With all the television shows that have come and gone, I'm a bit surprised we've never seen a pirate courtroom drama. It seems like a fair idea, what with the constant looting, pillaging, murdering and general chicanery that goes on in the pirate community, but the idea has never made it on air for some reason or another. If such a show should ever come to be, though, I truly hope they'll use the fourth episode of the Tales of Monkey Island series, as The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood is a sterling experience from start to finish.
When we last left Guybrush, he had been shanghaied by pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay and keelhauled back to Flotsam Island to be turned over to the dastardly Marquis De Singe. Unfortunately for the mad scientist, before he can lay a hand on our mighty pirate hero, a horde of angry townsfolk comes and drags Guybrush away to stand trial on a bunch of trumped-up charges over crimes that he may or may not have actually committed. What follows is your standard zany Monkey Island adventure, with a littlePhoenix Wright thrown in for an extra dose of fun.
The game is essentially divided into two halves, with each experience unfolding quite differently from the other. In the first segment, Guybrush must clear himself of all charges by questioning witnesses and coming up with evidence that will prove his innocence. Perhaps the most enjoyable thing about this part of the game is that your case briefs pretty much tell you exactly what you need to do to be acquitted, but the tricky bit will be figuring out how. The resulting cross-examinations, bribes and outright evidence tampering end up being an absolute joy, and they're just tricky enough that you'll feel a nice sense of accomplishment every time one of the charges gets dropped.
The courtroom segment is also where Telltale reintroduces yet another character from the Monkey Island vault, and this time, it's our old buddy Stan in all his fast-talking, arm-waving, plaid-jacket-wearing glory. Stan is the prosecuting attorney in the case against Guybrush, but that's really just a front for his bigger passion: selling trial merchandise and exploiting dumb pirates. Truly one of the highlights of the series has been the revival of old supporting characters we may have forgotten over the years, and the inclusion of Stan is one of those things that makes you fall in love with the franchise all over again.
After Guybrush finally convinces the locals to let him off the hook, business really picks up, as the Voodoo Lady informs him that La Esponja Grande must go through several rituals in order to mature and achieve the pinnacle of evil-absorbing power. At this point, Flotsam Island opens up once again, and Guybrush must explore the jungle again to complete the ancient tasks. It's a significant change of pace from the last couple of episodes, and those who have been wondering where all of the really hard puzzles have gone need look no further. Even though the first half of the game isn't too difficult, things ramp up quickly and substantially in the second act. Even so, the puzzles never feel unfair or unsolvable; they just require a bit more thought and perhaps some trial and error. It's ultimately a nice balance, and one that will hopefully remain intact as Telltale preps the series' final installment.
While the Tales of Monkey Island games have featured solid writing throughout, the team really stepped it up this time around. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud moments, and basically anytime the camera cuts to Stan, you know that hilarity is about to ensue. The rest of the cast does a great job as well, and the writing has only gotten sharper as the series has gone on. It's just unfortunate that things will be wrapping up soon, as it seems like Telltale is firing off hit after hit in the script, and it's the sort of thing you wish could go on forever.
In addition to the sharp writing, the general story line for episode four also stands out. Just when I thought I had things all figured out, this installment started throwing curveballs, and now I'm left wondering how on earth Telltale is going to bring this story to a close and tie up all the loose ends in the final episode. In order to stay out of spoiler territory, I'll just say that there are some major revelations about a couple of characters, and the ending provides a cliffhanger worthy of the early seasons of "Lost." For perhaps the first time in the series, I'm legitimately anxious to get my hands on the next episode just to know what happens next.
There's really very little to find fault with in The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood. The puzzles are creative, fun and ramp up in difficulty in a nice manner; the script, story and acting are all outstanding, and the entire experience is just fun to play. The game doesn't really break any innovative new ground, but who's expecting it to? Also, the story has gotten far too complex for new players to jump in now and get true enjoyment out of it, but who starts watching an episodic TV show midway through a season? Really, the only thing Telltale needs to worry about is how they're going to top this game when the series finale hits. We may be nearing the end, but it's been a hell of a ride so far, and this episode makes me wish the ride would never end.
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