Who knew the life of a pirate was anything like this? Telltale Games has released the second episode of the Tales of Monkey Island series, and if the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood are anything to go by, then pirating is a lot less about swashbuckling and scurvy and more about brain-teasing puzzles and sarcastic banter. Even so, after this second brush with danger and intrigue, I'm left humming, "Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate's life for me."
When we last left Guybrush, things were looking grim. Though he had found Elaine and LeChuck, she seemed perfectly content with the no-longer-quite-undead pirate captain, and poor Guybrush was staring down the pointy end of the sword of pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay. Episode 2, Siege of Spinner Cay, picks up right where the first left off, with Guybrush battling LeFlay as he desperately attempts to reunite with Elaine. The subsequent battle leaves his ship crippled, so Guybrush must make an unscheduled stop at the Jerkbait Islands for a bit of mast repair. Upon arriving, though, he finds a pox-infested pirate who is threatening to burn the islands to the ground if the village chief doesn't give him the keys to unlocking La Esponja Grande, the only known cure for the pox. Thus Guybrush (with a little prodding from Elaine) sets out to find the means to uncover the cure himself, all the while hoping to undermine the plans of the evil pirates who would dare threaten a peaceful village.
One of the major draws of this episode is the way in which it expands on the introductory lessons made in the first game. Whereas episode 1 trapped players on Flotsam Island for the duration of the adventure, now that Guybrush has a boat, he is free to explore the several tiny islands that make up this particular region of the Caribbean. The only real downside is that while the game expands the number of islands, it doesn't really do much to enlarge the total landmass. Now instead of having a town and a jungle all in one area, there is an island with the main village, another with the puzzle-concealing jungle and a few tiny islands that serve as little more than sandbars, each containing one or two important items but little else. It's definitely a step in the right direction, but it would be nice to have a little more diversity in locales or substance for each place visited in the future episodes.
In addition to the exploration, the title is filled to the brim with challenging puzzles, which has always been the series' hallmark. Telltale again proves its mastery of the genre by starting things off simply enough and then steadily ramping up the difficulty as the adventure wears on. Most of the puzzles are just tricky enough to get you thinking, resulting in an eventual "Aha!" moment and a deep sense of satisfaction. However, a couple are borderline broken and could lead to frustration in even the most seasoned gamers. One challenge in particular forces you to make very specific dialogue choices to achieve your ultimate goal. The only problem is that nearly all of the dialogue options end in the same scene, but only one specific response will allow you to take the next step in solving the puzzle. Thus, many gamers who are on the right track may end up unable to proceed due to simply choosing the wrong line of seemingly identical conversation and will spend several more minutes or hours trying to tease out a different solution when they were actually right all along. It's truly a rare misstep for a company that normally does a terrific job with its puzzles, and thankfully, the rest of the game makes up for this one particular gaffe.
The other historically memorable aspect of the Monkey Island series has always been the writing, and it seems like this string of games is really starting to hit its stride. Characters and items discovered in the first game are referenced throughout this one, leading to a good amount of running gags and inside jokes that will crack up devoted players. Also, it's beginning to look like Guybrush's pyrite parrot will end up being the series' very own sonic screwdriver. You'll see for yourself when you play, but suffice it to say that if you get stuck on a puzzle, it's very likely the parrot will somehow play a role in moving the story along. It's a cute bit of writing, and the idea that such an inauspicious item may ultimately end up unlocking the very secret of Monkey Island is a fun flight of fancy that will keep me interested for the duration of the series.
Siege of Spinner Cay does a terrific job of moving the series forward and does all the things a second act is meant to do. It reinforces the series' mechanics and main gameplay elements, it deepens the story and provides compelling reason to keep going, and overall it just sets the table for a great adventure at the franchise's midway point. The ending of this episode makes me very excited to play the next game, as the locale that Guybrush will be exploring could be considered unorthodox, to say the least. Things are indeed setting up nicely, and it would appear that Telltale is devoted to making Tales of Monkey Island a compelling experience from beginning to end.
For those already into the series, this iteration is another great entry marred only by a few minor issues. The lack of truly new environments to explore is a bit of a downer, but it seems that issue will be fixed in the next installment. Also, a couple of overly difficult puzzles dampen the fun, but they're mostly offset by the large number of challenging, entertaining tests that make up the rest of the game. The only other warning would be for anyone new to the series to not start with this episode, largely because it relies on your knowledge of what happened previously in order to fully appreciate the plot. Think of it more like "Lost" or "Heroes" rather than "30 Rock" or "The Simpsons." You should play the first episode anyway because it's great, and this edition only continues the winning tradition. We are in the midst of a grand adventure, me hearties, and I can't wait to see where the winds of fortune take us next.Score: 8.8/10
More articles about Tales of Monkey Island