Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
If there’s only one thing we’ve learned over the years playing the Monkey Island games, it’s that there are two ways of doing things: the right way and the Guybrush Threepwood way. And if this latest episodic entry into the series is an indication, it’s a lesson that hasn’t diminished with time. This new tale kicks off with our hero ready to put an end to LeChuck as well as saving his beloved Elaine with the help of a voodoo-enchanted cutlass. Naturally, this simple task is botched in patented Guybrush fashion and he instead unintentionally turns LeChuck human whilst at the same time unleashing the Pox of LeChuck across the world. An arbitrary explosion and a Pox-infected left hand later, and Guybrush Threepwood finds himself stranded on Flotsam Island where the winds keep all its inhabitants prisoner. You know, the usual.
And while the story is set up nicely enough – fading to black on a teasing cliffhanger by the episode’s conclusion, much to the despair of the player – the staple of every Monkey Island game worth its salt has and always will be the script and more pertinently, the humour within it. Thankfully, Telltale Games has done an admirable job of translating the series’ unique style of ‘let me get my coat’ humour with the help of an on fire Guybrush Threepwood (voiced again by Dominic Armato) in all his curt one-liner glory and a charming support cast. The stand-out being the episode’s main villain, the Marquis de Singe – a ‘doctor’ dressed like a classical music composer who has more than passing interest in Guybrush’s possessed hand. And favours prescription amputations over penicillin as another pirate on Flotsam Island will attest.
Perhaps equally as important as Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’s narrative quality is the puzzles, which range from insultingly easy to fairly challenging and seldom beyond that. It’s not a particularly difficult game; especially compared to some of the downright cruel puzzles in the first two games and there’s a severe case of developer laziness about halfway through where a puzzle is essentially repeated twice, only dressed in slightly different clothing. There are, however, a couple of moments where it’ll take a while for the mental light bulb to shine; one puzzle especially involving a roll of cheese and a keen eye for observation will produce that fabled ‘eureka!’ moment that is the crack that keeps point & click adventurers going. And if the game ever becomes too taxing, a multi-levelled hint system provides a gentle nudge in the right direction.
As well as having the personality (humour and puzzles), Tales of Monkey Island also has the looks to back it up. The visuals continue down the 3D avenue previously seen in the series’ bastard child, Escape From Money Island, but thanks to some extra horsepower, is a far more accomplished effort at modernising Monkey Island. Flotsam is splashed in colour with a varied number of areas to examine or interact with, the character models are charming and everything has a rich crispness about it – almost like one unremitting CGI movie. This illusion is created by sometimes outstanding animation. For example, Guybrush’s left hand twitches or attacks him sporadically throughout the game as players go about their business.
The controls, while a new concept to the series will be familiar to anyone that has sampled the Wallace & Gromit games made by Telltale. Players drag the mouse in a direction and Guybrush follows as if on a piece of string – right clicking to run and pressing the centre/scroll button to open up the inventory. It’s an unwieldy control scheme to begin with (that can be substituted for use of the keyboard), and although it becomes easier to manage with extended playtime, it’s certainly a departure from the tried and tested ‘clicking to make Guybrush move’ system of past titles.
It was hard to envy Telltale Games when they first announced that they were to create a whole new chapter in the Monkey Island series. Trying to appease a fanbase raised on ludicrous puzzle solving and the idea that any bad blood could be resolved with a gentlemanly bout of insult sword fighting might have been seen as a thankless task; Escape From Monkey Island was proof enough that hell hath no fury like a diehard fan scorned. But Telltale Games has risen estimably to the challenge, even if Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is more of a quiet entrance via the back door than a full-blown, welcome back parade through the streets. One thing’s for sure – it’s great to have an old friend back in the spotlight where it belongs.