Tales of Monkey Island -- Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review
By Chad Montague |
Fewer two-word combinations can get adventure fans and old school PC gamers more excited than "Monkey Island." The beloved adventure series from LucasArts helped make that company the Pixar of the genre, as its games packed charm, wit, humor, and exceptional design. But after the genre began to decline, LucasArts got out of the business almost a decade ago, with 2000's Escape from Monkey Island being the company's last adventure. As a result, we haven't had a new Monkey Island game in a long time.
However, LucasArts has suddenly remembered its heritage, and the company is launching a Monkey Island offensive. Not only is it rereleasing The Secret of Monkey Island in a special edition, but it teamed up with Telltale Games, makers of episodic adventure series such as Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures and Sam & Max (which began as another classic LucasArts adventure), to release a new episodic series, the five-part Tales of Monkey Island. Now many of the developers at Telltale are old LucasArts adventure fans, so Tales of Monkey Island is about as authentic as a Monkey Island game can get.
The dialogue can definitely be witty at times.Telltale is going a slightly different route with Tales of Monkey Island, though. This adventure series is set as an overarching narrative arc; it's basically one huge story divided into five parts. Previous Telltale series such as Wallace & Gromit featured what were essentially stand-alone episodes. So you'll need to play all five Tales of Monkey Island episodes to get the whole story. There's a risk with this, but also the promise of a greater narrative reward in the end. As you'd expect, Tales of Monkey Island comes off a bit tentative, and it feels exactly like what it is: the opening chapter in a much longer saga.
You get to play as Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate and the series' main protagonist since the beginning. The game starts off at the end of one adventure, with Guybrush looking to run the zombie pirate LeChuck through with a magical voodoo sword in order to save his lovely wife, Elaine. However, after screwing up a magic spell things go horribly awry, with Guybrush washing up on the shores of Flotsam Island, trapped by the never-ending winds from leaving. So this episode is all about figuring out what's going on and securing a ride off the island.
Getting off the island is a process that lasts three to five hours, as there are a slew of puzzles to navigate through, many of which fall in the adventure genre's standard "collect a bunch of things and then try using them on various objects until something clicks." While there's an imaginative use of a cheese wheel and a pirate's underwear, these types of puzzles are fairly standard for the genre. Where episode 1 tries to be clever is with navigating through a jungle using a treasure map; the jungle path is dynamic and it takes a bit of trial-and-error to figure out the cryptic instructions. Where you might get into trouble is that it's easy to miss one or two key locations in the jungle, which makes it impossible to fast travel to those points later on in the game. Thus, you might hit a brick wall not realizing that there are still places on the map to uncover. The control scheme relies on the combination of keyboard and mouse seen in the Wallace & Gromit games, though Telltale has implemented mouse-only controls for old school point-and-click adventure gamers.
An interesting predicament.While Telltale gets great marks for bringing back the original voice cast for the main characters, the dialogue doesn't quite crackle as we remember it. That could be a result of some rust on the franchise as the writers learn to recapture the characters' voices again. As a result, there's a reliance on some corny puns, and the dialogue is amusing at times, but not really hilarious. Some of the supporting characters are a hoot, including the mysterious newspaper source Deep Gut and an over-the-top French aristocrat, but others just sort of serve a singular purpose and that's it.