Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal - Review

Tales of Monkey Island, PC - £21.95 (you'll get each chapter as they are released)

Demo here.

Review by Dimrill

After doing a fantastic job of resuscitating the Sam & Max story, Telltale Games have turned their attention to the lamentably neglected Monkey Island series with this first episode of a planned 5, The Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. Personally, I didn’t hear any rumblings or rumours of such a resurrection, and so was shocked when confronted with the first episode release within a few weeks of the announcement that it was being worked on. Pleasantly shocked, mind.

So what have Telltale got to work with? In my opinion, the series as a whole took a massive nosedive after the third instalment, Curse of Monkey Island. The ditching of the 2D graphics and SCUMM interface for the console friendly GrimE system was a massive letdown. The character and atmosphere was stripped out of the series and we were left with clunky controls and cursing at the screen when Guybrush got stuck on some scenery. Although all of these problems seemed symptomatic of the decline in point and click adventures coupled with the bizarre industry drive towards “everything must be 3D!” It’s taken until the Nintendo DS for the 2D genre to regain a foothold in marketplace, and I for one applaud it.

First things first, Tales... actually feels like a Monkey Island game as soon as you load it up. The art direction is bang on, the music is faithful to the original series, and most importantly Dominic Armato and Alexandra Boyd reprise their roles as the voices of Guybrush and Elaine. I doubt I could’ve accepted it if any of these components were missing. No doubt this is thanks to the return of original designer Dave Grossman as the design director.

The script writing is sharp and witty thanks to Michael Stemmle on this episode, and if the reports can be believed, Ron Gilbert also had a hand in the creation of these new episodes in the early design stages. For instance, there are some wonderful lines early on referring to the gap in the game’s development timeline. The characterisation of Guybrush remains true to the original series, with him being an atypical loveable failure, but the incidental characters could’ve done with a little more work to make them memorable. Series staple Voodoo Lady appears later on, and mention is made of Stan by an ancillary character.

Although Telltale have kept the easy and quick to generate 3D graphics in line with their Sam & Max episodes, they seem to have had troubles with deciding on the control system. Sam & Max was a joy to use, with a simple inventory system which worked on one or two clicks to get anything done. Here it’s a halfway house between Sam & Max simplicity and the traditional Monkey Island complexity. Any item can be examined with a single click, but using the inventory (by pressing “i” alphabet fans) to combine items seems needlessly complicated. Instead of picking up an item and clicking it on the other with which you wish to combine, you have to move both to separate boxes and click on a + symbol. Why? Unfortunately this has haunted me all the way through the episode, never seeming to fade into the background.

Also, the puzzles don’t appear to be particularly logical, with club cards left in socks and a particularly annoying section which involves following sound effects in the jungle. This was a problem I found afflicted Escape... quite profoundly. Hopefully it may be addressed later on in the series. One thing that can be said for this over Sam & Max, is that the episode is considerably longer and larger in scope, which bodes well for later episodes.

Despite these shortcomings, I’ve ended up liking The Launch of The Screaming Narwhal much more than the last Lucasarts attempt in the series. It would’ve been foolhardy in the extreme to expect quality levels to reach the same as the first three games.

Tales of Monkey Island, PC - £21.95 (you'll get each chapter as they are released)


Joe said...

Personally I quite liked the sound puzzle. It was at least easier than trying to remember the similar puzzle from the first game.