|Developer:||Telltale|||||Release Date:||2009|||||Systems:||Windows, OS X, iOS, Wii, PS3|
This week on Super Adventures, I'm jumping from the oldest Monkey Island of ancient Lucasfilm times to the shiny new one from Telltale: Tales of Monkey Island. Well it's relatively new; it's still six years old now.
Telltale Games was actually formed due to LucasArts' belief that adventure games were over, but after they proved otherwise with games like Sam & Max: Save the World LucasArts' new president was willing to lend them the keys to their top pirate-related game franchise. And thus the world was blessed with a brand new Monkey Island adventure! LucasArts managed to release Special Editions of Monkey Island 1 and 2 around the same time as well, before their next change of management led to a renewed focus on Star Wars dance games or whatever. They're owned by Disney now though and they've let Double Fine remaster Grim Fandango and Day of the Tentacle, so who knows what's going to happen next with Monkey Island.
I'm going to be playing through the whole first episode today, so I'll likely end up spoiling all of it. I’m certain I've finished it before but I hardly remember a thing about it right now so I may struggle a bit. Oh hang on, there are two things I remember: I remember a doctor’s chair puzzle being good and a map puzzle being terrible.
(Click the screenshots to view them at a higher resolution.)
Hang on, 'Cutthroat Island' came out in 1995 and there's a gap there too. Such a curious correlation.
I'm 90% sure they've hired a new LeChuck for this game and he's not really working for me! His "har har har"s in particular sound relatively joyless and tame (and I don't like his lips). Also why are both characters on micro-galleons with no crew?
|The Secret of Monkey Island (MS-DOS)|
|The Curse of Monkey Island (PC)|
Why did I think it was worth interrupting my article for two screenshots of boats? Because I like looking at Monkey Island screenshots, they’re nice looking games! Also because I remember Tales of Monkey Island having a real problem with scale, possibly due to budget, or its fully 3D nature, or both and I wanted to make comparisons.
|Escape from Monkey Island|
Escape features real-time 3D characters on pre-rendered backgrounds and has an incredibly awkward keyboard driven control system on PC, with arrow keys to walk, Page Up/Page Down to cycle through nearby objects, and keys like P, U and L to interact with them. No mouse pointing, no mouse clicking.
Sam & Max: Save the World controlled just fine with mouse, why would Telltale go and screw the control scheme up now?
You see that circle around him now with the red arrow on it? If I want to steer Guybrush with the mouse I have to click and drag the arrow around in the circle like a virtual analogue stick. It’s not great, especially with the storm knocking my tiny boat around as I'm trying to walk around. I'm actually grateful that I can use Escape-style WASD/arrow keys as an alternative.
Fortunately I can at least interact with items with my speedy accurate mouse cursor alone, and that's good because I have to finish enchanting my Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu before LeChuck completes his voodoo spell (not that there's actually any rush). Guybrush has already done most of the work in some previous adventure, so all that's left for me to do is spray the blade with fizzy root beer. Trouble is that all I'm holding is a pack of breath mints.
I've also found the inventory hiding just off the right hand side of the screen and there's some weirdness going on here as well. Clicking on an item picks it up, and dropping it on the magnifying glass examines it. Or I can use the magnifying glass on the item, it’s not bothered. Plus in the olden days if I wanted to combine two things I’d just drop one on the other, but apparently that’s too much work for my new context-sensitive mouse cursor, so I’ve got a dedicated item combining contraption attached to the side of the inventory. I think I know what to do now.
Combine breath mints + root beer.There, that sorted it.
Combine fizzy root beer + Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu.
These cinematics are certainly a lot more cinematic than they used to be in previous games, plus I can skip through lines of dialogue by clicking the right mouse! Guybrush might be a bit of a caricature this days, but he looks pretty good in motion. Plus he's like the lanky Curse of Monkey Island Guybrush with a goatee wearing Monkey Island 2 Guybrush's awesome coat and I can't complain about that.
I should point out that the characters are now acting, reacting and displaying emotion during conversations, and it's funny how much of a difference that makes. It puts it ahead of the Elder Scrolls games for sure. Guybrush and Elaine are both voiced by their original actors and they’re doing a fine job of it. It’s motivating me to kill off LeChuck as soon as possible so I don’t have to hear him sounding wrong any more and ruining it.
