Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 3: Lair of the Leviathan
First posted on 28 October 2009. Last updated on 14 December 2009.
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
The third chapter of the Tales of Monkey Island series takes the latest saga of Guybrush Threepwood a step further. In the first chapter, Guybrush learns about the new world in which he finds himself victim to the spreading pox of LeChuck. In the second chapter, Guybrush adjusts to life with a new LeChuck who is no longer evil and what that may mean for him and his wife. In this chapter, Guybrush confronts the femme fatale bounty hunter Morgan Le Flay, as he tries to rid himself of the curse that is threatening to take over him and everyone else in the Caribbean.
As surprising as it may sound for a Monkey Island game, the most enjoyable part of the revamped series for me has not been the new locales, the puzzles, or even the well-done jokes. Rather, the most interesting feature of the series for me has been how it has reshuffled the deck and played with the relationships of established characters in new ways. Guybrush gets a little bit of the cold shoulder from his wife who is coming to rely on the brawny and reformed LeChuck, while he has to put up with a sometimes cutthroat and sometimes flirtatious buxom bounty hunter by his side. The relationships between that central quartet of characters: Guybrush, his wife Elaine, his former enemy LeChuck, and the bounty hunter Morgan, represent the driving force for the revamped series.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 3: Lair of the Leviathan works on a smaller scope than its predecessors: there is no world map to explore, no forest maze to trudge through, no new islands to sail between. In fact, there are only a few scenes you need to travel between at all, but what it does with that scope is impressive. Guybrush and Morgan have plenty of time to banter. There is the usual share of inventory puzzles as well as a couple of entertaining quiz styled mini-games. There is even a variant of insult swordfighting that has Guybrush conduct research on scary faces that he can make to intimidate a foe in a faceoff contest. Aside from Guybrush, LeChuck, Morgan, and Elaine, most of the characters in previous chapters have been fairly forgettable variations on stereotypes such as fat and skinny pirates. However, the few new characters that are in this chapter have enough personality and variety between them to stand out, and their personality quirks all prove important to solving the puzzles you will eventually confront.
Like all the games in the series so far, your quest will ultimately break down to accomplishing a trio of tasks in any order you like. Progressing through the game is fairly straightforward, especially if you keep the hint level turned high so that you never have to wait too long without the game giving you a prod in the right direction. While a few puzzles are challenging or indirect enough to give you a feeling of accomplishment, for the most part you will be able to make steady progress just by doing what you are told and taking obvious steps to accomplish your next available objective. The humor and story are what serve to make the game worth following. In particular, a memorable character from the original series, Murray the demonic talking skull, shows up midway in this chapter to mock Guybrush and ineffectually try to spread his campaign of evil. It works well as a callback to the old series. The dialogs are all entertaining enough that you will always want to exhaust your options of what to say before turning your attention to solving the puzzles.
A particular inside joke in the game struck me as being surreal in its scope. I recalled Sean Vanaman, the designer of this chapter, talking in an interview about how he made a joke out of the fact that he got stuck with an inventory object which he had no way to use; at the end of the previous chapter, the game went to the trouble of resurrecting Guybrush's talking pyrite parrot, only to have it magically disappear at the start of this episode thanks to an obvious choice on the part of the game's designer not to use it. It felt like a funny little bit of miscommunication between the chapters. For me, it also made apparent the limitations of creating an episodic game with a smaller scope, in that it might not necessarily be possible to set up a chain of events or puzzles and know that it would all work out in the way that a game designed all at once could. The pyrite parrot from the end of the last chapter turns into a plot thread that goes nowhere here.
The question that the series has to now answer in order to prove itself is how well it compares to the original Monkey Island series or, at the least, to the critically successful first 3 games in the series (The Secret of Monkey Island, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, The Curse of Monkey Island). The graphics in the new series are definitely leaps and bounds ahead of the less successful Escape from Monkey Island. Guybrush is particularly well animated and likable, and the control scheme is much more refined. What the new series cannot do compared to the original series is to represent a large expansive puzzle solving space: the challenge of exploring a new island and knowing that you will have a huge set of interrelated puzzles to solve before you move on, much like attacking a blank crossword puzzle. In the new series, most of that crossword is already filled in or localized to a smaller part of the grid for each chapter. Although the previous chapters take place in larger physical spaces than the current chapter, traveling between different islands, they exist in very comparable narrative and puzzle spaces. There are only so many plot points to hit and so many puzzles to solve in each chapter. They are just less physically spread out this time around.
For me, each chapter in the Tales of Monkey Island feels like the parts of a Monkey Island game in between the huge nonlinear puzzle clusters, such as the climactic scene at the end of The Secret of Monkey Island or the seafaring scene in The Curse of Monkey Island. Events are much more linear and story driven, in contrast to the huge nonlinear tangles that a big island such as Melee Island in The Secret of Monkey Island or Plunder Island in The Curse of Monkey Island provides. What Tales of Monkey Island does best is to move the game along with a strong thread of story and stay focused on the plot and the relationships of its characters. It has the humor and spirit of the classic Monkey Island series, but there is no denying that the episodic format has turned it into a different kind of adventure game than the original.