Telltale Games have released the first chapter of the Tales of Monkey Island series entitled ‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’. Before I get into this review, I have to ensure you, the reader, understands that I am a largely avid fan of the Monkey Island franchise so if there is nit-picking in this review and comparisons to the old, I apologize – As always, these are personal reviews.
Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal (ToMI1) is the first chapter in a series of five developed by Telltale Games. It is a graphic adventure game based on the Monkey Island franchise (1990-2000). How does this game compare to it’s predecessors? Can it be officially added to the Monkey Island (MI) series or is it such a let-down that it cannot be called a true Monkey Island game (evident in the new Leisure Suit Larry games)?
You predictably begin the game as the MI protagonist Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™ on your ship looking for ways to save your wife, Elaine Marley who has been captured by the evil LeChuck once again. This sequence is basically an introduction and you learn that this game is set in the near future after Monkey Island 4. As Guybrush almost completes the recipe for the Cursed Cutlass Kaflu (that can possibly destroy LeChuck for good), he drops the last ingredient and has to find an alternative. Thumbs up atleast to the character development here: less than 5 minutes into the game and we see Guybrush’s clumsiness affect the storyline (as usual). With a new final ingredient used, Guybrush stabs LeChuck with the ‘improvised’ voodoo cutlass. This results in LeChuck turning into a human and Guybrush’s hand being infected with the ‘Pox of LeChuck’. An explosion on the ship sends our hero flailing into the ocean.
Guybrush awakes on the beach of Flotsam Island and learns that the unusual winds disallow anyone to leave the island. This first chapter looks at Guybrush’s adventures at Flotsam Island as he finds a way to get off the Island and save Elaine.
As far as the story goes, it is only the first chapter and it does not really tell much of the story. It successfully creates the introduction of the five-part series with a clever idea of making Guybrush’s hand uncontrollable and morphing LeChuck into a human – Something fresh from the older games.
The character development in this game is done well. Newcomers to the game will immediately notice the protagonist’s claims to the title, Mighty Pirate™ and yet also realize his lack of pirate-esque characteristics. This is the cheeky Guybrush Threepwood that the fans will remember and any newcomer will definitely fall in love with the character’s charm. LeChuck and Elaine are not thoroughly mentioned but they serve their purposes in the story telling. It is good that Telltale Games have come up with a fresh story portraying the same objective as the other MI games: Save Elaine from the clutches of LeChuck.
This is where this game plummets. The birth of the MI series was in 2D and it continued this trend until the 4th installment (Escape from Monkey Island) where we saw the franchise gobbled up by the 3D monster. This new 3D take of the world of MI resulted in bad controls and a much less memorable experience. The artwork behind Monkey Island 3 (The Curse of Monkey Island) was magnificent and possibly one of the best things about the game.
Unfortunately, ToMI1 follows suit with it’s predecessor and is in 3D. Similar to previous games by Telltale Games, we see poor graphics that could easily have been improved. Textures are poor and usually lacking detail; the polygons on the models are easily noticable; animations remind me of the crappy new Leisure Suit Larry games; and there are a number of graphical anomalies showing slack graphical development. As much as it can be said that these soft textures were made to suit the cartoon-ish feel of the game, has the Lego Batman and Lego Star Wars games on the PS3 (and even in HD) not shown that this can be done without plain textures?
Within this 3D world, you will also be infuriated by the poor camera angles. In a game where you have to be able to look at the surroundings, changing camera angles will NOT help. For example, in the first scene, combining the different camera angles as you look around the ship with the rocking caused by the sea currents, it can be difficult to even find what is ‘clickable’. Very cumbersome and a feature not needed.
The music in ToMI1 gives me goosebumps as I remember the MI series. The musical scores are beautiful and will always suit the theme of Monkey Island. The voice acting is stunningly excellent in comparison to games nowadays. Just hearing Dominic Armato voice our hero is enough to make any MI fan buy this game.