One thing I don't get though is why Elaine's eyes are green instead of purple all of a sudden. They were green in Monkey Island: Special Edition as well, it's weird. They've been purple for four games but now... wait, were they purple in Escape? I'm going to have to check the box art because I can't remember.
Sam & Max: Hit the Road!
Chatting to Elaine got me onto her boat and now besides her I've got a plant, a hatch, a grog barrel, gun powder, a door, a monkey and LeChuck to interact with, which isn't all that much, honest. It's already pretty obvious which two are going to play a role in my plan to mix some root beer substitute for my cutlass (the one with roots and the one that’s like beer).
And now I've gotten him a fully armed and operational Cursed Cutlass, Guybrush can run LeChuck though in a cutscene and go home with his wife.
Guybrush tries to kill him a second time, but he’s having evil hand problems and the sinister appendage throws his sword halfway across the boat, where it sparks and ignites the barrels of gun powder.
Guybrush on the other hand is thrown clear and drifts to shore on a piece of debris. A friendly pirate finds him on the beach and gives him a hand, but Guybrush's other hand goes and sucker punches him! Things are going a bit 'Evil Dead II' for our Mighty Pirate™. On the plus side he's just added 'cruel' and 'violent' to his pirate attributes. Now all he needs is a peg leg and a parrot.
Turns out that Guybrush is on Flotsam Island right now, and whatever washes up on Flotsam Island stays on Flotsam Island due to the eternally inward blowing winds. But Nipperkin here's got a source for off-island news stories called Deep Gut and they might know a way for him to get off this island!
I like this chapter title card by the way. It's far more aesthetically endearing than the act cards in Escape from Monkey Island. So once again it's better than the worst game!
Like it says, Nipperkin has agreed to tell me how to get to Deep Gut if I create some exciting local pirate news first, so I have to do three newsworthy things for him. Three trials, if you will.
1. Start a bar fight.
2. Dig up some buried treasure.
3. Seize the Screaming Narwhal.
Okay there's a bar right in front of me, but they won't let me in without a membership card. Left of it is the Keelhauler Gazetter, which I can't get into, and the courthouse, which I can't get into. Carrying on further down the boardwalk there's a glassworks, which I can't get into, a doctor's office, which I can't get into, and... the Screaming Narwhal itself!
The ship is currently occupied by Captain Reginald Van Winslow and he seems like a pretty decent guy. He'll even let me take command of the Narwhal, though there's a catch. By tradition, whoever knocks the captain of the Screaming Narwhal off the deck gets to be the captain until HE'S knocked off by the next guy.
Van Winslow's got no intention of making it easy though. If I climb the anchor chain I get a face full of burning hot coals, if I walk the gangplank I slide down on bacon grease, and if I use the clothes line I get cranked back down.
Well at least I found a membership card in one of his socks.
Actually I did wander around for a while, finding a treasure hunting doll collector, a creepy shack, a wishing well, an altar and a nice big pile of bombs. I also found that walking around jungle mazes hasn't gotten any more interesting since the last time I had to do it in a Monkey Island game.
Also putting the 'return to jungle entrance' button right where the inventory button was in Sam & Max: Save the World is kind of cruel. I keep clicking it out of habit, expecting to see a list of my stuff and getting booted back to the start instead.
Right now I'm going back to the docks though, to visit this bar and hopefully wreck the place.
SOON, AFTER A VISIT TO THE BAR.
I had to wait outside the whole time so I didn't actually see anything, but that likely just made things worse. Even as far back as Governor's mansion in Monkey Island 1, Guybrush has always been much more dangerous when he's off screen.
Don't worry though, he's standing on a rug there, not a puddle of blood. Oh hang on, wasn't it green before he went inside? Well that's... unfortunate. Hey, someone dropped a little grogtini sword on the floor with an olive on it! I’ll have that.
So that’s one of my three trials down then, with only treasure hunting and boat commandeering to go. Going to be a bit hard to find buried treasure without a map though. I've been from one side of the island to the other, I've collected an advert for a pirate hunter, a sconce shaped like a nose with flowers sticking out of it, a u-shaped glass tube (u-tube), a little grogtini sword, and infinite bombs. But I still haven't found a bloody map.
Okay, the treasure hunter is after a Dark Ninja Dave Porcelain Power Pirates action figure, and I think I know where to find one.
But I can't just give him the doll, he has to dig it up himself by following the map, thus creating a newsworthy piratey event! That means I have to decipher the map myself and bury it at X. Fortunately this is the bit of the game I DO remember, on account of how memorably annoying it is.
