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Review: Thimbleweed Park (PlayStation 4)By MrSamTurner At 07.10.2017 19:42

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From the opening scenes of Thimbleweed Park, it's strikingly clear that this is a title that is overflowing with bubbles from the past. The art design is a bold palette of large heads and pixel art. The menus are simple and smart and the compendium of traditional point-and-click mechanics are all in attendance.

Set in a mysterious and creepily abandoned town, Thimbleweed Park is a mystery story that is far too self-aware for its own good. From the moment that a dead body turns up in the aforementioned park, so begins several hours of being constantly reminded that this is indeed a video game. From the time of death being diagnosed from the 'pixilation around the nose' to another character being berated for wanting to design 'stupid adventure video games,' Thimbleweed Park is a title that hits its audience over the head with a particular brand of humour.

While there is nothing wrong with a nod to the audience now and then, Thimbleweed Park is intent on flogging this particular narrative crux for the length of the game. A decision that is sure to alienate and frustrate many, as Thimbleweed Park does bare the signs of being an interesting point-and-click puzzler.

The initial discovery of a body leads into a winding story that stretches across several different character arcs and involves secret conspiracies, ghostly interactions and plumbers dressed as pigeons. What is introduced as a simple investigation quickly boils over to encompass a cast of folk that share a direct lineage to Secret of Monkey Island, which is to be expected from a game made by a pair of ex LucasArts employees. However, lineage is one thing, a hangover is another, and parts of Thimbleweed Park are suffering the symptoms from having a messy night out.

The main indicator of this is the 'verb wall,' which makes its return to overly complicate the mechanics of play. Though there is a charm to having to elect to open a door before interacting with it, or pick up an item before using it, this is extremely short lived as the nostalgic veneer slips away. It also adds a delicacy to the play when it's not needed, especially when using the DualShock 4 controller.

Using such a clumsy cursor on the PlayStation 4 means that it's far too easy to strike the wrong verb or spend an age trying to pull, pick up or push the wrong item on screen. For a point-and-click to succeed there needs to be a flow between the mechanics and the narrative with neither producing unnecessary roadblocks to interrupt the pacing. This happens far too often in Thimbleweed Park.

What also creates disharmony in an otherwise pacey experience is the fact that the main narrative threads are split between several different characters. At most times, the player can dynamically switch between sometimes four separate narrative threads. Though this seems to suggest that the story is always progressing and moving steadily forward, instead it has the opposite effect. Sometimes it's a benefit to take a diversion from a stagnant puzzle, but having to keep so many threads in place at once is a recipe for confusion.

Thimbleweed Park does boast a generous amount of puzzles, and with two difficulty levels there is plenty here for the seasoned pro and the bright new bud. There is also a clever hint system, which is only accessed by dialling a chat line via a phone. Again, harking back to bygone times does much to spur nostalgia, but sometimes the effort involved to get a simple hint can be laboured and laborious.

At times, Thimbleweed Park feels like a game trying to introduce the uninitiated to an older style of design. However, the attempt to broaden such a unique experience has led to several elements of the game being overplayed or underserved. What is most interesting is that Thimbleweed Park seems easy to love. The world is engaging and the town breathes with life and mystery, but it's too much of a nostalgic trip to appease the improvements from modern game design.

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Final Score
It's a shame that in trying to invoke so much nostalgia, instead [i]Thimbleweed Park[/i] invokes frustration. A clumsy set of mechanics, humour that quickly runs dry, and a narrative line that splits and diverges in too many directions creates an obstructive experience. That is not to say that there isn't plenty to enjoy here. Fans of the genre will delight in the puzzling and will be able to easily forgive the game for all these tiny foibles.



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