First things first. For the small minority who don’t know, Tales of Monkey Island is the latest in a long and storied series of PC adventure games that follow the humorous piratical adventures of one Guybrush Threepwood as he sails the Caribbean in swashbuckling adventures that usually focus on his attempts to rescue his beloved Elaine from the clutches of the ghost pirate Le Chuck.
It’s been ten years since the last Monkey Island outing. Ten years! Hard to believe it’s been that long, really. This latest offering from Lucasarts and Telltale games is – guess what? – episodic content.
Who didn’t see that one coming, eh? First Sam and Max, now Monkey Island… if we don’t see some episodic Grim Fandango adventures in the next year or two, I’ll eat my own knees.
Perhaps more so than any other PC game series, Monkey Island inspires ferocious opinions in its fans. Many of us were brought up on the originals, and any deviation from our childhood memories will result in ‘Phantom Menace’-style disappointment. Nostalgia is a powerful motivator, and unfortunately it’s NEVER as good the second time round. You can never go home, ladies and gentlemen, you can never go home.
That said, it seems that the designers have been careful to appreciate the rabidity of their fans and have tried to flavour this first chapter of their episodic series as close to the original Monkey Island game as possible. Many of the elements will take long-time fans back to that first part of that first Monkey Island adventure – the weird treasure maps, the series of challenges, and so on – while still keeping it fresh and more-or-less original.
And it’s funny! The gags are cheesy, the characters cartoony and ridiculous, and the puns dreadful, and you’ll love it. It’s everything old-timers remember Monkey Island being. It has everything about the original humour that made it so appealing. The cast of characters that return from the originals are precisely as you remember them, and the new additions are in keeping with the spirit of Monkey Island.
The puzzles all make some kind of sense. If you’ve played a couple of point-and-clickers, you’ll be able to work out how the designers think pretty easily and you’ll sail through without too much trouble. If you’re new to the genre, a certain degree of head-scratching may occur, but in the end there’s nothing too frustratingly illogical.
Almost as inevitably as the episodic format is the fact that when you reach the end, you’ll feel like there wasn’t enough. I have a personal gripe regarding episodic games that I know is shared by many, and this isn’t the place to bulldoze it all over again. Suffice to say, you’ll probably be through it in an afternoon. A day tops.
So it’s short but fun. The music matches the feel of the game and the ambient sounds that chirp and squawk at you as you plumb the depths of the jungles of Plunder Island help with the immersion. It’s not, of course, a game that takes itself at all seriously, so if you’re looking for a realistic simulation of the Caribbean in the seventeenth century, you’re best off looking elsewhere.
So, then. Actual problems? Well, I know I promised I wouldn’t bang on about it, but it’s really short. A couple of hours isn’t really enough time for any consistently annoying design flaws to manifest, so in a way its brevity sort of protects it from too much criticism. A few of the puzzles are perhaps a little repetitive and simple, but to give it its due, if they were arbitrary and difficult to solve, I’d be moaning louder about that. As the opening episode of a longer game it’s a really good introduction, just like the first chapter of the original Monkey Island game was. But let’s be honest here. It’s not JUST the opening chapter of a longer game. If you buy it on the day of release, you’re going to be waiting for a while before the rest comes out. True, the pricing makes sense, in that you buy the entire bundle then download them as and when they come out, but it still strikes me as an odd way to market a product. It seems the only really accurate way to review it is to wait for them to finish it, and actually release the whole thing, then review it as a whole, on its merits. As it stands, I did enjoy it, and it got a few belly laughs out of me as well as giving that warm feeling of seeing an old friend you’ve not seen in years and remembering why you liked them so much. I’m looking forward to the rest, and expect things to get even better. Avast!