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The Tone of Monkey Island - My Review and Suggestions for Future Episodes

posted by sladerlmc77 on - last edited - Viewed by 3.3K users

I melted the edge of my credit-card by whipping it out so quickly when tales of Monkey Island was first announced. Never before had I so willingly given a developer my money, and it was with great anticipation that I awaited the release date.

To prepare for the release, I re-read Treasure Island, Return to Treasure Island, Silver, and On Stranger Tides. I also rewatched the POTC movies, listened to the Monkey Island Soundtracks, and replayed Curse of Monkey Island.

Full Disclosure of Reviewer Bias:

I rate the original games, from worst to best, as follows -

Escape from Monkey Island - This bizarre entry in the series dropped the semi-serious nature of the storylines from the original games for full-on satire and social commentary. With a maddening interface, continuity botches (that were supposed to fix other continuity issues), and the most annoying minigame ever, this entry illustrated what NOT to do with the Monkey Island Franchise.

The Secret of Monkey Island - A classic that introduced the endearing characters of the Monkey Island Universe. With clever scripting, humorous dialogue, catchy themes and memorable characters, this game could have stood alone through the ages - thankfully, the developers had more up their sleeve.

The Curse of Monkey Island - A revolution in the Monkey Island Series, this game introduced painterly landscapes and characters, perfect voice casting and music, clever puzzles, and continuity fixes. Succesfully maintained the tricky balance between humor and dark undertones that existed in the previous entry.

LeChuck's Revenge: Monkey Island 2 - The gold standard. This game successfully evolved the series, giving much greater depth to the characters and their conflicts. Each of the existing characters had aged and moved on from their "Secret" origins, and technical enhancements changed the nature of how we listened to our games. The soundtrack was endlesslyl hummable, the puzzles devilishly sadistic, and the spooky/haunting undertones pervaded the entire game. The ending generated endless controversy, fueling speculation and discussions about the meaning of it all for years.

So how does Tales of Monkey Island: The Launch of the Screaming Narwhal hold up?

Story

The Launch of the Screaming Narwhal uses a plot device as old as the hills to start off the action - starting at the end of the previous adventure. We're in familiar territory - Guybrush is about to foil the latest voodoo plot hatched
by the evil Poxed-Pirate LeChuck, and in typical Threepwood-fashion botches it.

The introductory sequence serves as a capable tutorial, introducing us to the new Telltale Interface and walking us through a few simple puzzles, before cutting to the opening credits, Monkey Island theme, and washing up on Flotsam Island, where the remainder of the game takes place.

The player is immediately given a number of tasks, and is rarely left standing around wondering what to do. Stuck? You've usually got something else to try.

In this regard, Narwhal is scripted tightly enough to allow the player to determine what order to tackle their challenges, and the story remains internally consistent.

Dialogue options might occasionally cause you to crack a smile, but few lines are laugh-out-loud funny. (Notable exception - "You've got spunk in you, kid! Pirate Spunk!" "Ew!")

Earlier games in the series seemed to offer more choice, and greater potential for silly or spooky options. Hopefully, more dialogue options will be available in future episodes.

The puzzles can be deviously tricky, but never felt cruel or unfair. (The one exception might be the Marquis De Singe/Messed up Idol puzzle, but it seems I had more trouble with this one than other folks.) While the map puzzles may feel a tad repetitive, this reminded me of old-school adventure gaming and didn't really bother me. All-in-all, solid effort in puzzle work.

Script - 2/2
Dialogue - 1/2
Puzzles - 2/2

Average: 1.6


Art Direction

The art direction REALLY shines in the introduction to the game, with a beautiful spooky storm, rain, and lighting effects. Character models are superb, and the environment gave off the perfect Monkey Island Vibe.

Unfortunately, this took a hit once we arrived at Flotsam Island. The brooding atmosphere is lost and replaced with a sunny locale. This can certainly work on a tropical island, but the 3d environments and characters when brightly lit, look plastic-y. This ends up evoking memories of Escape from Monkey Island.

Main characters are beautifully rendered. Guybrush calls back to his "LeChucks Revenge" wardrobe, LeChuck is the devil incarnate, Elaine and the Voodoo Lady are gorgeous, and the Marquis De Singe (a character I was skeptical about) fairly reeks with personality.

