Has it really been over a decade since we last played Monkey Island? It seems like only yesterday we were wooing Elaine, foiling LeChuck and dealing with the helpful yet annoyingly cryptic Voodoo Lady. Thankfully, Telltale has seen fit to take us back to the high seas once more for their latest episodic series, Tales of Monkey Island, and true to form, the first entry starts things off with a bang.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal picks up with series protagonist Guybrush Threepwood in yet another jam. Our hero finally has the undead pirate LeChuck on the ropes, needing only to run him through with a cutlass enchanted with magic root beer in order to be rid of his mortal enemy once and for all. In typical fashion, though, Guybrush boots his chance at victory when he accidentally loses the bottle of root beer, and some last-minute improvisations not only fail to vanquish LeChuck, but ultimately end up turning him into a human. Even worse, Guybrush's left hand is infected with the "Pox of LeChuck," giving it a (very destructive) mind of its own. Thus Elaine remains captured, LeChuck escapes and Guybrush ends up stranded on Flotsam Island, a natural anomaly where the wind is constantly blowing toward the island, thus preventing any ships from ever escaping.
From here, Guybrush sets about to prove his pirate mettle to the other poor souls shipwrecked on the island and hatch a plan to escape. In doing so, he meets a full cast of colorful characters, such as Crimpdigit the pirate glassblower, who makes nothing but adorable unicorns, and the Marquis de Singe, former court doctor to King Louis (the latter of whom takes a decidedly dangerous interest in Guybrush's cursed hand). As with all the other Monkey Island games, the supporting cast plays a big role in the story, and the constant comic relief will keep you chuckling throughout the adventure.
In the vein of other Telltale games like Wallace and Gromit or Sam & Max, Tales of Monkey Island adheres to the old-school point-and-click mechanics that were so popular back when PC adventure games were the hot genre. Most of your time on Flotsam Island will be spent chatting with locals, picking up any object that the game will let you and then hanging onto it just waiting for the chance to utilize it in solving one of the island's many puzzles. While many of the puzzles are fairly straightforward and can be deciphered even by newcomers to the franchise (or adventure gaming in general), others are more obtuse and complex, likely leaving you scratching your head or scrambling for GameFAQs. There is a hint system that players can utilize if they're stuck, but it's not always all that helpful. If you enjoy being stumped from time to time, then you'll love the game's challenge; otherwise, there are a few moments that might prove extremely frustrating.
Making things even more complicated, but ultimately more fun, is the fact that Tales of Monkey Island is the first Telltale game to utilize the combination of items in the player's inventory as a method of puzzle-solving. While this mechanic was a staple of most adventure games back in the day, the folks at Telltale had until now viewed it as a very advanced concept, and one that might not be properly understood by audiences who are unfamiliar with its. The inclusion of it feels right for this franchise, though, and basically all the item combinations make sense so players won't be left combining two seemingly random items to create a third random item, the purpose of which seems totally unclear.
Telltale has also opted to revamp the standard adventure game control scheme in an effort to add a more modern flair. While players can still use the WASD or arrow keys for movement, the title also supports mouse-driven control in which players hold down the left mouse button and then drag the mouse in the direction they wish to move. It's an interesting concept, but unfortunately it doesn't work as well as hoped. Movements are sometimes a bit jerky, and Guybrush will often wander into walls or get stuck on objects in the environment. Thankfully, the game doesn't force you to use this new movement system, but it's clear that if this is a control scheme that Telltale hopes to utilize going forward, there's still a lot of ground to cover before things are perfected.
A major concern with rebooting the franchise was how the traditional characters would look with a major makeover to bring them into current-gen visuals and sound design. It turns out there was nothing to worry about, though, as the result is an unabashed success. Guybrush carries all the mannerisms of a well-meaning, if slightly overconfident, pirate, and dear Elaine gives off the perfect air of a woman torn between her love for her husband and frustration with having to watch him fumble his way through life. The voice acting is also top notch, with all the actors from the original franchise returning and lending their pipes to the latest adventure. The script could use some punching up, and even though there are a good number of funny moments, several jokes fall flat and there are very few laugh-out-loud lines. It's a solid effort for a first outing, but hopefully, things will come more naturally as the series progresses.
Outside of the main game, there is a cool extra that's worth mentioning, and that is the game's Treasure Hunt mode. In this special standalone segment, players can decipher maps to discover in-game treasures that translate into real world rewards. After finding a treasure, you simply visit the Monkey Island Web site and click on your reward. Once you've done that, the next treasure map is unlocked and you can dive right in and go again. Trinkets include wallpapers, avatars and more, and it's a great way to show your love of the franchise. A fun distraction, this mode provides reason to come back to the game long after you've completed the main quest.
Overall, the first outing in the Tales of Monkey Island series feels a lot like riding a bike for the first time in over a decade. Sure, you may wobble a bit at first and you may not be able to pull off all the same tricks as you could in your younger days, but things ultimately fall into place and it isn't long before you relax into a nice rhythm. There are still a few aspects of the franchise that could use a tune-up, but a strong first outing leaves me excited to see where ol' Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate, will sail next.
More articles about Tales of Monkey Island