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

posted by sladerlmc77 on - last edited - Viewed by 3.2K 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
  • @Irishmile said: 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...

    I don't really laugh out loud much either. I guess you could say I'm jaded. :) ToMI evoked exactly 2 chuckles from me, which in itself is quite an achievement.

    But SoMI and MI2 both made me laugh out loud a bunch of times, and I think that is partially due to the fact that there were so many clever and original ideas accompanying the humor. But that's the magic of Tim Schaffer, and like I say, he's a rare commodity in the industry.

  • Was Schaffer involved in anyway with Curse of Monkey Island. I don't think it was, and still, that game is as funny as they come

  • @Merkel said: Was Schaffer involved in anyway with Curse of Monkey Island. I don't think it was, and still, that game is as funny as they come

    I think he was mostly busy doing Grim Fandango, but he would contribute from time to time. If I'm not mistaken, one of his contributions was the pirate sing-a-long, which to me was one of the funniest things in the game and definitely a laugh-out-loud moment. Again, that goes back to originality and cleverness.

    (BTW I don't want to mis-attribute that clever scene in CMI to the wrong guy... if I'm wrong I hope someone from TTG will correct me. Whoever thought that up should get credit for their brilliance)

  • Merkel:

    [quote]Was Schaffer involved in anyway with Curse of Monkey Island. I don't think it was, and still, that game is as funny as they come [/quote]

    I thought he was? I thought I remembered reading an interview somewhere indicating that he wrote a fair share of the puzzles and dialogue, but I guess I could be wrong? It's been so long ago now, I wouldn't have a prayer of finding the article again.

    That brings me to another point that I haven't talked about much: The puzzles.

    This is one area that I actually didn't have any complaints about in "Narwhal." I felt the puzzles were of exactly the right difficulty, fit into the plot just fine, and advanced the story.

    I did think that the puzzle with the Marquis De Singe and the Messed Up Idol was poorly designed (mainly because a line that Guybrush delivered actually turned me OFF of the correct solution that I was persuing), but I've since found that there were other ways to solve this puzzle that I missed, and other people had a much easier time with this one than I did.

    I definitely want to see more of this quality puzzle design in future episodes, if maybe making them a bit harder.

    (Another poster mentioned how easy it was to get the unbreakable-glass breaker, and I tend to agree that that was far too easy).

    Something more along the line of the wheel of cheese would tickle me pink.


    Lorn

  • @sladerlmc77 said: 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.

    You have to remember that this is the first Chapter of the game. And to my knowledge the only real times we saw LeChuck in the other games, after the start of the game and before the final confrontation (apart from the 1st when he was introduced just towards the end) is in 'meanwhiles' in between chapters, and as we've just had the one chapter we don't know if Telltale plan to put these 'meanwhiles' in at the start or end of further chapters.

    I'm sorry if that doesn't make much sense, I've been out and had a few bevvys tonight and I'm not sure how to get my point across.

  • I think there are a lot of really spot-on comments about tone in this thread, and Shanksworthy's "the quaint-yet-dark and eerily brooding lantern-lit firefly-infested MI world of yore" comment perfectly captures the feeling I got when playing the original 2 games.

    I have followed Telltale's output since Texas Hold'em and I must hand it to them - they really have developed in leaps and bounds since the first products. I am now astounded at the level of detail they are now capable of producing for an episodic game on a strict deadline. The mood in the "creepy shack" gives me hope that they can pull off dark-nighttime-environments as well and I can't wait to see what they come up with. It is obvious an awful lot of passion, creativity and attention to detail have gone into creating for instance the various buildings on Flotsam. I just wish for that added layer of dream-like pirate-village with something sinister around the corner, just out of grasp.

    So I also find myself in complete agreement with those who feel that the surrounding pirate inhabitants should be less goofy and a tad more serious, in order to provide contrast to Guybrush's personality. Now, story-wise, this could be "fixed" easily enough by having rougher types inhabit darker islands and just consider Flotsam to be a mostly harmless and pretty harmless and "safe" kind of place. I'm just afraid that Telltale's games thus far have generally been populated by various silly but still "nice" (or at least not intimidating) side characters. Design-wise, they look a bit too harmless and not especially fearsome (C'mon - they're pirates! They're allowed to be a bit ugly).

    As for LeChuck - I fear his brooding presence diminishes the more he appears in the games, especially now when Guybrush is apparently able to stand next to him calmly with a smirk on his face and little to no sense of danger. In MI1 and MI2 there is a sense of dread and urgency regarding LeChuck. He is really out to capture, torture and kill Guybrush, and Guybrush reacts accordingly in those games. If Guybrush isn't really afraid of him anymore, then LeChuck just becomes a sad clown character going "Arr" all the time. I think he should be kept out of sight for as long as possible. It's like the shark in Jaws - it's scary because we know it's out there and could appear at any moment, but we only rarley see it.

  • corruptbiggins:

    [quote]You have to remember that this is the first Chapter of the game. And to my knowledge the only real times we saw LeChuck in the other games, after the start of the game and before the final confrontation (apart from the 1st when he was introduced just towards the end) is in 'meanwhiles' in between chapters, and as we've just had the one chapter we don't know if Telltale plan to put these 'meanwhiles' in at the start or end of further chapters.[/quote]

    There are two specific examples I can think of when i'm talking about the "Meanwhile" sequences.

