Words About Video Games

41 Games: Thimbleweed Park

The art of creating a good adventure game is the art of giving player access to the information they need to solve the puzzles without battering them over the head with solutions. This is trickier even than it sounds. Few games rely on shared cultural experiences as heavily as adventure games do. Imagine a puzzle where the solution requires placing a banana peel so that a character slips on it. Now imagine you had never even heard of this gag. Is that puzzle even possible for you to solve?

Still, there are things adventure games can do to nudge the player along. This was a use of the multiple-verbs system in the early games: not sure what to do? Inspect an object from all angles and maybe you'll stumble on a solution. Item descriptions are an opportunity for the character to clarify to the player their objective, or what's blocking them, pushing them in the right direction. But the multiple-verb system has a dark side: it can be needlessly fiddly, interjecting another possible failure point into each puzzle (wrong verb), and overwhelming the player with information rather than clarifying.

Thimbleweed Park is an expansive, amusing adventure game with an information problem so massive, the developers felt compelled to patch in an in-game hintline after launch. While the verbs you can use helpfully highlight, ensuring you won't get stuck for choosing the wrong verb, they are under-utilized. You rarely get an extra joke, let alone additional helpful information, out of exploring the different verbs.

In addition, there is a preponderance of characters you need to navigate through this world, with a large number of inventory items, many of which have no real use. This is compounded by the number of locations, and the ability to start the solutions to puzzles before you can actually finish them, blurring the critical line between the "puzzle you're not yet meant to solve" and the "puzzle you've not quite worked out."

The end result is a game that is at once charming, funny, and frequently frustrating. It sets its sights squarely on the masterfully interwoven puzzles of the likes of Day of the Tentacle, but often gets tangled in its own intricacies.