It’s only been half a year since I reviewed Thimbleweed Park, and I’ve already forgotten the solutions to many of its puzzles. But I don’t care. Playing it again as a handheld game—on Nintendo Switch, during my morning commute—I’m taking my time with it, absorbing all its little peculiarities, and finding it to be a fine place to visit.
I’ve become obsessed with the town’s phone book, which is filled with hundreds of numbers that lead to actual voicemail messages, recorded by real people who contributed to the game’s crowdfunding campaign. Pick a page and start dialing numbers using one of the many in-game phones, and you’ll be greeted by all sorts of characters, from weirdos who’ve used their contribution to the game to spout nonsense nobody else will ever understand, to children (and children-at-heart) telling innocent jokes and singing nursery rhymes, to couples who’ve imagined themselvesas residents of Thimbleweed Park. Some speak languages you won’t understand; some have squandered electronic immortality with variations of “I’m not here, leave a message.” These recordings are both disappointing and delightful, a microcosmic reflection of a time before digital media allowed us to more fully express ourselves to any lonesome stranger that might happen to be listening. Even at their most ordinary, they’re oddly touching, because they’re real.
As with Twin Peaks: The Return, which transformed its namesake town from a plot device into a seemingly real place where actual people might live, Thimbleweed Park opens up our limited view of the world surrounding Maniac Mansion. It isn’t just a crime scene where people go to be kidnapped or murdered, but a community center where life’s grand banalities play out in familiar beats. Where the passions of youth have warmed over, congealing into the satisfaction of scraping by in the company of someone familiar. Where selfish dreams die, leaving in their wake a greater appreciation for the needs of the many. Where a good deed erases a thousand bad ones.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m still enjoying revisiting the mysteries that push Thimbleweed Park’s players across its chiaroscuro chessboard. But more than that, I’m enraptured by its observations on the passing of time. As a sequel to one of my favorite NES games, Thimbleweed Park feels right at home on a Nintendo console; as a reflection on a type of suburban existence that’s doomed to be swallowed up by globalism and the advances of technology, it has far more to say than just about any other game out there.
Thimbleweed Park is a fine destination for a Sunday drive. Just don’t be unnerved by all the boarded-up buildings, or the radio jockey who won’t spin anything but the latest hits from 1987, or the weird secret society that give its residents something meaningful to do after they’ve clocked out from their 9-to-5s. This is the drama of the ordinary, and it’s its own kind of beautiful.