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

by Chuck Jose - September 21, 2009, 12:32 pm PDT
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Ahoy, mateys! Welcome to a game that pays tribute to its origins, while being a true sequel in the Monkey Island series.

It's been almost twenty years since the world first experienced The Secret of Monkey Island. The original game won fans over with its wit, charm, and humor. Throughout the 90's, LucasArts released a surge of other amazing adventure titles, and and the era became known as the golden age of adventure games. LucasArts reigned supreme, but the genre eventually declined. 2000's Escape from Monkey Island became what seemed to be the company's final effort in continuing the Monkey Island legacy…until now.

LucasArts is currently revisiting the franchises that originally made the company so popular, and has decided to bring its classic Monkey Island series to a whole new audience. Teaming up with Telltale Games, LucasArts is releasing a new five-part episodic series entitled Tales of Monkey Island. Telltale has already established itself as the premiere company for episodic adventure gaming, with series such as Sam & Max Save the World (itself the successor to the LucasArts favorite Sam & Max Hit the Road) and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

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In an approach completely different from their previous episodic work, Telltale has decided to create one giant narrative spanning across all five episodes. Previous Telltale works, such as Sam & Max Save the World, were comprised of stand-alone episodes. In Tales of Monkey Island, you'll need to play every episode to get the whole story. This could become problematic, with future episodes being heftier in content as the story draws to its climax. The later chapters will have assumed you've played the earlier ones, focusing on the more exciting parts of the story and leaving out background information. Telltale's biggest challenge will be making each episode stand on its own while still pushing the overall narrative.

In Tales of Monkey Island you play the pirate Guybrush Threepwood, the lead character in every Monkey Island title to date. The game opens up with our hero in search of a fizzy root beer that will complete a magical voodoo sword spell. With it he'll be able to once again defeat the pirate zombie LeChuck, the series' villain, and save his daring wife Elaine. After a series of mishaps and a very large explosion, Guybrush finds himself washed up on the shores of Flotsam Island. To make matters worse, the spell backfires and curses his left hand. The rest of the game is spent figuring out how to get off the island, since the winds blow towards the island and prevent anyone from leaving.

Throughout the journey, Guybrush meets a whole new cast of characters that possess the same wit and charm the series is known for. The silly dialogue is back as our hero finds himself meeting another voodoo queen, a reporter all about pirate news, a frilly French doctor, and a pompous captain who is proud of his ship's ability to not be captured. Many of the original voice actors are also back to reprise their roles. Though the dialogue tries to tap into the original game's cleverness, more often than not it tries too hard, using variations of the same old jokes instead of creating its own humor. This doesn't mean you won't get a laugh, but it would have been nice to hear some new jokes.

The whole episode takes about 4-5 hours, depending on your ability to solve the substantial number of puzzles. The puzzles involve the typical collecting of items and using them in the right locations; some items can also be combined in specific situations. Some of the puzzles require you think outside the box, although most are so blatantly obvious that any Monkey Island veteran will be able to solve them immediately. While the puzzle-solving is generally simple, sometimes acquiring the necessary items becomes a challenge. It's very easy to miss an item or location given the difficult-to-navigate jungle. You can get stuck on a certain puzzle when the item you need is located on a path you didn't take. The paths aren't constant either, forcing you to memorize the right sequence just to get to the right spot.

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All of the puzzle-solving is controlled with the Nunchuk and Wii Remote. The Nunchuk controls Guybrush, while the remote is used to interact with objects much like a mouse would in the classic point-and-click adventures. This makes selecting objects simple and easy to do. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to select smaller objects due to the imprecision of the Wii Remote; at times I had to slowly aim just to pinpoint a specific object. Clicking an object repeatedly to select it is never fun.

Another major drawback is the game's graphics. The Wii version isn't nearly as visually appealing as the PC edition. At times there are poor frame rates that cause sporadic movement, and the game runs at a very low resolution with every model appearing blurred.

Even though fans of the adventure genre have experienced a long drought, Telltale has done a magnificent job in replenishing our thirsty tongues. If later episodes are as good as the first, The Tales of Monkey Island appears destined to stand out as one of the better entries in the Monkey Island series. It's been a long time coming, and Telltale has done a bang-up job of reviving the series. While The Screaming Narwhal is merely an introduction and provides no clear conclusion, it's still a fun adventure that fans of the series will enjoy.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
6 9 8.5 8.5 7 8
Graphics
6

They are simply atrocious at times. The blurry resolution is unbearable and the frame rate can be sporadic.

Sound
9

Dominic Armato is back to voice Guybrush along with many of the original voice actors. There's also good voice work done with the new characters.

Control
8.5

Controls just like a classic point-and-click adventure. Using the Wii Remote is just as intuitive as using a mouse, but it would be even better if it was more responsive for smaller items.

Gameplay
8.5

The puzzles vary in difficulty, but it's too easy to get stuck when items aren't so easy to find.

Lastability
7

Great for fans who will enjoy the humor over and over, but once you beat it there's no point in really playing the same puzzles again.

Final
8

The Monkey Island series is back. Even though this episode serves as only an introduction, it sets up the story pretty well and brings players back to a world long forgotten. Aside from a few graphical hitches and gameplay annoyances, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal provides a nice challenge while making you laugh at its clever writing.

Summary

Pros
  • Challenging puzzles
  • Clever writing
  • Monkey Island is back!
Cons
  • Difficult to navigate jungle
  • Low-res graphics
  • No real ending
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Tales of Monkey Island - Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Box Art

Genre Adventure
Developer Telltale Games
Players1
Controllers

Worldwide Releases

na: Tales of Monkey Island - Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Release Jul 27, 2009
PublisherTelltale Games
RatingEveryone 10+
eu: Tales of Monkey Island - Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
Release Jul 31, 2009
PublisherTelltale Games
Rating12+
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