ToMI1 almost follows it’s predecessors’ style of gameplay (ignoring the bad controls in MI4). There are two methods of controlling Guybrush – with the Mouse, the player can hold and drag the mouse to move Guybrush in the desired direction and with the Keyboard (WASD or directional buttons). This new method of movement with the mouse was annoying, unresponsive and inaccurate. It is so frustrating it can make you want to throw the game in the trash. However, I discovered the keyboard method later on (one-third into the game) and it seemed really stupid that Telltale Games had showcased the mouse-movement controls by including it in the tutorial but not mentioning the keyboard. I could be wrong as I normally just skimmed through the tutorial tips but needless to say, why remove the point-and-click from this famous point-and-click adventure game? Monkey Island has been categorized in the point-and-click adventure genre countless times so why did they have to remove such a simple feature that allowed the player to move around?
Apart from that, everything else follows suit. It would be good if players were allowed to both look and touch/interact with items instead of just clicking items. Basically, the coin in Monkey Island 3 to the left.
Also, the new inventory system is a bit tedious and requires a bit of getting used to if you are a fan of the previous games. Everything is done in single clicks and not in a holding of a mouse button or even the right mouse button (which is used to skip character speechlines).
The comedy within the game may not keep you laughing like other MI games did, but they are sometimes just as witty ensuring atleast a hint of a grin from the player.
I finished this game in 2½ hours with hints set to the minimum. Why would you want hints in this game? It defeats the purpose of thinking out of the box especially for games featuring the outrageous antics of protagonists (Guybrush Threepwood, Larry Laffer, etc.) that have to find every possible way to pass obstacles because of their character’s lack of ability. The game was not hard at all, in fact it is much easier compared to it’s predecessors. There is hardly any thinking out of the box and although people have complained that there are very ‘random’ things you have to do, I never felt this at all. Joystiq (2009) reviews this game and mentions that “triggering the actual puzzle and forcing the game to pay attention to what you’re doing requires a bizarre act which never really makes sense” in regards to the puzzle involving the traversal of a jungle maze. This is ridiculous and it is obvious from the map that is given to you that you have to ‘use the map on that well’ to start the puzzle. To the right you will see this map and in the top left corner (obviously the start as the other side depicts the X) you will notice a well (which is very similar to the 3D one in the game) with a human hand above it holding a parchment of some sort. At this point in the game, this is the only map you have and the well is in the center of the maze.
The game is downright easy and unless you have never played an adventure game before, you will fly through it unlike adventure games like Broken Sword or heck, even Leisure Suit Larry (by Sierra). If you are not into exploring the world and listening to the witty remarks Guybrush has about just about all the objects in the game, then switch on the hints – But if you want the real MI feel, then switch them off and figure things out as you go because as mentioned earlier, the game really does not have much lateral thinking. There is even a scene where the camera zooms in on an object you must pick up. Still, it can be assumed that this game was made for today’s gamers and the difficulty level is set just right with that in mind
This game is episodic-based and it’s replayability cannot be rated until all the chapters come out. But I predict an adventure game does not receive much replayability because of its linearity – which is fine, because I always go back to these games much later for nostalgic value.
Tales of Monkey Island is a much awaited sequel to the Monkey Island series and this first chapter does it’s job in introducing the characters to both newcomers and fans. The story is introduced and after playing the first chapter you will definitely want to know what happens next (as it predictably ends with a cliffhanger). Looking at the Leisure Suit Larry franchise resurrection, this game is perfect for avid fans. ToMI1 keeps to majority of the things that made the Monkey Island franchise so memorable and is pretty much just a new story with the old gameplay. The bad camera angles, poor graphics and new features get in the way of this adventure game and may make this experience less memorable (like MI4) but these flaws are tolerable. Besides, surrounded by the comedy and nostalgia (for fans), you will still want to play through the game. It fares well in comparison with the MI franchise and I hope to see more, but with a few things fixed up – And possibly a 2D sequel.
Newcomers to the franchise, I hope you see why Monkey Island is so awesome and check out the older ones. For me, The Curse of Monkey Island (3) was the best so do take a look at that one. The new enhanced remake of The Secret of Monkey Island looks very promising (and more user-friendly) so go buy that too!