Unfortunately, lesser characters are standard Telltale NPC's - Mr Potato Head models with fairly generic traits. Their names are easily forgotten as soon as their purpose in the story is exhausted.

Characters -
Main - 2/2
Secondary - 1/2

Environments - 1/2

Average: .66



Sound

The music of Narwhal has the familiar Monkey Island themes going on, but felt strangely derivative of the original themes. While the old standbys are good, I couldn't help feeling that the original music didn't feel...erm...original. Hopefully later episodes will have more standout themes that I can whistle in the shower.

The voice work in the game was excellent, thanks for the welcome return of Dominic Armato. Other voice actors also filled their roles well, particularly the actor providing the voice of the Marquis De Singe.

Sample quality could have been improved, but overall this game stands up well.

Music - 1/2
Voices - 2/2

Average: .75


Technical

The game was unfortunately marred by a few technical issues. The new interface (necessary to navigate the 3d interface), while serviceable, was not a joy to work with. The "click-and-drag" mouse option was difficult to use, and the keyboard option is not particularly friendly. A true "click-to-move" option such as the old Monkey Island games or the more recent Sam and Max games would be a welcome addition, "Cinematic-Display" be damned.

Also, a number of users (myself included) ran into technical issues with the display either upon startup or after resuming the game after making settings changes.

Fortunately, Telltale support was able to find a solution to my problem within 20 minutes of submittingthe ticket. Kudos to the Telltale Support staff!

Interface 0/2

Issues 1/2 (with 2 indicating no problems)

Average: .25



Judgement, Overall (NOT an overall Average): 1.4/2 (or 70%)



What worked Best:

The introduction had exactly the right tone.

Please give us more night scenes! Monkey works best when it's dark and spooky.

The puzzles were definitely Monkey Island, and I'd love to see more brain-teasers like the "Ninja Doll" puzzle and the "Cheese Wheel" puzzle.

Despite my skepticism, the Marquis De Singe was a show-stealer - give us more memorable characters like this!

I can't even begin to describe how much I loved the Flotsam Island Map - the zoom-out is a beautiful touch!

Inventory combination also worked great. Thanks for bringing this back!

General Advice to Telltale:

The story is serviceable to start with, but needs to ground itself more in "pirate reality." Monkey Island works when it's a serious pirate story with bizzare anachronisms (like Grog Machines).

It's harder to buy into when the spooky/voodoo atmosphere is lost, or when pirates don't feel especially piratey. (For examples of GOOD Pirates, see Mancomb Seepgood, Esteban, or Largo LaGrande. Bad examples include Ignatius Cheese, Davey Newspaperman, or Crimpdigit.)

The art direction seems solid, but could stand to have more
memorable "Lesser" characters. For an example of how to do this right, look at ANY character from LeChucks Revenge or Curse of Monkey Island. You could look at any of the background characters and know that they had a piratey backstory. Pirate Glassblowers are hard to take seriously.

The interface needs serious work - at no point did I enjoy guiding Guybrush through the TOMI world - with the exception of the map screen, which was point-and-click.

Greater Dialogue Choice/Snappier Lines will make future episodes more memorable.

What was Missed:

Memorable Background Characters. (Men of Low Moral Fiber, REAL Pirates in Bars)

"Meanwhile" scenes...(seeing developments going on elsewhere keep the idea of LeChuck front-and-center, and build anticipation of a future confrontation)

Whistlable Music - paying homage to the past is great, and all of the themes that need to be there were...unfortunately, the music called back a bit *too* much to previous tracks. I'd like to see something new.

Conclusion:

Screaming Narwhal is a fun diversion, but doesn't quite stand up to Sam and Max Season2, where all cylinders were firing.

If anything, the episode suffers most from being the "First Episode."

The greatest thing that could benefit future episodes is an examination of the "Tone" of the first 3 monkey island games.

In this episode, I feel like Telltale was aiming for a combination of "LeChucks Revenge" and "Curse", but instead achieved a combination of "Secret" and "Escape."

Still, a fun ride that leaves me anticipating more!

