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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
  • As I was eating lunch this afternoon, I started thinking more about the "unpiratey" pirates and La Esponje Grande.

    MrFerder made a point earlier in the thread, and I started thinking really hard about it:

    [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? 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. [/quote]

    I've spent most of this thread complaining about the unpiratey-ness of the pirates, but that may be the entire point of this series.

    Telltale knows that fans were generally displeased with Escape from Monkey Island. The pirates weren't pirates anymore, and the game had stopped being serious and had turned into a relatively silly affair, with social commentary.

    Le Esponje as Reset Button?

    The voodoo lady explains in this episode that LeChuck has been using his voodoo magic selfishly, without making sacrifices to the keeper of the Crossroads.

    By selfishly drawing this voodoo magic without paying a price, he has created an evil veil that envelops him, sustaining him throughout his incarnations. It manifests itself as the Pox of LeChuck.

    What if LeChuck has actually been SUCKING the pirateyness out of the pirates themselves? As LeChuck grew more powerful, the pirates grew more...domesticated...wimpy...bland...and forgot what made them pirates in the first place?

    In this scenario, the pirates aren't being infected, so much as RE-infected with the very natures that LeChuck stole from them.

    There's some potential for dramatic storytelling here - by LOSING this evil nature, LeChuck may really and truly have turned over a new leaf - it's possible that his advances (and Elaines interest) are actually genuine.

    If this is the case, we're in for a hell of a ride - in this kind of a twist, Guybrush truly WOULD become a mighty pirate...by taking on LeChucks nature, and reverting the nature of the pirates to the truly scary pirates we used to know and love, Guybrush can become a Pirate King.

    There's just one catch....to retain that nature, rather than USING the Giant Sponge, Guybrush will be forced to destroy it himself - and possibly lose Elaine in the process.

    I don't think we're in for a single-season affair. How interesting would it be if the point of the first season is to actually revert the pirates from the generic nobodys' they've become, back to vicious corsairs, put Guybrushs' relationship in jeapoardy, and then stop the first season with a cliffhanger like that?

    Makes you wonder where a second season could take us...and how in that season, our newly-studly Guybrush would divest himself of the Pox and return LeChuck to his position of dark menace?

    Lorn

  • @sladerlmc77 said:
    If this is the case, we're in for a hell of a ride - in this kind of a twist, Guybrush truly WOULD become a mighty pirate...by taking on LeChucks nature, and reverting the nature of the pirates to the truly scary pirates we used to know and love, Guybrush can become a Pirate King.

    Maybe even... a ghost pirate king?

    After all, Episode 4 is titled "The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood".

    Just a thought. That would really be an interesting role reversal--a pretty dark plot turn, even for Monkey Island.

  • Even with inverted personalities i cant imagine a "good" LeChuck.
    Now that he is human and powerless, he is more vulnerable. So my thought is that maybe he will be acting as a changed person, only to protect himself, take advantage and wait for his turn to attack.

    I think Guybrush and LeChuck will be working together, or at least they will share a same goal: Guybrush avoiding being transformed into a new LeChuck, and LeChuck trying to gain his power back.

  • Ignatius:

    [quote]I think Guybrush and LeChuck will be working together, or at least they will share a same goal: Guybrush avoiding being transformed into a new LeChuck, and LeChuck trying to gain his power back. [/quote]

    I'm not sure that Guybrush doesn't WANT to be transformed.

    At the wishing well, he wishes to be transformed into the mightiest pirate ever...and is turned into LeChuck, briefly.

    Sure..he screams "Noooo!" and is changed back...but subconsciously, this may be exactly what he wants.

    It may be that the wishing well is a wishing well of foreshadowing as well....


    Lorn

  • I have the feeling, the story will be very dark and unexpecting in the next episodes. I thought the same about the wishing well...

  • 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.

    Well, the difference is that the pollo diablo wasn't part of the actual plot, and there's nothing silly in the big whoop treasure being "fabulous" -until you do find it and dive into nonsense, that is.
    To me, the first three games had a pretty serious, even classic story if you stripped it from the jokes (save the princess, find a treasure, cure a curse. Okay, it gets a bit more complex but basically, that's it). In EMI, the sillyness started getting into the plot itself (i dunno, i always thought this whole ultimate insult thing was just stupid and not really funny).
    And that's what this sponge idea sounds like to me, at least for now.
    Now, as i said, wait and see, we can't really comment on this before knnowing more about what they'll actually make out of it.

