Tales of Monkey Island – win a free copy!
As a fan of point-and-click adventures, I hold no series in higher regard than Monkey Island. The adventures of Guybrush Threepwood provided a humorous spin on the world of swashbuckling and demonstrated the potential of the fledging LucasArts studio. Even after 20 years since its original release I find myself returning to The Secret of Monkey Island, not merely as a trip down memory lane but as a reminder that 3D graphics and accurate physics modeling are no replacement for a quality story and a strong sense of humor. Recently TellTale Games, in cooperation with LucasArts, has decided to revive my childhood and release a new, five-part series titled Tales of Monkey Island for Mac, beginning with Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. If you listen closely, you can actually hear my inner child cheering with excitement.
Tales of Monkey Island joins our quintessential underdog and all-round mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood on a quest to retrieve his wife Elaine from the clutches of the sinister ghost pirate Le Chuck. Unfortunately while battling for his love’s life, our hero accidentally releases a voodoo pox and finds himself ship-wrecked on an island with no sign of escape. It’s up to Guybrush to assemble a random collection of knick-knacks and oddities to use in bizarre ways in order to escape the island, find his lady-love, and stop the voodoo pox from infecting the world.
By the time the first cut-scene had ended, I was bouncing off the walls with anticipation. Though within minutes of gaining control of our hero, I found myself swearing vengeance over whoever developed the control system. Instead of the traditional point-and-click movements, the player moves Guybrush with a click-and-drag method in order to better accommodate the new 3D environments. Unfortunately the controls are finicky at best. Traveling in anything other than a straight line using the mouse felt unintuitive and quickly taxed my nerves. Even the simple task of walking down a pier, something any mighty pirate should excel at, became like a nightmarish obstacle course from a Japanese game show as I weaved through the stationary crates and characters that cluttered my path. Fortunately you can also use the arrows keys to move Guybrush about, a feature I recommend using immediately as it makes the game actually playable. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you lack the patience to continue on with the story.
Despite the poor controls, ToMI‘s gameplay was reminiscent of the Monkey Island series in its prime. Every puzzle retained that level of difficulty and lunacy that made the series unique. Would you think to roll a piece of cheese on a jail cell wall in order to revive a tiki idol? Me either, but apparently the developers did. I spent extended periods wandering about the island rubbing each item in my inventory on every object on-screen in the hopes I’ll find something of use. But that’s not to say this occurrence was commonplace. While I certainly did struggle at points to determine my next move, many puzzles were solved just by taking a step back and re-examining my inventory. Sometimes the simplest answer to a puzzle is to just think outside the box, a tactic frequently employed and brilliantly executed.
The point-and-click genre was designed at a time when developers had such limited technology available they were forced to sacrifice action in order to create the plot-driven experience they wanted. A story-rich experience is therefore at what point-and-clicks excel, and ToMI takes this a step further by integrating multiple cut-scenes into the gameplay to fully achieve the developer’s vision. After solving most puzzles or while conversing with other individuals, the game will take on a much more cinematic view and force the player to passively sit and watch the action. I’m usually weary of utilizing multiple cut-scenes since they tend to pull the player out of the gameplay, however ToMI’s scenes were short, succinct, and filled with a bit of comedy to keep the player from becoming detached. While the number of overall cut-scenes was still a bit too much for my taste, the majority of them focused on setting the scene and introduced the cast of characters. Hopefully there will be more emphasis on the gameplay in the latter chapters as the story develops.
No matter how interesting I found the plot, it’s simply not a Monkey Island game unless I’m left in stitches. Fortunately ToMI did not disappoint as the gameplay is packed full of the quirky humor that made the original games successful and harkens back to a young LucasArts. After I encountered the pirate glass blower selling glass unicorns because he’s just that comfortable with his own sexuality, I knew this game had much of the comedic charm I enjoyed in the previous titles. However the trait I respected the most in early Monkey Island games was the eclectic sense of humor with many layers that could appeal to everyone. This made the old games something I could enjoy whether I was 4 or 24 years old, instantly turning them into classics in my book. What excites me most about this new series is that I caught a potential glimmer of this same trait lying beneath the puns and pirate-y quips. I suppose only time will if was just a mirage.
Even though I’ve only played Chapter 1 and have a long way to go, this first iteration has piqued my interest in the remainder of the series, as a good opening act should. I’m intrigued to see if this game can reinvigorate what made the Monkey Island series such a delight to play.
All this talk of Monkey Island is making me want to fire up my old Amiga and play the original, four floppy disk version. Nostalgia is a powerful force; it’s even a force that can even help you win some games. TMG has a copy of all five-chapters of Tales of Monkey Island to give to a lucky fan courtesy of TellTale Games, so we are announcing the beginning of the ‘Tell Us Your Tale’ contest. All you have to do is email firstname.lastname@example.org with a short story about your gaming nostalgia. We’ll read each story, and the best one will win a free copy of Tales of Monkey Island. So write and tell us about the time you beat Marathon without firing a shot or about your adventures with your Starcraft clan. Maybe your rant about the good ol’ days will finally pay off.