Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

Posted by Kenneth Wilson.
First posted on 07 July 2009. Last updated on 14 December 2009.
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Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Monkey Island fans have been waiting for nearly a decade to answer the question!
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
An aerial map shows Flotsam Island where the new Monkey Island adventure begins.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Hail to Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™!
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Perhaps the evil, scheming LeChuck just needs a hug.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
It is just not a pirate adventure without an intentionally obtuse treasure map.

Tales of Monkey Island

The season is comprised of 5 chapters:

Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

Chapter 2: The Siege of Spinner Cay

Chapter 3: Lair of the Leviathan

Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood

Chapter 5: Rise of the Pirate God

Tales of Monkey Island is a Monkey Island game in both form and spirit, at least for the first chapter. It looks like Monkey Island, it sounds like Monkey Island, it feels like Monkey Island, and it plays like Monkey Island. For fans of Monkey Island, that will be all they need to know.

For other gamers, however, a bit of added perspective may be required. The Monkey Island franchise carries great weight in the community of point-and-click adventure gamers. The series is arguably LucasArts' greatest creative achievement (that does not feature a galaxy far, far away... at the least). Under LucasArts, the franchise spawned a series of 4 games over a period of 10 years. The Secret of Monkey Island, released in 1990, introduced a cast of beloved characters and a body of gags that had since carried through the series. These included The Voodoo Lady, Stan the Salesman, Murray the Evil Talking Skull, Insult Sword Fighting, and, of course, the mystery of Monkey Island itself. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, released in 1991, continued the story between the pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood and the villainous pirate LeChuck. The Curse of Monkey Island, released in 1997, was the third game in the series and succeeded despite the absence of its 3 original creators, Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer. Unfortunately, Escape from Monkey Island, released in 2000 as the series' first foray into 3D graphics, did not fare so well critically or commercially, and the series was left to the mists of memory and nostalgia ever since.

Interestingly, Tales of Monkey Island does not pick up at the end of Escape from Monkey Island, but instead at the end of a hypothetical fifth game (at least according to the developer) which will likely never be made. Once again, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™ must swoop in at the last possible moment to save his love, Elaine, from his archenemy, the zombie pirate LeChuck. Naturally, amidst the chaos, LeChuck somehow winds up becoming human, and his evilness infects Guybrush's hand. The pair is then separated, and Guybrush washes ashore on Flotsam Island, where the game begins.

The first task you (as Guybrush) face on Flotsam Island is to create some news stories for the editor of the local newspaper by starting a bar fight, seizing a ship, and finding a buried treasure. Only after you have completed these 3 tasks can you progress in your main quest. If the idea of solving a trio of mini quests before beginning your adventure sounds familiar, there is a good reason: the same gameplay mechanic has been used in many past adventure games by LucasArts (such as The Secret of Monkey Island) and is now used by Telltale Games as well (such as the new Sam & Max series). Also, the game features puzzles that require you to combine inventory items, another gameplay mechanic that is common in past games from LucasArts but absent in previous games from Telltale Games. These similarities, among others, make Tales of Monkey Island feel like a true sequel in the Monkey Island franchise.

Another aspect of the game that will bring nostalgia rushing back to any gamer familiar with the series is the sound, especially the music of Michael Land (the original composer for The Secret of Monkey Island). The music has always been a high point for the original series, and it is obvious that the new series will not change its reputation in that respect. Also returning from The Curse of Monkey Island to the new series are Dominic Armato as the voice of Guybrush and Alexandra Boyd as the voice for Elaine. The rest of the characters are all voiced well, and the incidental sound effects really bring out the Caribbean atmosphere.

On the other hand, the new game takes on a markedly different visual style, especially for the characters, than its predecessors. Even so, the change seems to fit in well with the rest of the series, as the series already has a history of evolutionary graphical style (with the exception of the first and second game, perhaps). The Telltale Tool (or T3), the propriety development tool used by Telltale Games to create the game, manages to transform Monkey Island's version of the Caribbean into 3D much more attractively than Escape from Monkey Island, though it still does not seem to capture the charm of the art style of The Curse of Monkey Island.

Another difference between this game and the LucasArts originals is the game's level of difficulty (or rather, its lack thereof). The game is even less challenging than Telltale Games' own past games. Any player accustomed to adventure game logics will be able to breeze through the episode without becoming stuck for longer than a moment's pause, even without using the built-in hint system. However, if you decide to consult the hint system, do not expect any big help other than a slight nudge as to which puzzle you need to solve at the moment, not how to solve that puzzle. There are some moments of cleverness, but there are no leaps of tortured logic.

Of course, the story, setting, and dialog are the reasons that the Monkey Island series is so revered by its fans. All of the previous games in the series are known for their humor, although memory and nostalgia may make them seem funnier in retrospect than they really are. The tongue-in-cheek wordplay is entirely present in the new game, and a number of comical conventions are brought in faithfully from the original series. Many recurring characters from the original series do not make an appearance in this game, but since this is only the first of 5 planned chapters in a new storyline, there is no reason to think they will not show up later on. The new characters that debut in the new series are equally memorable and idiosyncratic in their own rights, and the dialog is good for a handful of hearty chuckles. The game may not have you rolling on the floor in laughter, but it will definitely leave a smile on your face by the time it is all over.

It is rather appropriate that Telltale Games has been tasked to bring about the revival of the Monkey Island franchise, not only because the majority of the company's employees, especially Dave Grossman, are LucasArts alumni who have previously worked on Monkey Island, but because the company is largely responsible for the renaissance of the point-and-click adventure genre as a whole. The intrepid developer has proven that the episodic model can work for adventure games and is commercially viable. The fact that Telltale Games has even invited Ron Gilbert, who now works at Hothead Games, to consult on the new series speaks to how serious the developer is about maintaining the feel and quality of the Monkey Island franchise.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: The Launch of the Screaming Narwhal may not match perfectly to your past memories of the Monkey Island series, but it is a true Monkey Island game by every definition. Fans of the series cannot ask for much more than that.

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