The only problem with this, aside from the fact that if you’re deaf or hard of hearing you’re shit out of luck, is that IT’S LEADING ME AROUND IN CIRCLES! I don’t understand what I’m doing wrong here, as I’ve done it before and I know the solution. I think I know the solution anyway.
Fine, I give up and I’m checking a walkthrough, let’s see what I overlooked…
I have to USE THE MAP ON THE WELL FIRST? How does that make any sense!
Once I finally reached the spot marked with X, Guybrush pulled a shovel out of nowhere and buried the Dark Ninja toy for the treasure hunter to find... and that annoys me too to be honest. If an adventure game character is going to automatically use a tool for something, he has to either find on the same screen or have it visible in his inventory, or else I don't know it's there! I had to buy or pick up a spade in the earlier games and I had no reason to assume he'd pull one out of his ass when needed this time.
Anyway, I led the treasure hunter to the treasure and shared in the glory. That’s two trials down now, only one more newsworthy piratey trial before Nipperkin will let me chat with Deep Gut, and that’s taking the Screaming Narwhal from Winslow.
Now then, how am I going to use this stack of bombs to get Winslow off the boat?
My first instinct when I get stuck like this is to sit and think through the puzzle logically, but it's funny just how often that never works. What I actually need to do is try everything I can to get onto this boat. Again.
I put the lit bomb in his stylish pink underwear and climbed the clothes line up to the ship. He cranked the bottom rope to send Guybrush back down again…. and brought his time-bomb underwear up to him on the top rope. Came up with that scheme all by myself I did; my years of watching Looney Tunes cartoons have finally paid off. Thankfully Winslow survived the blast (he's one of the best characters), but he’s off the ship now and the boat is officially mine! Can't launch it though with the winds against me.
Alright, I've been newsworthy enough. Now to meet with Deep Gut and learn how to leave this island so I can get back to Elaine.
SOON, IN THE CREEPY SHACK.
The Voodoo Lady was one of Guybrush's biggest allies in the first four games, and the fact we're meeting now isn't a good sign. I mean it's a good sign for Guybrush, seeing as she'll likely have some essential info for him, but it means I'm likely only halfway through this episode, at best.
When I said earlier I was going to go through the entire episode. I was expecting it to be the same length as an chapter of Sam & Max: Save the World, roughly 2 or 3 hours. But it seems like I've ended up with considerably more pirate-themed adventuring to write about. Sorry about that.
Fortunately she also gave something to help me sort out the wind situation: an ancient scroll sealed inside an unbreakable bottle. The ancient weather vane that I found lying on the ground outside her house when I left might come in useful too. Her locked 'Chest of Foreshadowing'... maybe not so much right now.
SOON, BACK IN TOWN.
The glass blower won’t let me use his bottle breaker to smash the unbreakable bottle I got from the Voodoo Lady, so I can't pick it up, but Guybrush can just use it anyway, or at least he could if his evil hand was cooperating. I guess I should go see the doctor about this pox-ridden appendage then.
LATER, AFTER SPEAKING TO THE DOCTOR.
I’m… not actually going to spoil the solution to this puzzle, because it makes perfect sense and I actually enjoyed solving it. Not that the rest of them have been bad so far, I've just been getting a bit tired of puzzles interrupting the more interesting animated movie.
Fortunately the anaesthetic the doctor gave Guybrush has temporarily tamed his hand so after escaping his lair I was able to break the Voodoo Lady's unbreakable bottle and get to the invisible ink map inside.
What doesn’t help is that it likes to do that thing where you’ve got to double back the way you came, so even when I enter a path with only one other exit, I can't assume that it's the right way out.
SOME STUFF HAPPENS.
Trouble is that I don't actually know the combination codes to them, and this piece of cheese isn't working out as well as I hoped. I tried sticking the nose-shaped sconce on it but it wasn't a great substitute for a disc covered in eyes.
Guybrush did mention that he's seen the symbols before on the ancient weather vane (I'm guessing that's the auto-hint system sensing my frustration and taking pity on me), but I've tried entering the combination marked on the weather vane and it doesn't work on any of the devices. I'm really stuck here and getting a bit tired of it now.
I had to use a guide to learn that, because it would've never occurred to me and I guess I don't have the patience for the 'try using everything on everything else' technique any more. The way I see it, if you're going to resort to that you may as well just look up the answer and save some time, as you're not really solving the puzzle properly or enjoying yourself.