319 Comments - Linear Discussion: Classic Style
  • Howdy, GregorV, and thanks for the kind words!

    [quote] I think what your review (or rather, criticism, taken in its finest meaning of the word) shows is that Tales got most of things right and that it would take just a few little tweaks to make the experience that much better. [/quote]

    That's my real goal here. Something that has really impressed me about Telltale is their willingness to engage with the community, and to make changes along the way to produce a better product.

    While Narwhal was a great introduction, I did feel that it had a few "off" beats...nothing major, but the biggest problem that I found was tone.

    I wanted to see if the community agreed, and if so try and discuss what worked (and what didn't) in a constructive way, in the hopes that Telltale (and us as fans) can try and understand what it is that hooks us into this universe int he first place!

    [quote] The ending of Ep. 1 suggests that Guybrush and LeChuck might have a sort of a role reversal in the future, and in such a scenario it makes perfect sense that Guybrush is actually an accomplished pirate. [/quote]

    I think this take could actually be a lot of fun. One of the funny things about LeChucks Revenge was that Guybrush had EVOLVED. He's trying SO hard to be a mighty pirate - he's got the beard, the coat, pockets full of loot, AND he's killed LeChuck...and people STILL don't take him seriously.

    The converse of this - Guybrush infected with LeChucks Mojo - could be really interesting.

    In the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Will Turner went from being a blacksmith who wanted nothing to do with piracy, to the black-shirted, ring-locked, Errol-Flynn-style replacement for Davey Jones! This evolution of character is vital, and seeing a badass Guybrush could be a lot of fun, if handled correctly!

    [quote] Support characters need to be more piratey. The pirates of Flotsam are just too "soft". One can not imagine them having any pirate history. If they were just a bit more fleshed out in terms of their past or connections, then they would be much more believable. It is just a matter of adding a few more dialogue choices to make them a bit more fleshed out. [/quote]

    I agree, although I think it's also important to pay attention to the character design. I refer to Davey and Crimpdigit as "Mr. Potato Head" characters - they're generic Telltale NPC's. While I'm sure this makes developing the game much faster, it also robs the characters of their individuality - and memorability.

    Contrast this with the Marquis De Singe, who obviously had some thought put into him. Prior to the release of the game, I was skeptical of this character...I didn't like the concept.

    Telltale succesfully designed, casted, and implemented the character though, and made me appreciate what they were doing. I'd like to see more of this.

    Winslow strikes me as an in-between character. He's sort of generic, but has just enough personality to make me want to see him fleshed out much more. Give him an interesting backstory (and maybe more of a lead role) and there's a potential for growth in this character!


    Lorn

  • @lparcshinoda said: we want REAL pirates and not comical-parody of a pirate ... we want a real EVIL lechuck and NOT a lechuck trying to act bad but resulting to be a parody of the lechuck he used to be in M1 and M2.

    There haven't really been real pirates in a Monkey Island game since Secret. We might see some again in ToMI but only because of the pox.
    What's strange is that the quest of ToMI revolves around stopping the Pox from turning all the pirates into rude, fierce people, but shouldn't those be the least of the required character traits for a typical pirate? The way the pirates behave under the pox is the way they should be naturally be behaving all along. Since this is Monkey Island we shouldn't expect raping and pillaging, but the pirates should at least be naturally a little rough around the edges.
    Granted, Guybrush is as nice a guy as you'll find, but the whole gag is that he's a pirate wanna-be.

  • Great review, Lorn. I agree with everything you said (I think?). Well, Maybe not the order of the games. I would pick Monkey Island 1 over 3.

  • [quote] There haven't really been real pirates in a Monkey Island game since Secret.[/quote]

    I'm not sure if I'd go that far. Largo LaGrande certainly qualified (at least for me), and I thought the Pirates of the Barbery Coast did as well. (Cutthroat Billin particular!)

    Piracy was their FIRST vocation...and they turned to other pursuits, each for their own personal reasons.

    Even then, they were happy to return to the sea once you'd proved your worthiness to captain a ship, and quite cheerfully mutineed (in the politest way possible) as soon as the ship crashed on Blood Island!