    The first is in The Secret of Monkey Island. When I got the first game all those years ago, I really knew nothing about it. I hadn't really been playing computer games all that long, so I didn't know what to expect. All I knew was that my character wanted to be a pirate, and I was turned loose on an island.

    In my mind, I was expecting a fairly typical free-form adventure - almost a sandbox kind of thing. I didn't realize yet that this was a humorous take on piracy, and wasn't expecting any kind of central plot.

    I headed into the Scumm Bar, bypassed Mancomb and Esteban, and immediately talked to the Important Looking Pirates in the Next Room, wanting to dive right into the tasks.

    I got my quests...and headed out the door.

    Suddenly..."MEANWHILE" popped onto the screen. This was COMPLETELY unexpected. I had never played a game before where things were taking place (to my mind) independently of what I (as the player) was doing.

    The cutscene introducing LeChuck completely captivated me, and after having played nothing but Nintendo up until that point in my life, I suddenly realized that there was a whole new category of games with PLOT. LeChuck was interesting and scary, and I couldn't wait to see more.

    And this was in what was technically the 2nd room of the game. What motivated me to keep playing was to keep getting those crucial little bits of story - that didn't really reveal much, but caused my anticipation to skyrocket.

    The second example I can give is from LeChucks Revenge. After becoming very familiar with the original game, I had a much better idea of what to expect this time.

    When LeChuck was resurrected, he was a totally different incarnation. He may've been a ghost pirate before, but even as a ghost he was generally jovial. He may not have liked Guybrush that much, but he also didn't take him that seriously.

    In LeChucks Revenge, the zombie pirate was out for BLOOD and TORTURE. He wanted to make Guybrush feel pain, and with each newly captured piece of the map, you came to appreicate more and more how powerful LeChuck had become, and just what the stakes were as he took his frustrations out on Largo.

    This IS the introductory episode...but by leaving these little bits of exposition out (or postponing them for the start of the next episode), the pacing has been thrown off - and the time that we're waiting for the next episode COULD be spent debating a more critical cliffhanger.

    Note: I think this is actually the intent of the end of the episode...I just think the stakes could've been raised.

    Mad Muppet:

    [quote]As for LeChuck - I fear his brooding presence diminishes the more he appears in the games, especially now when Guybrush is apparently able to stand next to him calmly with a smirk on his face and little to no sense of danger. In MI1 and MI2 there is a sense of dread and urgency regarding LeChuck. He is really out to capture, torture and kill Guybrush, and Guybrush reacts accordingly in those games. If Guybrush isn't really afraid of him anymore, then LeChuck just becomes a sad clown character going "Arr" all the time.[/quote]

    I think he reached the apex of evil in LeChucks Revenge (although the addition of Earl Boen as the voice in Curse more than made up for the fact that he'd grown a little sillier.) After Escape, I think we really need to ratchet up the evil again. Zombie Pirate LeChuck was truly frightening in a way that he hasn't been since.

    [quote]I think he should be kept out of sight for as long as possible. It's like the shark in Jaws - it's scary because we know it's out there and could appear at any moment, but we only rarley see it.[/quote]

    I can only partially agree on this point. Don't get me wrong...I don't think Guybrush and LeChuck should come face to face again until the climax, but I also don't think that we shouldn't see LeChuck at all.

    You have to contrast the characters and keep LeChucks presence at the top of the players mind. Even if he's not seen, his influence should be a palpable presence, always threatening to overcome Guybrush.

    It'll be interesting to see how literal this translates in these episodes, as Guybrush grows darker and darker due to the pox.


    Lorn

  • [quote=MadMuppet]As for LeChuck - I fear his brooding presence diminishes the more he appears in the games, especially now when Guybrush is apparently able to stand next to him calmly with a smirk on his face and little to no sense of danger. In MI1 and MI2 there is a sense of dread and urgency regarding LeChuck. He is really out to capture, torture and kill Guybrush, and Guybrush reacts accordingly in those games. If Guybrush isn't really afraid of him anymore, then LeChuck just becomes a sad clown character going "Arr" all the time. I think he should be kept out of sight for as long as possible. It's like the shark in Jaws - it's scary because we know it's out there and could appear at any moment, but we only rarley see it.[/quote]Agreed. As a kid, I found all of the LeChuck scenes in MI2 scary, and the end part of the game in the underground tunnels made me jump out of my skin everytime he appeared. I doubt the current LeChuck would have done that...

  • @MadMuppet said: IAs for LeChuck - I fear his brooding presence diminishes the more he appears in the games, especially now when Guybrush is apparently able to stand next to him calmly with a smirk on his face and little to no sense of danger. In MI1 and MI2 there is a sense of dread and urgency regarding LeChuck. He is really out to capture, torture and kill Guybrush, and Guybrush reacts accordingly in those games. If Guybrush isn't really afraid of him anymore, then LeChuck just becomes a sad clown character going "Arr" all the time. I think he should be kept out of sight for as long as possible. It's like the shark in Jaws - it's scary because we know it's out there and could appear at any moment, but we only rarley see it.

    Agreed. The sense of dread is definitely gone. It occurs to me though, that they might put an interesting spin on the whole thing. With LeChuck becoming human and Guybrush becoming partly posessed by the pox, will the tables turn? It might make for some interesting role-reversal in upcoming episodes.

    If that's the case, then I'd be all for it. But once that's done, I want to go back to shaking in my boots at the mere mention of LeChuck (which admittedly would be a bit contrived, considering the number of times Guybrush has 'defeated' him).

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