Ron Gil­bert, the famed videogame de­signer be­hind Ma­niac Man­sion and The Se­cret Of Mon­key Is­land, is in an apolo­getic mood. “I don’t think we did a very good job of set­ting ex­pec­ta­tions in the clas­sic ad­ven­ture games,” he tells us. “We kind of gave play­ers a lot of vague in­struc­tions and ex­pected you to go and fig­ure it out on your own.” It’s a legacy he’s keen to ad­dress in Thim­ble­weed Park, the Kick­started spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor to Ma­niac Man­sion.

“This has been a slow evo­lu­tion of ad­ven­ture game de­sign for me, go­ing all the way back to Ma­niac Man­sion,” he con­tin­ues. “That was a game filled with dead ends and weird ar­bi­trary deaths that I would, of course, never do now. Mon­key Is­land got rid of death and the ar­bi­trari­ness of a lot of the puz­zles, so that felt like a big ad­vance. And when I left Lu­cas­film I started Hu­mon­gous En­ter­tain­ment, which built ad­ven­ture games for kids. Kids are a very in­ter­est­ing au­di­ence to de­sign ad­ven­ture games for – they have a very short at­ten­tion span. You need to re­ally keep them en­gaged and make sure that they’re very clear about what they need to be do­ing – which is dif­fer­ent to telling them what they need to do.”

To that end, Ter­ri­ble Toy­box is aim­ing to stream­line as much of the puz­zle-solv­ing process as pos­si­ble, with­out ever lead­ing by the hand. There’s an easy mode that will take the com­plex­ity out of cer­tain puz­zles – one puz­zle in hard mode, for ex­am­ple, re­quires you to find and empty a bot­tle, fig­ure out how to make ink, and then fill it in or­der to top up a printer; in easy mode, the full bot­tle is wait­ing there for you. And in a par­tic­u­larly nice touch, each of the five playable char­ac­ters car­ries a per­son­alised note­book that con­tains a check­list of things to do for each sec­tion of the game, which should en­sure that you al­ways know where to fo­cus your ef­forts.

“Ad­ven­ture games kind of have this stigma at­tached to them,” Gil­bert says. “It prob­a­bly came from a lot of the games in the early ’90s – that was the dark age of a lot of point-and-clicks in some ways. It’s prob­a­bly my num­ber-one worry with this game – I want to com­mu­ni­cate to peo­ple that this is all of the won­der­ful things about point-and-click ad­ven­tures, with­out all the stupid things about them.”

Within that con­cern lies Gil­bert’s larger am­bi­tion for Thim­ble­weed Park: to some­how re­cap­ture the in­scrutable charm of early ad­ven­tures. “We didn’t want to make a retro point-and-click game,” he ex­plains. “We wanted to make a retro point-and-click game that was like you re­mem­bered those old games. I don’t know what that charm was, and we’re re­ally just try­ing to fig­ure it out. I think we’ve done it. Part of that was just up­dat­ing the graph­ics: we wanted to do 8bit art, but with­out all the tech­ni­cal lim­i­ta­tions of 8bit art. But if I re­ally think about Mon­key Is­land or Ma­niac Man­sion or Loom, or any of those games, there’s one thing I think they did a re­ally good job of, and that’s creat­ing a sense of place. In Ma­niac Man­sion you re­ally felt like you were ex­plor­ing this weird house. And

Mon­key Is­land was this whole pi­rate world, and af­ter a while you re­ally felt like it was a real world that you were walk­ing around. I’ve played some re­cent point-and-click games and I’ll be walk­ing around the po­lice sta­tion or some­thing, and I’ll walk out of the door and I’m tele­ported to some other place. I never get a chance to re­ally ex­plore the world.” From the small sec­tion of Thim­ble­weed

Park in our demo, which takes in a riverbed, a high­way, a cou­ple of streets from the main town, an ex­pan­sive man­sion, and an at­mo­spheric over­look that shows off a view of the game world, it’s clear that Ter­ri­ble Toy­box has al­ready suc­ceeded at build­ing a char­ac­ter­ful, enig­matic en­vi­ron­ment that begs for deeper ex­plo­ration. And it’s all made more vivid by re­al­time light­ing, a sprawl­ing cast of imag­i­na­tively bizarre in­di­vid­u­als, and – per­haps most im­por­tantly of all – a script stuffed with some crack­ing gags. We’re keen to find out whether it can re­cap­ture the spirit of a much-cher­ished genre with­out trip­ping on any of its more ir­ri­tat­ing foibles, but we’re charmed by its ap­proach al­ready.

“I want to com­mu­ni­cate that this is all of the won­der­ful things about point-and-click”

Just a small se­lec­tion of a fat deck of trad­ing cards, which re­veals an ex­ten­sive cast. These five are the game’s pro­tag­o­nists – you can switch be­tween them through­out

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