After roughly nine long years, Telltale Games have put the Monkey Island series back on its feet again. The first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, is the first part of five in Telltale’s usual episodic format such as their reincarnation of Sam & Max. Each episode will be released for download and after all five episodes have been put out, a Season will be on sale sometime in 2010, available in stores. I reviewed the PC version while the game will also come out for Wiiware once Nintendo sort their stuff out. The developers aren’t ruling out future releases on other platforms, they have done it before with Sam & Max on Xbox Live Arcade. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal isn’t the greatest Monkey Island to date but it does provide good footing for Telltale’s future releases in the series.

For those of you new to these strange words, ‘Monkey Island’; the madness all started with The Secret of Monkey Island created by Ron Gilbert, designed back in 1990 by himself and a few other well known’s including Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman. The game was loved for its story, humour, and clever puzzles. Guybrush Threepwood, a pirate wannabe, is tasked to stop the ghost pirate LeChuck and save Elaine Marley, the love of his life. The same crew designed the much harder sequel, LeChuck’s Revenge. Soon the designers all left LucasArts but a third game was produced in gorgeous animation and with voiceover. It wasn’t the true follow-up Monkey Island fans had been expecting but it was a big hit nonetheless. A not so well received 3D game followed it, titled Escape From Monkey Island. The good news is that Ron Gilbert was brought into Telltale to spill his thoughts out on Tales of Monkey Island. Many on the Telltale team have worked on the previous Monkey Island’s and other popular adventure games in the past. So theoretically this should be the perfect Monkey Island game, no?

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Launch of the Screaming Narwhal begins with Guybrush trying to save Elaine and defeat LeChuck once again. But Guybrush accidentally turns LeChuck human in the process and Guybrush’s hand is cursed with a vicious voodoo pox. After another mishap Guybrush is seen drifting onto the shores of Flotsam Island, where the winds keep him and any other pirate from sailing away. Guybrush is determined to stop the winds and escape the island to rescue Elaine. The traditional Chapter screen appears, but this being the first time Monkey Island has gone episodic, it’s the first chapter to a whole big story.

First off, it feels like Telltale tried to emulate The Curse of Monkey Island more than the previous game. which is a good thing! Even the cursor is back in the shape of an X marks the spot. My first impression was that I felt the game was quite underwhelming, but as I progressed further and especially after solving the first three puzzles, I began to feel like I was back playing another grand Monkey Island adventure once again. As LOTSN is in 3D, there are different camera angles, more evident here than other Telltale games. The controls are more than just a point and click, and thankfully it’s not such a botch-up as it was in Escape. You can control Guybrush with the WASD keys or by clicking and dragging him in the direction you want him to walk. You can still click on people and objects to interact with them. Although I think I still would have preferred the point and click style of Sam & Max where you can click on the ground to walk, I kept doing this by habit! Telltale are still experimenting with their control schemes, and it’s hard for point and click fanatics like me to adapt! To solve puzzles, Guybrush needs to use items stored in his ever-reaching pockets. Combining items is back in true Monkey Island style, the first Telltale game to have it in fact, which opens a whole new array of possibilities when it comes to puzzle solving. The trademark humour is back and it certainly made me chuckle in a few places. Although some jokes don’t seem to fit at all such as the inventory item referred to as a U Tube. It sounds utterly ridiculous I know!

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Dominic Armato is back as the voice of Guybrush Threepwood and is as brilliant as ever, capturing the character of Guybrush perfectly, from his naivety to his sarcasm. Michael Land, composer from all the previous Monkey Island games, produces yet again a delightful Caribbean style for the game’s soundtrack. Unfortunately for me this game requires a lot more out of your computer than the previous Telltale games. Which is good if you want the best looking graphics I suppose. But I had to put it on the lowest quality setting and it still didn’t feel quite smooth in parts, had a bit of slowdown. So you probably want to play it on a relatively decent computer.

The new characters just aren’t as interesting as the ones from previous games. Monkey Island characters are famous for each possessing their own eccentric personalities. While a unicorn glassblower captures that, they are still very boring characters. At least the Voodoo Lady is back in true form.

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The length of the game will all depend on how easily you get stumped at puzzle solving. I spent a lot of time, wandering around backwards and forwards covering all my bases until I found something or a combination of things that would let me progress, as with all adventure games really. There was this one puzzle in the jungle that I got stuck on, it was pretty straight forward but it antagonised me for hours, I knew what I had to do but it just wasn’t working. Turns out it was something I had failed to pick up on in order to initialise the puzzle. The Telltale hint system is included and you can adjust how frequently Guybrush will say a hint aloud when the game notices that you are stuck. You can play Tales of Monkey Island without trying the first games and still get into the story. But it would be a shame to miss out on the previous games, especially the first three. Plus you would miss out on some of the running gags such as Guybrush’s unexplained fear of porcelain!

Closing Comments

I look forward to seeing the future episodes and hopefully some improvements with regards to more interesting characters and even better puzzles. The story looks like it’s heading in an interesting direction. I recommend this to all fans of The Monkey Island series. For those of you that haven’t experienced these traditional adventure games, perhaps wait until next week and try out The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition to see if it’s the kind of game you would be interested in.

The game can be purchased here.

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