Game Review: Tumbleweed Park

Hot on the heels of picking up Fez, I decided to play Tumbleweed Park, a graphical adventure in the style of SCUMM games like Monkey Island, which is not surprising as it's written by the author of those games, Ron Gilbert. I'd heard about it a while ago, got hooked in by the freebie mini-game staring the character of Dolores from the game, and, yep, ended up buying it.

It's weird to see where we are with such games. It's very pixel-arty, with various bits drawn deliberately below the native resolution, and just composited together, so you have big pixels on top of small pixels. To show off Advanced Technology you get to control five (!) different characters throughout the story, often making them work together. It's got the old-school limited set of verbs, and manages to capture the feeling of those old games while still taking advantage of the modern hardware. There aren't compreomises on the sound with Adlib-style music, though. Strangely, one of the things that hooked me in is the somewhat melancholy main theme!

This is very clearly the product of a Kickstarter. The phone book is full of backers who you can phone for messages, and the library is well stocked with a vast number of books. Strangely it kind of adds a chunk of depth to the world, and can be a great big distraction if you've got too much time on your hands.

Anyway, the game. It's nice to see there's an easy and hard mode. Obviously I want straight for the hard mode. ;) You could tell how that works through some of the puzzles being multi-part (nearly, but... just one more step!) where I assume the easy mode would just declare something done.

Speaking of puzzles, they were mostly pretty reasonable. If you can keep making progress in the game, it gives you faith that the puzzles are fair, and not just "try to imagine what the designer was thinking, even if it's not reasonable" or "combine all possible nouns and verbs until something happens". The only time I lost that was when I couldn't get into the factory, and it turned out it was blocked on (spoiler!) finding the pizza van, even though there's no actual logical dependency. I ended up taking a hint even if I think it wasn't strictly necessary, through frustration at that point.

This is a bit of a shame, as mostly the plot/puzzle motivation is pretty clear - you aren't wandering around trying random things, but are specifically trying to solve particular problems to advance the plot. This is pleasantly aided by giving each character a "To do" list. The only weakness is that sometimes you'll be given a puzzle you can't solve yet, and it's not obvious you can't, but mostly you'll have other problems to solve and not get stuck. Of course, I did get wedged for a while as I failed to mouse over a few pixels representing a key item, but that's how these games go!

Speaking of which, it's a game that's more than willing to break the fourth wall, as well as commenting on adventure gaming. Amusingly it takes a dig at Sierra adventure games for all their pointless deaths, reassures you it wouldn't do such a thing, and then chucks in one or two possible "game over" scenarios. Admittedly, not in a frustrating way!

(As an aside, my first PC adventure game was Space Quest III, and it was fun to later realise that constant unpredictable and surprising deaths are not actually necessary. That got replaced by the frustration of never quite getting my sound card configuration right to get the audio voices for Day of the Tentacle working (such a good game). Man, that was annoying.)

The ending is a bit meta, and quite frankly I also thought it was a bit meh. Having said that, I never really got on with the ending of Monkey Island 2, so what's new? :) However, the destination is not the journey, and I surprised myself with how much I enjoyed the game as a whole. Highly recommended, if you like that sort of thing.

Posted 2021-06-21.