Pirate Monkey Fun
The early 90s can easily be considered the golden age of PC adventure games, thanks in-part to the development efforts of a handful of game designers at LucasArts. Games like Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and The Secret of Monkey Island are among some of the best adventure titles of that time. Old-school PC gamers may recall with great fondness the humor-infused piratical shenanigans of the Monkey Island series in particular. Though many years have passes since the last island exploits of Guybrush Threepwood, a new Monkey Island adventure is finally upon us. It’s well worth the wait.
Following the success of recent bite-sized series installments of Sam & Max, Strongbad’s Cool Game For Attractive People, and Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, Telltale Games is tweaking its episodic gaming model slightly for its Monkey Island revival. Instead of being released as a series of individual, self-contained episodes, Tales of Monkey Island is a lengthier game with an overarching story that’s being released chapter-by-chapter. The first installment, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, is a delightful entry point for new players and a great opportunity for veteran fans to get reacquainted with old friends.
In the years following Escape from Monkey Island, Guybrush has scoured the seas to assemble the necessary components to create a voodoo-enhanced cutlass capable of finally destroying his zombified pirate nemesis LeChuck once and for all. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal opens in a ship-to-ship encounter with the dread pirate just as Guybrush uncovers the last of the special ingredients he needs to enchant his blade and is about to free his captured wife Elaine. Comically, his attempt to flay his undead adversary and save the day backfires, unleashing a voodoo curse into the Caribbean, sinking his own ship, and sending him plummeting beneath the waves. Waking up stranded on the island of Flotsam, Guybrush sets out to find a cure to repair his newly-zombified hand, put a halt to the suspiciously in-flowing winds that make leaving the beaches impossible, and find out what happened to his beloved wife. The wacky and funny quest that unfolds during his island travels offers prime evidence to why the point-and-click adventure genre is well worth reviving.
Anyone who grew up playing the earlier Monkey Island games will easily appreciate the effort Telltale and the LucasArts team members put into continuing the adventure with the same flair and style that made the original games such a pleasure. However, the first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island also quickly eases newcomers into the fold without requiring much familiarity with the series’ back-story. All of the characters, new and old alike, are infused with tremendous personality and are brought to life with stellar voice work that makes being sucked into the flowing current of the story is effortless. Whether it’s the local pirate news reporter who requests you drum up some hot stories to cover, or the insane island doctor who insists you must amputate your demonic hand for the betterment of medical science, most of the unruly characters you’ll come across offer amusing opportunities for peculiar conversation.
Rather than venturing far out on a limb with new mechanics, the gameplay uses the same tried-and-true, story-focused puzzle solving concepts that adventure gamers are well accustomed to. You’ll direct Guybrush around Flotsam Island, chatting up members of the local pirate community, seeking out items to eventually use elsewhere, and working to figure out how to overcome the various puzzle obstacles you’re presented with along the way. Far from being stuck in an antiquated genre rut, all of these tasks are made more pleasurable than expected by the attractively designed locations, silly character encounters, and creatively clever puzzle challenges you’ll find throughout your island journey. What Tales of Monkey Island misses in the innovation department it compensates for with sheer charm.
Two slightly different control schemes offer some limited variations for moving Guybrush around and manipulating objects. The default method has you moving around with the WASD keys on your keyboard while selecting and interacting with characters and hotspots with your PC mouse. Alternatively, you can use one-handed controls by holding down the mouse button over Guybrush to bring up a circular arrow interface that lets you drag him along in the direction of your choosing. In either case the inventory and menus can be accessed easily. Both setups function well and the ability to switch between the two on a whim is handy.
Many of the puzzles predictably involve combining the right series of items together or using them at the right hotspots, but the often silly nature of the items and the way you use them make the process much more enjoyable than your average adventure game. For example, at one point you’ll have to create a fake Dark Ninja Dave with Killer Karate Katana action figure by dunking a pink Porcelain Power Pirate ninja figure in an appropriately hued substance and throwing in a tiny a plastic sword obtained from a mixed drink at the local tavern. Others drop you into action-oriented scenes – like escaping from a locked room while bound and tackling oddball tasks aboard the rocking deck of a seafaring vessel – that require you to interact with your immediate surroundings in a specific way to achieve the desired results needed to progress.
Humor has always been an integral component of past Monkey Island games and chapter one follows suit wonderfully. The game is thoroughly littered with subtle references to technology and pop culture, other Telltale games, and older entries in the series that’ll merit a good chuckle now and then. The cliffhanger ending may ruffle the feathers of players who’re used to having each episode wrapped up tidily at its conclusion, but it definitely builds anticipation for the next chapter. It’s great to see this much-adored series making a comeback. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal offers some of the best adventure gaming we’ve seen in some time, even topping Telltale’s recent quality releases.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.5 Graphics
Absolutely wonderful presentation filled with lots of nuances. 4.0 Control
Strong single and two-handed control options work well and provide variety. 4.8 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Thematic music adds lots of atmosphere, while great voice acting rounds things out nicely. 3.9 Play Value
This short but delightful chapter offers a great entry point to the series and is worth replaying again once all the upcoming chapters have all been released. 4.5 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.