Escape from Monkey Island

Posted by Kamal Bhatt.
First posted on 10 January 2001. Last updated on 14 December 2009.
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Escape from Monkey Island
This is a familiar face!
Escape from Monkey Island
Get ready to fight, monkey (or ape)!
Escape from Monkey Island
Game characters are now animated in real-time 3D.
Escape from Monkey Island
Why must there be lawyers?
Escape from Monkey Island
Guybrush wrestles and taunts his opponent at the same time.

The Monkey Island series is among the most renowned adventure game series ever created. This is despite some critics who argue that the games from this series have never been LucasArts' finest. With each sequel, more critics have also questioned its weaker and growingly incoherent plot. The fourth installment, ironically named Escape from Monkey Island, does not fair much better. In fact, this sequel may stand to be the least impressive among all the titles in the Monkey Island series. Although any sequel from such recognized license must always be taken notice, perhaps it is finally time to put this horse to pasture before we have to go out and shoot it!

Guybrush and Elaine Threepwood have just returned from their honeymoon, only to find that the citizens of Mêlée have declared Elaine dead and that her governorship of the tri-island area is now up for election. The only contender in the election is a shady figure called Charles L Charles. The Governor's mansion is being demolished, and a wealthy Australian real-estate developer is buying up the Caribbean to turn it into a vacation getaway. Put it simply, Guybrush, Elaine, and their pirate buddies are doomed. To save the world (once again), Guybrush decides to assemble a crew of pirates from the local hideouts and set sail for another bizarre quest. Along the way, he wanders through Mêlée Island, Lucre Island, Jambalaya Island, and of course, Monkey Island. In the end, Guybrush must seek out the "Ultimate Insult", a talisman of unspeakable insult power that is going to help him defeat his mortal enemy (a familiar face) in Monkey Kombat.

Unlike The Curse of Monkey Island, Escape from Monkey Island uses an enhanced version of the GRIME engine from Grim Fandango. This engine change means that the characters are now fully animated in real-time 3D against pre-rendered 2D backdrops. While the polygon count of the animation in this game is higher than that seen in Grim Fandango, the highest screen resolution is only 640x480. This means that unless anti-aliasing is enabled the characters still appear quite jagged. Most of the backdrops are beautifully drawn, and all the models are nicely made. The soundtrack is well done—a surprise given the recent exodus of talents from LucasArts. Thankfully, Michael Land is able to complete work on this title before his departure from the company. Escape from Monkey Island is designed by Mark Stemmle and Sean Clark, not Ron Gilbert who is the creator of the series.

LucasArts seems to have dropped its beta testing standards with this title. A number of major bugs are seen throughout the game. Among these bugs is a bug that even allows you to "cheat" on a puzzle. Other bugs can stall the game completely. Perhaps these are just teething problems with the GRIME engine, then again, it speaks of LucasArts' quality control when compared to games of past years, such as Sam & Max Hit the Road or Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, that are less "crash happy". On the other hand, LucasArts must be commended on providing some excellent installation options that gives the player the choice of installing 8MB to 1.13GB. The game need a minimum of 75 MB free space to run, so the more you install the faster the game runs.

Gameplay with the GRIME engine is a mixed blessing. The game is played out in third person perspective. The interface does away with the mouse and requires the player to move Guybrush on screen with the keyboard (If the mountain does not move to Guybrush, move Guybrush to the mountain!). As in Grim Fandango, the engine sometimes has a mind of its own, forcing the character to move in odd directions. However, there are notable improvements compared to Grim Fandango. The inventory system is no longer as clumsy and allows the player to combine objects while seeing most of the inventory items. The player no longer needs to go to the edges of a screen just to leave, as there is now a button that allows the player to exit a screen quickly. A scrolling option makes it unnecessary for the player to move Guybrush to exactly where he needs to be for a task. The latter feature is in Grim Fandango but not as well executed.

The puzzles in Escape from Monkey Island are much harder than The Curse of Monkey Island. There are more puzzles that require a little more than using object A with object B or saying the right things at the right time. Many of these puzzles require the player to find the right combination (of codes or choices), but a random factor has been added in these puzzles so that every time the player restarts the game the puzzles require a new combination. This is most infuriating, since it means that all the combinations that one has painstakingly worked out previously are useless. For some puzzles this is not a problem, but for a few puzzles it is a big problem. This is a pity since the feature is meant to increase the replay value of the game in the first place.

As is expected from LucasArts, the overall visuals, including artworks and music, are stunning to look at and hear. The design team succeeds in establishing a Caribbean feel to the game that is both whimsical and entertaining. There are a number of exotic and tongue-in-cheek locales to visit, including the International House of Mojo, The Palace of Prostheses, Planet Threepwood, the Reform School of Pirates, Micro-Groggery, StarBuccaneers, and the SCUMM Bar. The interface has improved. There are more variety to the puzzles compared to its predecessors, with some of the puzzles require a little more mental process than brute force for solutions that are unfairly abstract. The story, for the most part, is more coherent than the last (but that is not saying much), probably because the current sequel does not have to contend with the large plot holes left by the previous titles. Several new characters are also worth mentioning, including the Marley family lawyers, Ignatius Cheese, and Timmy the Monkey. The ending is not as anticlimactic as that in The Curse of Monkey Island. It manages to make some sense and not to leave the player scratching head wondering what has been about. If you ever finish this game, be sure to let the credits run their course. It is worth it!

As fun as it is to play Escape from Monkey Island, it is sad to see that this game is suffering from a severe case of "sequellitis"—a condition whereby a game license starts to wear out its welcome and can no longer offer any refreshing play to its audience. The characters in this sequel are just not as funny or endearing as they have been in previous games. The humor is approaching infantile and gets nauseating quickly. The series often cannot escape from its own cliché, drowns in its tiresome humor, and spirals down to oblivion. It may even be argued that this game falls nothing short of over commercialization of an established institution to rip the last drop of profit from its loyal fan base. The characters in this game are, in general, lackluster. The new villain, Ozzie Mandrill, has a strange idea as to how Australians talk. The "colloquialisms" of this character surely make some Australian shake their heads in dismay. The cameo characters (with the exception of Carla and Otis) seem to have lost their appeal. The greatest disappointment is Murray, who just comes across as cheesy.

Escape from Monkey Island is not a bad game at all, but it is definitely not the best of the series. If you are a diehard fan of Monkey Island, then this game is a must for you. Otherwise, let us hope that LucasArts takes notice of its recent shortfalls and not gamble any more with the dignity of this celebrated series. The ending seems to suggest a certain air of finality, but that has never stopped LucasArts from developing another sequel.

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