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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
  • Quick Note:

    I played through the episode a second time, and found that it improved on the second playthrough.

    I'm especially anxious to see the Marquis De Singe again (I'd love to see him team up with Largo LaGrande, if only he would come back!), Winslow will be very interesting to see developed, and I'm still thrilled with the puzzles.

    Does anybody have updated opinions after having played through twice?


    Lorn

  • Oh god, i've been trying to mention the subject of tone (mostly the handling of anachrosnisms/sillyness) in several threads but i had completely overlooked this one...
    Silly me :eek:

    That being said, i don't have much to add, but i love reading you guys. Great analysis and i agree 100% with most of what's being said.

    Another thing that bugged me was this "esponja grande" thing. Okay, it's only the first episode and we have no idea of how it will turn out, but... A giant sponge ? Am i the only one to think it's exactly the kind of "wrong" sillyness that was all over EMI :confused:? When i've heard that line, i pretty much stopped expecting a plot i'd love. I'm pretty sure it will be good, just not quite "right" for me.
    Also, i thought the writing overall was good, but just that, good. After seeing the sam and max episodes become funnier and funnier with each episode (i genuinely think the two last ones were masterpieces), it did feel like a disapointing drop in quality.

    Okay, i'm sure this post is gonna sound much more negative than it should, so i'll just end by saying that i still enjoyed the game very much. I'm just thinkin this is (so far) not as great as it could be. I'm pretty much willing to let Telltale prove me wrong, tho, and i don't doubt they can.

  • to the OP - great writing, found myself agreeing with pretty much all your points and some nice replies from others too, nice thread. I gave this game a 6 in another thread based on my first hour of playing but in the end I actually really enjoyed it although I find it much too short, I thought there was going to be another island full of bars, shops and new characters and objects. Ah well hopefully not too long to wait.

  • I don't have anything to add, just wanted to say I throughly enjoyed reading this thread. Great stuff sladerlmc77.

  • Thanks guys, for adding to the discussion!

    Astro Gnocci:

    [quote]Another thing that bugged me was this "esponja grande" thing. Okay, it's only the first episode and we have no idea of how it will turn out, but... A giant sponge ? Am i the only one to think it's exactly the kind of "wrong" sillyness that was all over EMI ?[/quote]

    Actually, this is one aspect of the plot that intrigued me, and I think there's a lot of potential to deliver. It reminded me of "El Pollo Diablo" (Guybrush: "The Devil Chicken?!") from Curse, and of the "Fabulous" treasure of Big Whoop from LeChucks Revenge.

    It's just a classic MacGuffin - it's not the object itself that's important, just the journey to get there. Also "Voodoo Exfoliating Powers" makes me giggle.

    [quote]
    Also, i thought the writing overall was good, but just that, good. After seeing the sam and max episodes become funnier and funnier with each episode (i genuinely think the two last ones were masterpieces), it did feel like a disapointing drop in quality[/quote]

    I agree 100%, but I also expect the episodes further on to get better as well. This episode has a genuinely tough job to do, as it's pure setup. After playing it the second time last night, I think the biggest problem this episode faced (besides the tone, which we've discussed in-depth) is what Fawful mentioned earlier - we don't really get a payoff for getting off of Flotsam Island. We spent the entire episode building up to what we hoped would be the lead-in to the main plot and - nothing.

    Well...not really nothing - I think they wanted to ratchet up the tension with the arrival of Kate (Pretty sure it's her - she's probably upset about the loss of her glass-bottomed boat business), and with the potential cliffhanger of LeChuck wooing Elaine - but it ultimately felt anticlimactic. It wasn't really a sense of reward for getting off the island. (This is where I think a true "Meanwhile" sequence would've benefited the game greatly.

    Nighttide:

    [quote]when I entered the Voodoo lady's shack, with the dark atmosphere and burning candles and long shadows, that's the moment I really started to feel like I was playing a Monkey Island game (or, you know, got that old feeling back). [/quote]

    Me too! The introduction, with the rocking ships and the few moments with LeChuck also captured that feeling - I felt like it was only really regained when we entered the Voodoo Ladys creepy shack. (Also, great use of humor here - Chest of Foreshadowing is great!) One *minor* complaint that I have here is the Voodo Lady's voice - it's not the actress, she's great as usual - but she sounds different in every game due to the effects that are applied to her. She never sounded more ethereal than in Curse - in EMI, she sounded sort of hollow. (That was probably because of the reduced audio quality.) Here, something sounded - different - somehow, but I couldn't put me finger on it. Enhanced audio quality may correct.

    Those two scenes, plus anything from LeChucks Revenge (and Curse, in my opinion) are what Telltale should REALLY be focusing on, tonewise.

    [quote]I agree completely with the OP, and especially with the points made about tone. That said, I'm just glad to be playing a new Monkey Island game at all, so you won't see me complaining too much. [/quote]

    Totally agreed. It's my hope that Telltale won't see this as complaining or nagging, so much as offering some constructive criticism, care of the community at large.

    That's also why I wanted to debate these points - I'm presenting MY viewpoints on what makes Monkey Island work, but I'm also interested in hearing OTHER peoples viewpoints, whether they agree or not. I'm especialy interested in gaining new insights from others observations, as sometimes all it takes is a slight change in perspective to arrive at new revelations that you never saw before!



    Lorn

  • The only thing that bugged me from "La Esponja Grande" was its pronunciation. :p

    Its not ESPONgea its more like in "Ham" or "Har!", EsponHA.

    Shame on you Voodoo Lady!

  • @Ignatius said: The only thing that bugged me from "La Esponja Grande" was its pronunciation. :p

    Its not ESPONgea its more like in "Ham" or "Har!", EsponHA.

    Shame on you Voodoo Lady!



    Yeah, I also cringed every time Guybrush pronounced "De Singe" like the English verb meaning "to burn"* rather than the French word for "monkey."

    *Or like Singe the Dragon from Dragon's Lair:

    monkeyislanddragonslair3-1.jpg

  • One thing about the voice: I listen with my headphones and Guybrush has an echo whenever he's talking normal to loud volume. There are scenes where echo is intended, BUT in the voodoo room shouldn't be such an echo. He really sounds like me producing my radio show... and we don't have professional studios at all as liberal radio station. But I thought BAS got that. Or did someone add an echo fx?

  • Good point about esponja. I kept thinking "Why is she mispronouncing that?"
    You expect that from Guybrush, but the voodoo lady?
    Minor niggle though. Really minor.

    I'd LOVE to see more dark scenes, i'd love to see more piratey pirates and yeah.. lechuck scared the PANTS off me when I was a kid, the first two games he's just so.. menacing. I'd love to recover some of that dread, that fear you know?
    But I can't take him seriously with that over done har har har of his... it just... grates. Makes me think of a jolly santa Ho Ho Ho. Does anyone else really dislike the forced laugh? Or am I just being petty? lol.

    I like Winslow, he strikes me as an interesting and amusing character. I can believe he was a pirate, or at least a naval man.
    Perhaps the rest of the people on Flotsam have just gone totally loopy from their time there. But the guy with two peglegs (Who's name escapes me) seemed faintly piratical before he went all pox... I just can't believe the glass blower and nipperkin were pirates. I get the feeling nipperkin was a cabin boy or something hahahaha. He looks like a cabin boy to me.

    The chest of forshadowing/useless crystal ball etc jokes made me giggle. Now THAT is familiar MI humour.

    Interesting note, this was a lucasarts presents sort of affair right? So... does this mean the voodoo lady has fulfilled her 5 game contract with them? (hehehe)

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