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Review: Tales of Monkey Island

A classic series sets sail once more
By MITCH KRPATA  |  July 21, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars


Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal | For PC and Wii | Rated E10+ For Everyone 10 and Older | Developed and Published by Telltale Games
We seem to be experiencing a renaissance of the point-and-click adventure game. A juggernaut in the early days of PC gaming, this genre ran out of steam in the mid to late '90s. Thanks to Telltale Games, we're now seeing remakes and revivals not only of the genre but of its most popular franchises. First was Telltale's successful episodic rebirth of Sam and Max. Now we get the first part of a new adventure based on the granddaddy of them all: The Secret of Monkey Island.

"Launch of the Screaming Narwhal," the first of a five-part series (with new installments arriving monthly through November), finds our beloved pirate hero, Guybrush Threepwood, in over his head once more. During a short tutorial, Guybrush attempts to free his wife, Elaine, from the clutches of the ghost pirate LeChuck. Instead, he turns LeChuck back into a human, acquires a cursed left hand, and gets blown out to sea. The intro sets the rules for those who may be new to the franchise: pick up every object in sight, talk to anyone who will listen, and prepare for zaniness.

For veterans of the series, though, this is all to be expected. And it's to Tales of Monkey Island's credit that it's a worthy entry in the series — not up to the original's unattainable standards, and not as bat-shit insane as Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, but at least on a par with MI3 and MI4. Tales combines reliably clever dialogue with some truly diabolical puzzles. Anyone who spent several delicious hours in 1990 trying to figure out the use for a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle will delight in determining alternative uses for a cocktail olive impaled by a tiny plastic sword.

This initial offering does suffer from a few problems. Like its episodic nature. Granted, $34.95 will get you access to all five episodes, thanks to the digital-delivery service, Steam. But "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal" is a few scant hours long, so there's barely time to establish the game's plot. It's all prelude: Guybrush's escape from tiny Flotsam Island is the whole of it, with Elaine still far away in LeChuck's clutches. As with the previous Sam and Max series, you can expect a stronger narrative to emerge with each installment, but part one on its own feels a bit anemic.

The voicing is another sticky wicket. It's not bad on its own. The performances, especially Dominic Armato as Guybrush, are rather endearing, and the dialogue is packed with puns and wordplay. But in a game like this, in which trial-and-error is often the last resort, you tend to hear the same things over and over while clicking on every item in your inventory. Early on, Guybrush acquires a piece of shaped glass hilariously referred to as a "U-Tube," and if I'd heard him say "I don't think a U-Tube would be useful here" one more time, I was ready to throw my computer out the window.

Stranger still, the spoken dialogue rarely matches the options provided in the dialogue tree. One of the pleasures of the original Monkey Island was exploring every bizarre conversational avenue. In Tales, you might be presented with four funny line choices, but no matter which you choose, Guybrush says the same thing. And then the conversation moves on, with no option to revisit earlier jokes. Even so, Tales of Monkey Island conjures the spirit of a classic franchise that was overdue for resurrection.

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