  • [quote]Well, the difference is that the pollo diablo wasn't part of the actual plot...[/quote]

    Well, not a *main* part of the plot. But Big Whoop (until Curse) was nothing more than an e-ticket - not really all that important. (Guybrush: "I found the Treasure of Big Whoop, and was enormously disappointed.")

    [quote] ...and there's nothing silly in the big whoop treasure being "fabulous" -until you do find it and dive into nonsense, that is.[/quote]

    I think a lot of this depends on what your interpretation of Big Whoop is. Despite the frustration it caused, I think the ending of MI2 is about the most brilliant things the developers ever did - by leaving it ambiguous (and self-contradictory!) this particular story point has allowed fans to debate and discuss it for 17 years!

    My own take is that Curse very neatly wrapped up the controversy, and trying to explain any more after that became counter-intuitive. In my mind, the events at the end of MI2 don't really NEED to be explained - whatever the player comes up with in their own mind should suffice.

    But that's neither here nor there - with respect to La Esponje Grande, I think there are a lot of interesting story possibilities here.

    If La Esponje really does magically exfoliate voodoo in the manner that the voodoo lady describes, it's only natural that Guybrush and LeChuck will be using every method at their disposal to control or eliminate it.

    Plotwise, I think this becomes very interesting if Guybrush actually does decide to destroy the sponge, rather than using it. If my theory earlier in the thread is correct, and LeChuck has been sucking the pirateyness out of the pirates all of these years by recklessly drawing power to himself without paying a cost, then it's actually in Guybrushes best interest to disperse that power amongst the pirates - both to prevent the commercial development of the Caribbean (as in Escape) AND to raise a fleet to muster against LeChuck...and attempt to eliminate him once and for all.



    Lorn

  • But Big Whoop (until Curse) was nothing more than an e-ticket - not really all that important. (Guybrush: "I found the Treasure of Big Whoop, and was enormously disappointed.")

    Sure, but you only find this out at the very end. Up until then, both the player and guybrush have no idea of what they're gonna find but they feel it's going to be something big. Which is contrasted by the end, blabla, and i agree, this was a GREAT idea. But the quest itself is still pretty serious, unlike the whole "let's mess around with lots of voodoo nonsense until we end up with giant robot monkeys" of EMI.

    Now concerning the actual sponge... Well i just don't know, all i said was that it FELT like this "wrong" kind of sillyness, but i'm basically waiting what comes out of it and avoiding speculations on that one. I like your suggestions, tho, but i don't have much to add to them.

  • @Shanksworthy said:

    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.


    I think the reason why the first two games were funnier was because there were no recorded voices. Every line was played back in ones' head according to ones' own comic sensibility.
    I think it was also because the sprites were just so cute (Guybrush, the Shopkeeper, Herman, Stan....hehehe)

  • Fantastic review. Your comments about the tone are, to my mind, spot on.

    I am, however, EXTREMELY excited about the story possibility that is being fleshed out here by Slader and others. If, indeed, we could be in store for some role reversal and the re-establishing of darkness in the Monkey Island Universe Pirate Community (TM), I am ALL for it.

    Before reading this thread I wasn't exactly sure WHAT I was disappointed with, but I think there are a lot of good points here. What made Lechuck's Revenge so great was that here I was, in the middle of a serious and dark pirate adventure, and my character keeps cracking jokes! You couldn't help but laugh.

    Here, I am bombarded by absurdities without any sense of danger. Hence, no tension, and no laughter. I would even go so far as to disagree about the Marquis. He was better developed than any other character, yes, but he was also a little annoying. Why did he keep peeking his head out when you examined objects in his office? Why did he shoot you with a useless air gun when moments before he was willing to chop my limbs off? I thought the TONE of wanting to dismember my pirate arm was hilarious, it just falls flat with how flashy and generally bright the Marquis and his environment are.

    For example. You could have easily made the "dentist's chair" scene more menacing by making the monkey an agent for both good and evil. One of the slides could have been that of the Marquis' planned amputation, therefore giving the monkey the idea to pick up a saw and look hungrily at your poxed arm. This would also serve the bonus function of living up to another common complaint, which is that there is no significant alternative dialogue or puzzles that "throw you off". Seeing an electromagnetic monkey brandishing a saw and ready to cut my arm off if don't do something about it would plunge me deeper into the game and make me think more about the entire story, rather than just trying everything around me to solve the puzzle.

    Hopefully the dev team reads this and keeps working hard. You can tell a lot of love is put into the game, don't stop now!

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