|Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal|
|Platforms||Windows, OSX, WiiWare, PSN|
|Genre||Resurrected voodoo point and click|
|Buy from Amazon|
After 2000’s somewhat disastrous Escape from Monkey Island, I was rather leery on returning to my beloved childhood point and click adventure series. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge was the first game I ever played in the genre, and The Curse of Monkey Island is still in my top 10 games of all time.
LucasArts wasn’t too excited on bringing back Guybrush Threepwood either, but in 2009 thanks to TellTale Games, began publishing the five episodes of Tales of Monkey Island, beginning with Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. TellTale Games is the most successful episodic gaming developer around, and they seem to thrive when given an existing IP to adapt into their release format. Tales of Monkey Island would go on to become their best-selling series at the time.
I’ll be reviewing each episode individually as if they were being released one at a time. There’s a few reasons for this: if an episode really sucks, will I want to play on? I like the idea of being able to quit at any time. Plus, I’m a big fan of getting my ideas down on paper sooner than later, and feel like I can give each episode the time it deserves by reviewing it immediately.
Screaming Narwhal launches with a Guybrush, Elaine, and LeChuck scene. This is a good sign for longtime fans that the writers have an idea of what fans are actually interested in. After a short puzzle sequence, Guybrush’s attempt at eradicating LeChuck once and for all fails as he instead turns the undead pirate lord back into human form and manages to corrupt his own left hand in the process with an evil spirit. So LeChuck is now a handsome swashbuckler and Guybrush has an infected hand that won’t listen to him, quite the start to the game.
After that, the rest of Episode 1 takes place on Flotsam Island, a small chunk of land where all the wind blows inward so no ships are able to leave. While the goal isn’t quite the classic “map, ship, crew”, Guybrush still needs to find his way off Flotsam and back to Elaine and Chuck. According to Steam, I beat the episode in three hours, so it’s not exactly a grueling journey. But most of the iconic Monkey Island features are present, from Dominic Armato voicing Guybrush Threepwood, to the “look over there, it’s a three-headed monkey!” line. There’s also lots of stuffing large objects into your pants and general mayhem the series is well known for. Tales of Monkey Island is truly Monkey Island.
Like Escape from Monkey Island, Tales takes place in a 3D world, while it is certainly better executed than its predecessor, I certainly miss the rich and detailed hand drawn environments from Curse of Monkey Island, and I’d even prefer the pixelated old school graphics. But it’s still not bad, Tales just feels like a shallower game because of it. There are very few objects to interact with because there are simply very few objects in general, not to mention four of the six buildings on Flotsam Island are always locked. This was undoubtedly a conscious decision by TellTale Games, probably due to art restrictions and to keep the game simple, but the world feels emptier than it should.
The controls also took me a long time to get used to. At first I didn’t realize there were keyboard controls at all, and trying to direct Guybrush with just the mouse is a joke. You sort of hold down the left mouse button and spin him around until he staggers into the right direction. Realizing there was a WASD option actually had me a bit torn, part of it felt a bit too much like Escape from Monkey Island, but it made the game so much easier to play. (Then I remembered that Escape used tank controls and Tales is straight directional movement, what an improvement.)
Another weird quirk about Tales’ controls is that right-clicking doesn’t do anything while interacting with the environment. Maybe this is a TellTale Games’ thing, but it feels wrong to not be able to pick things up with left-click and cue funny remark with the right. Everything is done through left-clicking and further simplifies the gameplay.
The inventory is kind of a chore to deal with, as you can’t just drag one item on top of another to combine them, you have to drag them both to a special section of the inventory and then hit the combine button. You’re also not allowed to repeatedly try an inventory item on a field item, as you’re forced to return to the inventory every time. It just feels like a clumsy attempt to stop the player from spamming the environment with combinations.
It’s a bit awkward at times, but Launch of the Screaming Narwhal has successfully captured the tone of Monkey Island, which is not an easy feat considering even LucasArts couldn’t pull it off with Escape from Monkey Island. I’m looking forward to the rest of the episodes and just hoping none of them stumble too much.