It’s been nine years since Monkey Island was part of the gaming scene when ‘Escape from Monkey Island’ was released for the PS2 and PC. Unfortunately it was regarded by many as the weakest title in the series and it seemed that it might spell the end for one of the most popular games in a dying ‘point and click’ genre. Years passed and despite a few sightings of concept art, legions of fans had given up hope on ever finding out what the actual secret of Monkey Island was. Thanks to Telltale games, who have breathed life back into this genre almost single handed, we are once again able to take up the role of Guybrush Threepwood and jump back to somewhere “Deep in the Carribean…”.
In keeping with Telltale’s tradition, “Tales of Monkey Island” is being released episodically with five episodes making up the full series. The first episode “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” lasts approximately 4-6 hours, feeling very much like an introduction to the characters, how the game will control, and setting the story for the rest of the game. It starts at the Rock of Gelato with the pirate Lechuck, your nemesis throughout the series, holding your wife, Governor Elaine Marley, hostage on board his ship. It seems Lechuck is determined to finally find out the unique secret behind the monkeys and Guybrush has scoured the seas to locate the items he needs to finally finish off his nemesis and live happily ever after. Needless to say whilst trying to accomplish his goal, not everything goes to plan and before you know it, your ship has been blown to pieces, leaving you drifting on top of a piece of wreckage towards Flotsam Island. The main setting for the first episode, Flotsam Island is unique in that all the winds blow towards it, meaning once you get on, you cant get off. Guybrush desperately needs to get back to Elaine and the only way to do this is to find out and fix why the winds blow inwards, before getting himself a ship and heading back to his wife.
The puzzles have always been one of the main focus of the titles and there’s a very fine line between making these puzzles tough without being frustrating, logical without being obvious, and humorous without being stupid. The game uses a hint system which can be turned up to offer more advice and vice versa. It comes in the form of Guybrush suggesting aloud what you might need to do in order to advance. It’s a good idea since it can be very annoying if you can’t figure out what to do and end up getting stumped for days… or even weeks. However the puzzles are well thought out and offer a great challenge without ever getting exasperating, meaning it’s unlikely that you will find yourself looking online for a walkthrough.
For many, the reason why Monkey Island is so highly regarded is fundamentally down to the lovable, funny, characters coupled with the great setting and atmosphere created by the Caribbean inspired musical score. Dominic Armato’s voice work can’t be downplayed in its importance of bringing Guybrush’s character to life. There are some nods to the past games with jokes of rubber chicken pulleys and the like, which will be welcomed by past fans but wont go completely over the heads of new players. Fortunately this is a game which plays well to both camps of old and new.
It’s reassuring to see that new locations are clearly going to be accessable in future episodes – a worry after Telltales other titles highlighted this as a minor downfall. Taking on such a well respected and loved franchise was a big risk but Telltale obviously grasp what makes Monkey Island work. With the exciting storyline, cleverly thought out puzzles and colourful, brilliantly animated characters, fans who have waited years will no doubt have their expectations exceeded.