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

posted by sladerlmc77 on - last edited - Viewed by 1.4K 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
  • The fact Monkey island was made into an episodic game has allowed all this great discussion of what makes Monkey Island so great. After all these posts, I reckon we all know much more specifically what is the thematic core of Monkey Island than what we knew before. The episodic format allows us to suggest slight tweakings to bring the game closer with each episode to what we all would consider almost unanimously 100% Monkey Island.

    And although I really loved episode 1, I do think this is a very valid discussion with some great points being made

  • @corruptbiggins said: hmmm. I might start scoring games in fractions of pi.



    Woah, nerdy comment!!!
    BTW, I read you're studying computer games programming, so can I ask you something in PM?
    Ya know, I took a degree in computer science, now I'm taking my 2-years specialization and then I'd like to take a master in game development.
    Lemme know if you got time to answer :)

  • Yes! And isn't that such an amazing thing?

    I am really impressed that Telltale has such great customer relations. Other companies would keep a well-defined wall between themselves and their consumers, with every statement released approved by lawyers beforehand.

    Telltale not only talks to us directly, they ask us for our opinions, solicit comments for actual inclusion into their projects, and aren't afraid to make jokes.

    Kudos to Telltale, and I hope they take the comments in this thread for what they are - constructive criticism and thinly veiled adoration for your efforts.


    Lorn

  • "The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood" sounds like it will be a more darker and ominous episode if that's the tone you're after. It's good to have light and shade and CMI was the game that really delivered this in its excellent locations.

    I commented in another thread that I felt the music sounded less expansive than CMI's soundtrack. This is heard most in the familiar opening theme music which sounds quite artificial and synthesised. The S&M score was excellent and I know Telltale have the resources to include more real instruments to perform the game music. The organs and guitars for Monkey Island are far easier to come by than a horn section for Sam & Max.

  • I still think the gold standards for Monkey Island are LeChucks Revenge, and Curse.

    The strange thing is, The Secret of Monkey Island is a pretty good game. The script is tight, the humor is funny, it strikes all the right notes - but I'm convinced that it's really LeChucks Revenge that cemented "Secret" as a classic.

    To look at it another way, if The Secret of Monkey Island had been a standalone game, I have no doubt that people would still have fond memories of it.

    But would it be a classic?

    When LeChucks Revenge started, it was obvious that time had passed in the Monkey Island universe. Guybrush had a beard, a ponytail, and a snazzy new pirate coat - not to mention loads of Pirate Loot.

    Largo LaGrande was introduced as the new tough, and LeChuck was scarier than ever as a pissed off reanimated corpse.

    And the ending - while some people see it as a negative, I am CONVINCED that the controversy itself is what set everybodys imaginations on fire. 17 years later, we are STILL debating what it means - and everybody has a different interpretation.

    By including this ambiguity, we as the players get to choose how to interpret the story, and that works retroactively in "Secrets" favor.

    As to the music, I don't mind synthesized so much - heck, that's no different from the original two games.

    I guess what I was disappointed by with the new music was that, after playing it, I don't remember it.

    When I'm in a monkey island mood, I constantly find myself whistling the themes from Woodtick, Phatt Island, or Plunder Island. These melodies had staying power, and would cycle in my head for hours at a time.

    I didn't feel that from this episode, and I think that's a bit of a shame.


    Lorn

  • When you explain your points out in more detail; I think I can agree more with what you're saying. You do make some valid points; I could go ahead and make the argument that we haven't seen how the whole game is going to turn out; I do think we'll see something special come of this by the end of the season.

    Perhaps one thing is that Guybrush, in every other game, was set up on each island of his own free will. The first episode of MI5 is very similar to the first episode of MI2 in that Guybrush wants to find a way off the island, by means of a ship. The main difference is that Guybrush is not on Flotsam of his own free will, and consequently, neither are we. Both we and Guybrush want to get off Flotsam as fast as possible and see what the world of MI5 really has in store for us; to explore the mysteries and understand this new and exciting story. Perhaps the tone of Flotsam is one of "we want to get away from here as fast as possible to get into the real grand epic story, but we can't because we have all these big obstacles in our way". And I think that's mainly what Episode one is all about. In that way it pretty much does its main purpose as a first chapter, establishing Guybrush, the quest, the characters, and the mythology of the games, but not the grand world of Monkey Island itself; as we have yet to see that until episode 2 or however it will be shown to us. And because of that, I'm much more excited for Episode 2 than I was for Episode 1, and I think my excitement will grow for each new episode, greater than that for the last. And that's what episodic gaming is all about.

  • Hi Lorn,

    I'm a very opinionated MI fan, so normally when I see so many personal opinions in a review like yours my first reaction is to pick it apart. Not so in this case, as your review eloquently sums my exact thoughts on ToMI. I almost wish we could go for beers, just so we could have lengthy geeky discussions on the minutia of Monkey Island. (Doesn't it drive you nuts when people accuse you of taking your passion too seriously?)

    In any case, I'd like to especially second the need for a more brooding, more piraty atmosphere. I remember as a kid playing SoMI for the first time, one of the emotions evoked was a feeling of dread -- like, "what is this Guybrush character getting himself into!". Now it seems like Guybrush is, for lack of a better description, at the top of the pirate food chain since he's ostensibly less of a wannabe than all the other 'pirates' in MI land. Also I really miss the quaint-yet-dark and eerily brooding lantern-lit firefly-infested MI world of yore. The brightly-lit locale doesn't quite match up with my romanticized vision of what a Pirates of the Carribean-inspired world should look like.

    That said, the devs have promised somewhere in the forums that future episodes will have much ‘darker’ settings, which gives me hope considering that Telltale games always improve with each successive episode.