In fact I've lost my patience with this whole jungle maze. Screw it, I'm following a guide step by step and getting it over with. I'll start solving problems myself again once I'm done with ancient artifacts and magic.
(It did make me smile when Guybrush did the Wallace & Gromit "cheese" hand motion just before enhancing the cheese with an imprinted design though.)
That's it then, I think. The weather's sorted out, I've defeated the villain, I have a ship, and I have a quest. I can leave Flotsam Island behind and get the end credits rolling for Episode 1.
I have to give the writers points though for throwing in one of the best jokes right afterwardsm, which I won't spoil (Winslow is awesome). The game has been funny right up to the cliffhanger ending, and now I'm finally done with it.
LATER, DURING EPISODE 2.
But look at this, they've put mermaids into the game! That's just... not right. The Monkey Island universe isn't a mermaidy kind of universe, they go against the natural order of this world. Even a fourth wall breaking comedy setting like this has has some rules and the game doesn't feel right when they're broken. It doesn't feel quite as much of a legitimate Monkey Island game any more.
The merfolk in Tales kind of won me over in the end though. Plus I have to give Telltale credit for hiring an actress with the name Sirenetta to voice one of them (that's 'Little mermaid' in Italian). Maybe I'll keep playing for a little bit longer, just to give the game a fair chance to really piss me off.
Well I went and finished the whole five episodes in the end and I can confirm that Tales of Monkey Island... is an old school adventure game for sure. An old school LucasArts adventure to be precise, with no risk of ever making things unwinnable or killing off characters before their time. The separate episodes even function like the separate chapters of the earlier Monkey Islands.
The thing is though, playing it has made me feel like I don't really like old school adventure games all that much any more. They're too hard, with too much running back and forth between different screens! Even when you know what you're doing there's a lot of backtracking to endure, and when you don't know what you're doing your patience is really tested. In Tales of Monkey Island's case my patience failed the test several times, because of inadequate voodoo instructions (seriously, how was I supposed to know to use the map on the well, or the weather vane on the spindle?) But mostly because the dialogue and acting is often fantastic and I was eager to get back to people being funny.
It took me about 3 ½ hours to get through episode 1 in the end and I imagine half of that was spent wandering around that bloody jungle. You know how many witty conversations your typical solitary pirate will have in an average jungle maze? Then I reached episode 2 only to find it had another jungle maze all of its own! Then a later episode goes and returns to the first jungle maze, except with a new magic map to follow! I realise that it's a sensible way to pad the game out, but I'd rather just have a shorter game.
The music is approximately as good as ever, which isn't a huge surprise as it's by original composer Michael Land, but the audio quality sounds a bit off to me. Plus visually the game just looks cheap. I'm sure it actually cost a fortune compared to the original games due to its 3Dness, but I got the feeling the developers were up against all kinds of limitations while making it. Half the NPCs sharing their head with one (or more) of the other characters was kind of a clue. Plus personally I preferred the more realistic tone of the first two games. Slightly more realistic tone.
There is one big improvement over the earlier games though, and that's the acting. I mean the voice acting has always been great, but now the camera is able to get right into the character's faces and show them emoting. Or show their evil hand punching them in the face after they make a bad pun. The story gets surprisingly involving at times, especially when things start getting serious. Plus I realise this is subjective, but I found Guybrush way more likeable and sympathetic in this as a mighty pro-active pirate than he was in Escape. He even manages to make some people respect him along the way! He certainly does enough to earn it by the end.
I do have to mention the ending though. I mean I'm not going to spoil how it all wraps up, but I will say that the game (or season, whatever) is all about carrying out ridiculous voodoo rituals from right the very start, and yet I STILL didn't buy what happens at the conclusion. The writers wanted the story to finish with a certain tone and they kind of cheat to get it. Not going to complain about all the cunning Chekov's guns along the way though.
Plus to be honest I got used to the awkward controls pretty quickly, and the chapters actually do get a bit of the scale I was missing back by the end. I actually want to give the game all kind of praise but I'm pretty tired of the gameplay and the chapters kind of dragged for me so I'll compromise and give it a shiny Gold Star of Non-Crapness instead. Recommended for anyone who likes adventure games of the old school.
Next week on Super Adventures, I'm playing... a game, hopefully. What it'll be I have no idea though, so I can't give any hints. Don't let that put you off leaving a comment though, I always appreciate getting feedback and opinions.