Tales of Monkey Island: Chapter 1 PC Review
It was only a five weeks ago Telltale announced to the world that they were working on Tales of Monkey Island. It will be the series’ fifth outing but it’s the first to be released as five monthly episodes, the first of which is Launch of the Screaming Narwhal.
The mix of a distinguished developer who successfully revived the Sam & Max series, combined with the legendary licence of Monkey Island, felt like it could be a perfect match. If you’ve not come into contact with the series before, this is your chance to walk the plank into Guybrush Threepwood’s Caribbean world of pirates, voodoo, monkeys and swashbuckling mishaps.
One of the biggest concerns was whether this would be an authentic experience capable of recapturing the qualities which has made the series so popular. Thankfully everything from the ground up appears to be in place, though there really is too many people to mention but let’s scratch the surface. The game’s design director is Dave Grossman, one of the driving forces behind 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island, and he is joined by Michael Land, composer on all four previous games. Dominic Armato returns to voice Guybrush for the third time and even original creator Ron Gilbert was involved in the brainstorming process.
The game starts with Elaine Marley being held captive on LeChuck’s ship. In a state of voodoo undeadness, LeChuck is trying to extract secrets from a monkey before Guybrush’s ship pulls alongside for an attempted rescue. What follows for approximately 7-8 hours is an adventure gaming tour de force worthy of the series’ pedigree.
The writing is excellent, with lines delivered perfectly by an on form cast, and packed with the humour one expects from a Threepwood escapade. The only criticism on this front is that when choosing your response in a conversation, the words spoken are often quite different to what was written, although the subject matter is the same.
Visually the game is a joy to behold and this is the first game in the series that has full 3D environments seen from a third-person dynamic viewpoint. I’ve long been a big fan of the 2D art style for adventure games, but now we’re finally at a point where 3D isn’t taking anything away from the visual detail and overall playability. The opening sequence at sea is a great showcase, with the stormy weather, rocking boats and eerie steel band music conjuring a wonderful atmosphere.
Dialogue sequences are rendered seamlessly in realtime using the in-game engine, in fact the whole game plays out as if it were well-rendered CGI. There are occasional references to past events but the game perfectly treads the line between fan service and newcomer accessibility.
The game engine is similar to the one used in Telltale’s recent Wallace & Gromit release, with the addition of a new mouse control scheme. This mimics an analogue stick by having you hold left click and then move the mouse in the direction you want to walk. This is a welcome take on the click-happy mouse movement to which we’ve become accustomed to over the years. A keyword control scheme is also available.
The interface is clear but interacting with your inventory of bizarre items is more fiddly than it should be. Everything requires an extra click; from using a magnifying glass to inspect an item, to moving items into two ‘combine’ slots before pressing a UI button to see if they will merge. It’s not too much of an annoyance though, and you’ll be enjoying yourself so much you won’t care.
As you explore the new island of Flotsam, you’ll bump into (mostly) new characters Guybrush hasn’t come across before. Yet the distinct feel of the series is maintained, from the dialogue to the visual style. The difficulty of the problem-solving you’re tasked with is perfectly pitched, and if you do get stuck, the very subtle hint system may be all you need to help you along. You never feel overwhelmed and the gameplay doesn’t become tedious or as frustrating as it can in other adventure games.
If this first chapter is anything to go by, at $34.95 Tales of Monkey Island promises to deliver exceptional value for money. It’s available from July 7 on Telltale’s online store and a WiiWare release is planned for later this year. Sharpen your wit, ensure your parrot is firmly seated and climb aboard. I’m looking forward to the next chapter with a genuine sense of adventure.