I didn’t have a really hard time with it. The puzzles in this game, as with many classic adventure games are centred around performing actions in a certain, mostly logical way. The multiple characters allow for a deeper level of complexity as you often have to navigate many characters to different areas to perform sequences simultaneously.
Sounds simple? Well, there are a lot of puzzles that I can’t fathom how you would be able to solve them without hints, and others which I still don’t understand. Spoiler Alert: I mean who else knew that you can steam stamps off envelopes by placing letters in microwaves with bowls of water? Not me, I lost hours of my life to that ‘puzzle’.
The flip side is that most of the game is delightful and the aha moment of finally piecing something together is brilliant. I really do enjoy the genre and wish I’d been around when it was at it’s heyday before 2000.
The grizzly murder was committed by none other than… Oh wait, you meant did I enjoy the game? I did!
I often apply a metric whereby if the amount of hours I spent playing the game is greater than the cost I paid for it, £1 = 1 hour, then the game was good value for money for me. It falls down at escape room games costing £100 + for 1 hour’s play, or Skyrim that I’ve played over 600 hours in, but let’s suspend disbelief and apply it to Thimbleweed Park. I spent £15 on Thimbleweed Park and I played it for well over 30 hours. 30 hours of frustration and wonder…. Well worth it then!
If you want to purchase Thimbleweed Park yourself, head to their website here.
Mairi is the editor-in-chief and covers escape rooms/immersive theatre in London, play at home games, and video games.