Slowly but surely, graphic adventure games are clawing their way back onto the mainstream gaming scene and in way not many could have predicted some 10 years ago. Recently there has been a tidal wave of downloadable games on all formats bringing with them an eclectic mix of retro games, remakes, independents and franchise revivals. Among those washed ashore from the deep recesses of history is a whole new breed of graphic adventures released in short downloadable episodes. Now an old classic has been given the new treatment in the Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal.
Developed by Telltale Games, it’s the first of a 5-episode story arc chronicling the latest adventure of Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™ available for PC and WiiWare (the version played for this review). After a brief cinematic, the scene opens on Guybrush who is on the verge of rescuing his love interest Elaine and thwarting another evil plot concocted by Ghost/Zombie/Demon/Voodoo Pirate LeChuck. But things quickly go awry leaving our fancy-panted hero stranded on Flotsam Island with neither Elaine nor LeChuck in sight.
Like its predecessors, the new Tales series is your standard point-and-click affair in which you guide your main character through a colourful environment, solving puzzles along the way with nothing but you wits and whatever you can cram into your pockets. The controls are rather simple, using the Wiimote to control the onscreen pointer and the A-button to interact with people and objects. If you find pointing at the screen all the time too much of a hassle, attaching a nunchuck allows the analog stick to control character movement and menu selection. Shifting the cursor to the far right of the screen opens the rollout inventory interface complete with item combining tool. It’s a little inelegant but gets the job done.
Graphically, the game has suffered from its translation onto WiiWare. The visuals are grainy and blocky. Combined with fairly slow load times, it feels poorly implemented on the Wii, making the PC version a little more attractive than its console counterpart. The music is reasonably good with a nice recomposed theme and adequate background music. Likewise, the voice acting is spotty with great work by Dominic Armato (the official voice of Guybrush Threepwood) and Alexandra Boyd (as Elaine) supported by a significantly less entertaining and sometimes annoying cast of characters.
The technical aspects aside, playing the game was rewarding due to a few genuine moments of humour and silliness. A tiny cadre of bizarre characters inhabits Flotsam Island and interacting with them yields a few small laughs. There are a couple of funny references to pop-culture phenomenon and old Monkey Island games (I’m building my shrine to Nor Treblig right now!). As tradition dictates, there are also opportunities to torture some poor souls for your own amusement. There’s also a light mini-game that will have you traipsing around the forest looking for wind god idols with comical names. In general, the game seems to have been imbued with just enough of the spirit of the old games to make a play through worthwhile.
Ultimately though, it still falls victim to some of the problems that plague most of these episodic releases: a general lack of scale. There are too few characters, with too few funny dialogue options and too few puzzles. Those puzzles that are there are often too simple, especially for seasoned graphic adventurers. The result is a shallow experience leaving you wanting more. Granted, these are not legitimate complaints in a way, as a single episode will never stack up fairly against a whole game, but a series of shallow experiences may not either.
So what I’m really trying to say is…
In the making of Tales of Monkey Island, the folks at Telltale were not out to make Monkey Island 5 but rather to add to the franchise. With the release of Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, I’d say they’ve made a good start. The look, humour, music and voice acting are well within the spirit of its predecessors. It’s a short (even shorter for those familiar with the genre), but enjoyable play that will leave you wanting more; a feeling you may or may not like. If you’re a big Monkey Island fan or just thinking about getting into point-and-clicks, this is a good place to be. You’ll laugh and then you’ll cry when you find out you’ll have to wait weeks for the next episode. And if you can help it, play it on PC.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal was played on WiiWare and completed in approx. 4 hrs and is currently available on WiiWare for 1000 Wii Points or the entire 5-episode season on PC for $34.95 USD.