    Also with regards to the humor not being "laugh-out-loud", I actually think it's about as good as it could be without the benefit of the hilarious Tim Schaffer working on it. That guy is renowned for being the only guy in the industry who can evoke a gut-laugh from a video game, a feat that is apparently almost impossible to achieve.

    All-in-all, great game... Out of all the MI games I'd rate it somewhere in the middle, although future episodes have the potential to rival the best ones (which IMO are MI 1&2). Interestingly, I find it to be a perfect amalgum of all 4 MI games, since it melds an equal number of elements from each. Now if they could remove the MI 4 part of that equation in future episodes... :)

  • [quote=Shanksworthy]Also with regards to the humor not being "laugh-out-loud", I actually think it's about as good as it could be without the benefit of the hilarious Tim Schaffer working on it. That guy is renowned for being the only guy in the industry who can evoke a gut-laugh from a video game.[/quote]Hm, that is a point. I wonder how many genuinely funny people there are around in the computer game world... You're more likely to find them writing for TV or films where comedy is more the norm.

  • I rarely ever laugh out loud in real life... not that I have a bad sense of humor or anything but I just don't laugh, TOMI managed to get a few chuckles out of me...

  • Wow! I'm glad to see the discussion picking up!

    Secret Fawful:

    [quote]Perhaps one thing is that Guybrush, in every other game, was set up on each island of his own free will. The first episode of MI5 is very similar to the first episode of MI2 in that Guybrush wants to find a way off the island, by means of a ship. The main difference is that Guybrush is not on Flotsam of his own free will, and consequently, neither are we.[/quote]

    This is a very good point, and something that I hadn't actually considered. By limiting our ability to jump into the main plot, we really ARE working against the same frustrations that Guybrush himself is. We feel the frustration more viscerally because have internalized his own goal. Awesome point!

    I think this also underscores the need for the "Meanwhile..." sequences we've seen in the other games. They give the player a brief moment to breathe, rewarding us for completing a puzzle (thus giving us a sense of accomplishment), while also teasing us with a little bit of plot.

    Because Guybrush and LeChuck are the two most important characters in the game, we really need to keep them front and center - even if they're not in the same scene.

    We only see LeChuck briefly in the intro, and briefly at the exit of the game...to my mind, he felt criminally underused in this episode.

    [quote] And because of that, I'm much more excited for Episode 2 than I was for Episode 1, and I think my excitement will grow for each new episode, greater than that for the last. And that's what episodic gaming is all about.[/quote]

    I'm also more excited for the next episode than I was for the first - I'm just looking forward to the tonal shift which I hope will occur. Episodic gaming is a very exciting medium for me, because it gives you time to reflect on the progress of the story. In this way, it's a lot like the penny dreadfuls that used to be published.

    Trivia: Treasure Island was actually written as a serial in a magazine, released in installments. The story itself wasn't actually widely noted until the entire story was collected into a book, after which it became a classic. I suppose this game itself is art imitating life, in that regard.

    Shanksworthy:

    [quote]I almost wish we could go for beers, just so we could have lengthy geeky discussions on the minutia of Monkey Island. (Doesn't it drive you nuts when people accuse you of taking your passion too seriously?)[/quote]

    It would be fun, wouldn't it? A buddy of mine and I get together for lunch on most working days, and the hour is usually spent in conversations just like this one. We spend a good deal of our time discussing the latest movies, books, and games that we enjoy, and critiquing them. While some people don't really appreciate deconstruction, I really enjoy trying to understand why some stories work, and stroke a chord inside you - and others somehow miss the mark. The most fascinating stories for me to deconstruct are the ones that ALMOST work - the ones that you see a seed of greatness in that just didn't quite receive the polish it needed.

    [quote]In any case, I'd like to especially second the need for a more brooding, more piraty atmosphere. I remember as a kid playing SoMI for the first time, one of the emotions evoked was a feeling of dread...[/quote]

    [quote] Also I really miss the quaint-yet-dark and eerily brooding lantern-lit firefly-infested MI world of yore. The brightly-lit locale doesn't quite match up with my romanticized vision of what a Pirates of the Carribean-inspired world should look like.[/quote]

    Have you ever been on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride? I suspect you have, because you've evoked the dock area perfectly.

    Walt Disney wanted you to be intuitively aware that you were about to enter an area that was magical. On the dock, it is dark and brooding...fireflies flutter around in the misty atmosphere.

    When you actually board the ride, you're carried down a waterfall...and you enter the Caribbean.

    It's subtle, but everything leading up to the boat ride communicates that you have entered another world.

    Ron Gilbert captured this mood PERFECTLY in LeChucks Revenge. Woodtick has the exact same atmosphere as that dock, especially by the time you reach the cemetary. I think this "otherworldy/spooky/magical" feeling is what is in desperate need of revival - and that requires a serious approach with "real" pirates, odd and funny though they may be.

    Of course, these aren't the historical pirates - they're the romantic pirates that Robert Louis Stevensen himself created. But those images have endured for a reason - the dress, the language, the mannerisms - despite their crude ways, we love these characters for not adhering to the rules of society, and living freely as we wish we could.

    [quote]Also with regards to the humor not being "laugh-out-loud", I actually think it's about as good as it could be without the benefit of the hilarious Tim Schaffer working on it. That guy is renowned for being the only guy in the industry who can evoke a gut-laugh from a video game, a feat that is apparently almost impossible to achieve.[/quote]

    I do agree. Nobody in the industry has been able to make me laugh like Schaffer, and his absence is felt. I think his humor has much to do with why "Curse" tickled my funny bone so much.


    Lorn

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