Tales of Monkey Island – The PS3 Attitude Review
It’s over a decade on from Escape from Monkey Island, the last – and weakest – game in the series; aside from having a counter-intuitive interface, the game had an air of sterility which suggested Guybrush wasn’t meant for the 21th century. Thankfully Telltale Games disagreed, as Tales of Monkey Island marks a rumbustious return for series. It’s been out on the PC and WiiWare for over a year, and now PlayStation owners have a chance to enjoy its piratey goodness. But while it’s better than its predecessor, does it live up to the high points in the series?
With this new adventure, LucasArts outsourced development to Telltale Games, the team behind the Sam & Max games. As is the case with other Telltale titles, Tales of Monkey Island is delivered in an episodic format. With a new team and a new method of delivery, this could have easily ended up sticking out like a sore thumb against other Monkey Island games, but thankfully this isn’t the case.
Sure, the guys at Telltale may have imprinted their own watermarks onto the game, but this will still feel very familiar to veteran fans of the series. And so it should with Dave Grossman, a designer and writer from the original games, overseeing the project and Michael Land returning to produce another swashbuckling musical score. Also, having mainstays on voice duties with Dominic Armato (Guybrush), Alexandra Boyd (Elaine) and Earl Boen (LeChuck) helps. They perform the script admirably.
The plot is wonderfully silly as ever, with Guybrush unintentionally exposing the Caribbean to a nasty pox. The only hope is for him to find a large, comically-named voodoo sponge named El Esponja Grande. On his journey in search of this sponge, Guybrush renews his feud with LeChuck, enters a manatee and ventures to the next world and back. The standard of dialogue is still a step ahead of most games: it’s full of all the lavish puns, soft banter and pop culture references that we’ve come to love and expect from the Monkey Island series.
To deliver the game episodically was a curious decision that left us not really knowing what to expect, but it’s proven to be a success. The transitions between chapters have been seamless with each cliffhanger producing anticipation for what comes next. Surprisingly, this has led to a more drama-led Monkey Island game with many scenes really wringing out the pathos. The characters are well-rounded and their personalities are fleshed out through a variety of means, there are love triangles between Guybrush, Elaine and new character Morgan –even LeChuck literally demonstrates signs of humanity rather than simply being a stock Zombie Pirate villain. It’s not what we expected, but it’s not a problem. Had the drama been a substitute for humour it would be an issue, but the balance is mostly spot-on – aside from a few sections in the second and last chapters where Telltale apparently forgot to insert jokes.
The humour and plot is told expertly but, in the end, all graphic adventure games are judged by their puzzles. Monkey Island games have always had interesting and thought-provoking puzzles; the designers have a good track record of knowing when to stop making them so confusing and difficult that they just end up frustrating gamers. Sadly, with Tales of Monkey Island they don’t challenge enough: over the course of the five episodes, there may be many memorable puzzles full of imagination – such as clever maps which alter reality when folded – but sadly these genius puzzles occur too infrequently for our liking. There is a heavy reliance on predictable collection missions that barely stretch the mind. The weaker puzzles are pleasant enough and they rarely frustrate, but we desperately craved more challenges.
Another disappointing aspect of Tales of Monkey Island is that too few of the new characters manage to make an impression. Only Morgan and Winslow come across with any real credit, the former being a bolshie pirate huntress and potential love interest, while the latter is your exceedingly polite first mate. Because most of the newbies fail to rise up to the challenge; it’s up to the old stalwarts to carry the baton and they do so easily. There are welcome returns for Stan – the opportunistic arm-waving salesman, and the brilliant Murray – a megalomaniac skeleton. Their scenes feature a lot of inside jokes which may go over newcomers’ heads, but the quality of their personalities will get a warm reception.
Tales of Monkey Island does fall short of the dizzy heights of the first two games, Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, but these episodes are still excellent additions to the series. They are flawed but the flaws aren’t game breakers, and the teams love for the series does shine through. The episodes are also great value for money: each episode lasts over two hours and the total cost of the five episode package is only £13.99 ($19.99). Maybe we’re being extra kind because we’ve had such a dearth of adventure games on the PlayStation until recently; it is a genre which many thought was dead. Thankfully a renaissance appears to be happening, which is unsurprisingly considering the genre fits perfectly on the PSN as downloadable title.
It’s just a shame that LucasArts decided to release Tales of Monkey Island on the PSN at around the same time as the reissues for the first two games. You wait all these years for a Monkey Island games to come to the PlayStation and three show up at once – they’re like buses. Surely it would have been better for LucasArts to give the games some breathing room? Tales of Monkey Island has been around for over a year on PC and WiiWare so it’s not like they’ve just finished it. The timing of this release now means that PlayStation owners may end up passing up this version in favour of the other Monkey Island games (or vice-versa), and that would be a shame. Yes, if you plan to only get two, then you should get the reissues, but this is still definitely worth the money.