    [quote]What's strange is that the quest of ToMI revolves around stopping the Pox from turning all the pirates into rude, fierce people, but shouldn't those be the least of the required character traits for a typical pirate?[/quote]

    Absolutely...while the pirates have always been humorous, they've also always had an edge. It says something that I remember the names of Mancomb Seepgood, Esteban, Largo LaGrande, and heck...even the LOOM guy...when I can't reliably remember the last name of Davey Nippercut (hope I got it right this time!)

    [quote]Since this is Monkey Island we shouldn't expect raping and pillaging, but the pirates should at least be naturally a little rough around the edges.
    Granted, Guybrush is as nice a guy as you'll find, but the whole gag is that he's a pirate wanna-be. [/quote]

    I think this is exactly right...and this is a large part of the reason why I suggested that the main problem that I see in this first episode is tone.

    With just a very slight shift in perspective, I think the series can hit the notes they want, but they have to turn it a little bit darker, a little bit more serious, and with memorable characters who serve as more than puzzle devices.


    Lorn

  • Really good review, it was my thoughts exactly, im not bashing Telltale, i believe that they have done an amazing job some niggles about the game that i would have changed but i didnt make it and i appreciate the hard work that has gone into making this and maintaining the game. Awesome job Telltale and good review!

  • For the most part, the games move either from day-to-night or night-to-day as they progress. I'm sure as the series moves into night it will help with contributing to a more sinister mood.

  • One interesting possibility could be if the intention is NOT to clean up the Pox.

    The pox would act as a pretty convenient device to reset the pirate behaviors?

    That would be a neat climax to the end of Season 1, too. LeChuck destroys La Sponje Grande, Elaine falls for LeChuck, and the pirates have all reverted to cutthroats....

    Then...


    TO BE CONTINUED.....



    Lorn

  • You make a lot of really good points, and I think you really understand what it was about the tone of Monkey Island as a series made it so fun to play. I agree that they should try to steer the series in a more spooky dark and unsettling way, and avoid making anything too inauthentic.
    You put it best:
    "Monkey Island works when it's a serious pirate story with bizzare anachronisms (like Grog Machines)."

    Overdoing it like was done with EFMI, is a bad idea and should be avoided.

    edit; I also rate MI2 > MI3 > MI1 > MI4
    ;)

    [quote=GregorV]Support characters need to be more piratey. The pirates of Flotsam are just too "soft". One can not imagine them having any pirate history. If they were just a bit more fleshed out in terms of their past or connections, then they would be much more believable. It is just a matter of adding a few more dialogue choices to make them a bit more fleshed out.

    I hope that Telltales read your original post as that is probably one of the best constructive criticisms I read on just about any topic, ever.[/quote]Agreed. While a lot of other criticisms on the site have been about the UI and such, this gets right to the bottom of the game: the story.

    ***

    I think it would be a good idea for Telltale to read some old pirate mythology and stories, to really get the feel of the game down.

  • [quote]I'd also just add that I think having a LOOK function is essential to Monkey Island, not only just by tradition, but even to the humor. Half of the fun in the previous games was just looking at things, and that would set up a great line or subtle insight. There just needs to be more things to see and interact with.[/quote]I would agree with this. I was recently thinking about it all recently, and have decided that the issue currently is that Telltale have moved to a control scheme that is not very suited to Adventure Games. That is, I believe conceptually it needs a lot more work.
    I'll explain:
    1. The most important part of an adventure game is interacting with the world. They have removed the verbs, and decreased the variety of interaction... Finding ways of increasing this would ultimately create more fun.
    2. Movement now requires constant attention. For a game that hasn't meant to be about controlling and directing your character it seems strange that you should have to actively hold buttons down when you want to move. A simple click of the mouse made everything so much easier, and it meant while travelling you could do other things in the background such as check the screen for hotspots with the mouse... It also meant that I could lean back on my chair and play the game much more casually.

    I am not necessarily suggesting they switch back to point 'n' click. However, I believe it would be wise to (a) increase the number of ways the user can interact with the world, and (b) change the control scheme in a way that means it does not need total supervision to move from one place on the map to another. That is, think of the controls in a more adventure-centric way.

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