After nearly a decade since the last release in the Monkey Island™ series, TellTale Games brings to us Tales of Monkey Island (Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal). The download, installation, and launcher are all standard-issue for TellTale's games. Whether you've previously played a title from TellTale or not though, you should have no difficulty in navigating this processes.
The format of the title(s) of course is episodic so each of the five episodes is released in a downloadable format with a DVD release planned once the set is completed (those who pre-ordered the entire set of course will receive the DVD at the additional cost of shipping and handling). As such nothing more can yet be said as for the actual quality of the DVD packaging and such, but there will be time for that when that time comes.
Once the game has been installed you are first presented with TTG's game launcher. This ensures your installation is valid by registering either with your TTG Online Account, your game's serial number, or a manual entry code which may be requested if you plan on playing the game on a strictly "offline" computer. The launcher is very straightforward with a big, friendly button saying, "Launch game!" and also allows you to see snippets on current ToMI discussions from the forums which is nice (you may very well see something you're interested in discussing yourself).
The next thing we are presented with is the game's menu screen. A fairly simple menu with basic options for Save, Load, New Game, Resume Game [in progress], as well as game options. The menus are highly stylized (giving the appearance of a weathered scroll) so that right from the beginning you are launched into a sort of Caribbean mindset.
And that mindset doesn't stop there. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal brings us a full three-dimensional view of our little slice of the Caribbean world. The graphics are highly stylized as well, yet keeps very nicely with some of the visual themes laid out in not only EFMI, but CMI as well ("curly clouds!"). It's quite easy to become quite attached to the atmosphere in this game; you can almost smell the salty air in your lungs.
Beyond the visuals, the auditory-inclined players will find that Michael Land has not lost his masterful touch. The music is remniscent of the good old-days of piratey fun and will take your mind all the way back to your childhood staring at those gigantic pixels (for those of us like myself who grew up on the series) and MIDI-generated beeps and boops. Not only the music, but the voice acting as well was handled very nicely. The voices match the characters beautifully and really bring that extra touch of life and personality to each of the characters.
Right from the beginning we find that our beloved hero Guybrush hasn't changed a bit. Not only must he still stave off the foul hands of LeChuck to defend his beautiful bride Elaine; he also clumsily manages to befowl what would seem to be perhaps the most straightforward of tasks. The humor, dialogue, interactions, and just about everything in general shows genuinely skillful dedication to keeping true to these games we hold so dear.
The control scheme is different from any we have yet been presented with; yet that doesn't make it a bad control scheme. Clicking and holding the mouse, and then dragging to point Guybrush in the direction we want him to go did take a little bit of warming up to (having never used such means previously myself). However, even on a laptop touchpad it was still easy to get him to go where I wanted and needed him to.
Another point that I did find to be a bit, not extreme, but unnecessary if you will, is the way that inventory items are combined. We have to click the first item, select one of two available slots, select the second item, select the other slot, and the click the '+' button to finally combine them. Why not just click the first item, then click the second? Maybe a right-click would do. It wasn't something that was hugely impacting, but definitely not one of the perks of the game.
As much as I have said in favor of this game, one further point that nearly made it unplayable for me is how (apparently) taxing it is on the actual hardware. Granted the computers I have don't exactly meet the specifications (definitely not the reccommended status) but it seems that the system would be better capable of equalizing some of the strain from the areas which fall short to the areas which exceed the requirement. Alas, I was only just able to play the game by actually crippling my computer, disabling nearly every resource from Internet connectivity right down to my antivirus program, dropping the resolution of the game to a miniscule 640x480, and putting the quality at a 1 (one).
Again, this was likely due to the particular systems which I have access to being aged (not to mention poorly designed pre-built systems). However it did detract from my enjoyment of the game. Of course thinking back to it, the computer I had in 2000 would freeze up if I played EFMI for too long in one sitting, so it's really a matter of keeping things in perspective I suppose. From what I have read though it seems most are able to play the game without difficulty, so do pardon my apparent bias on this.
So to bring it all to a conclusion I suppose I would give this game an overall rating of 4/5:
The game was very well presented both pre-release, and presently. The atmosphere of the game was quite well and really captured that old MI feel.
I don't feel that I could present a fair judgement on the graphical aspect of the game due to the state in which I had to play it. From what I could see it did look as though it would have been much prettier, but my personal experience was very gritty (due to system limitations).
Music and Sound: 5/5
Everything from the entrancing music, the sound effects, and even the voices were spot-on. Excellent work.
There wasn't much grievance with this, but it wasn't an "all-it-could-be" experience to me. As they say, "There's always room for improvement." Still very good though so I'll give it 4/5.
This is my first attempt at writing a game review so if I've been daft or otherwise managed to make a fool of myself feel free to point and laugh. For me Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is a wonderful addition to the Monkey Island series and I would highly reccommend it to all my family and friends. So here's to hoping that The Siege of Spinner Cay will continue to keep that monkey spirit alive; keep the great work up TellTale.
Originally posted here, at The Legend of Monkey Island forums.