It would seem that Guybrush Threepwood just can't catch a break these days. First, he unleashes a pox on the Caribbean and ends up shipwrecked and separated from his wife; then, once he does manage to track down his beloved, they are pulled apart once more when he's swallowed by a giant manatee. The latest of Telltale's episodic adventures, Tales of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan, finds our favorite pirate continuing his quest for not only a cure for the pox, but also a route back into Elaine's arms. While the series as a whole has been very entertaining, this episode is easily the weakest of them all so far.
Players begin this chapter shipwrecked in the mouth of a giant manatee. Normally, that would be a recipe for a bad day, but as luck would have it, Guybrush runs across Coronado de Cava, the famed explorer who the Voodoo Lady had told him to seek out way back in the first episode. De Cava has discovered that La Esponja Grande, the cure for the pox of Le Chuck, is hidden away in the sacred manatee mating grounds, so all Guybrush needs to do is sit back and wait for the oversized sea cow to arrive at the spot and start working his blubbery magic.
There are complications, though; due to the manatee missing a cochlea (part of the inner ear), his internal compass is out of whack, causing him to swim in circles. De Cava's mutinous crew knows where the missing cochlea is, but they're perfectly happy living in the belly of the beast and aren't about to let Guybrush ruin their plush setup. Guybrush consequently decides that he will have to earn the crew's trust in the hopes of getting back on course. Therefore, the majority of the game is centered on winning over each individual crew member.
While this setup creates some interesting puzzles, it also severely limits the amount of exploration and creativity found in this chapter. For example, one crewman desperately wants a date with Morgan Le Flay, but it's obvious she isn't even remotely interested. Guybrush gets around this sticky wicket by having Morgan go on a "recon" mission with the enamored pirate, tricking her into holding his hand and feeling him up by telling her to make sure to "test his grip" and "search for weapons." It's quite clever, and a similar tactic is used later when Guybrush is trying to play matchmaker between two manatees using simple phrases found in a travel dictionary of the creatures' language. Puzzles like these are the highlights of the adventure, and they're certainly a welcome departure from the "put this object in that slot" formula that's been mostly present in the previous chapters.
While the challenges are somewhat fresh, they unfortunately come at the expense of exploration. Roughly 80 percent of your time in the game will be spent on one of two screens, and even when the sights change, you're basically restricted to the deck of your ship for the remainder of the adventure. There is one very minor and very quick diversion toward the end, but it's so short and uneventful that it's hardly worth mentioning. Episode 2 really opened up things, letting players travel between islands and wander around a bit, but this time around, it feels like the franchise has taken a massive step back in terms of letting players see the sights.
Maybe it's this lack of exploration, maybe I'm just getting better at the game, or maybe Telltale actually dialed back the difficulty, but it felt like this chapter was considerably easier than the previous ones. Whereas the first two episodes left me stumped on several occasions, there was only one puzzle this time around that had me scratching my head. Even then, I had figured out the difficult part of the solution and was merely overlooking an incredibly simple step that was essential for advancing the story. Overall, though, the puzzles seemed easier, which will be welcome news for the less hardcore gamers, but will likely come as a disappointment to die-hard franchise fans who love the series' typically twisted logic. I personally found it refreshing to be able to make it through an entire chapter unaided, but those who are more well-versed in the genre might be disappointed in the lack of challenge.
The simpler puzzles and smaller environments also mean that players can blow through this episode much more quickly than the previous ones, and an average player will probably speed through the adventure in roughly four hours. Advanced gamers or those who are able to deduce solutions quickly may be able to knock an hour or two off that time. Given that there's no real incentive for playing through the adventure again, keep the relative brevity of the chapter in mind before downloading.
On the upside, the writing and humor of the game still stand as a high point, and there are several very funny moments found throughout the adventure. At this point in the series, it feels like the writers have fully hit their stride with the characters, and zingers are flowing liberally from every character's mouth. Pepper in some amusing slapstick moments here and there, and you have a very lively play experience that will bring a smile on your face from beginning to end.
Though there are some high points in this episode (including the return of a favorite character I dare not spoil here), overall Lair of the Leviathan is the weakest of the series so far. There is nearly zero time spent exploring, and the fact that nearly the entire chapter takes place in one locale results in disappointment. Furthermore, the ease of the puzzles makes this an incredibly short affair, the sort of game which, if it were a retail release, would probably be rented rather than purchased.
Those who have played the first two games in the franchise and want to keep going to see how it all ends will find Tales of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan to be a minor diversion in an otherwise great series. Unfortunately, most games, movies, books and all other forms of entertainment seem to slow down in the middle in order to set things up for what is hopefully a big climax. With two episodes to go, here's hoping that's what Telltale has in store. We stand at a crossroads; this will either be the inevitable lull before the big finale or the moment when Tales of Monkey Island came off the rails and lost its way. We'll know more next month when Guybrush's adventures continue in Episode 4.
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