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

posted by sladerlmc77 on - last edited - Viewed by 2.9K 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
  • @Jen Kollic said: ETA: Having said that, I'd also like to add that I think Tales reached a really good balance with Episodes 4 & 5, which both had genuinely dark moments yet managed to keep the game feeling like Monkey Island.

    I didn't know ETA meant something else apart from "Estimated Time of Arrival". What does it stand for here?

  • @avistew said: I didn't know ETA meant something else apart from "Estimated Time of Arrival". What does it stand for here?

    Here it means "Edited To Add", I see it used quite frequently on forums and messageboards.

  • @sladerlmc77 said: This is sort of what I expected...but at the same time, I can't help but re-read the sentence and put the emphasis on the word "easily." That means that it wouldn't have been impossible, no?

    With enough time and enough money you can do almost anything.

    That's the part I'm interested in finding out in Season 2. If she is indeed a force that attempts to keep things in balance, surely there is some opposing force she is working against. That means that the greater danger would be not maintaining that balance. I'd like to see exactly what it is that scares the Voodoo Lady enough to keep LeChuck and Guybrush in this endless cycle.

    As of right now "what it is" is totally ambiguous in my mind, and in a good way. Are there external forces within the world of MI? Other, less good pirates? The MI version of the Spanish armada or more imperial colonialism? An army of kung-fu trained monkey robots? :rolleyes:) Or is this actually a fantasy/construct which is coming apart at the seams, but will keep existing as long as the wheel is turning? I don't particularly know or care, which is maybe bad? Maybe not. Fortunately it's not my job to know or care in a canonical way, as I got to help out with story and direct some episodes, but never had to deal with the burdens of fully holding the keys to the kingdom of MI myself. It lets me continue to have and push crackpot theories both on the forums and amongst the design team, free of the weight of actual final responsibility. :)

  • @Ignatius said: 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.

    What prize did Ignatius win for absolutely nailing this?

  • Dear designers,

    I was very enjoyed by TOMI. You really managed to respect the original spirit of the two first episodes and to push the intrigues a little further. Nonetheless, in my opinion, there are some lacks, and inappropriate deviations in TOMI.
    - The three last tales are masterpieces, but the two first are not so cool. I think the trap not to fall in is to try to make Monkey Island too weird. Monkey Island are serious pirate worlds in which funny things happen. For example the D’Oro intrigue seems inappropriate, whereas the Winslow seizing intrigue is wonderfull. The idea of an ancient civilizations sounds too much like Indiana Jones. Mermaids could have been a good idea, but I would have preferred regular ones. I mean in the two first episodes we had to solve pirate intrigues, find map pieces, hunt for a treasure, master swordfighting. The all vacylian apparatus doesn’t look like a pirate story.
    - The map views of the islands are not beautiful and it’s a pity. Very little island is a good idea. I’m a bit fed up with new islands, I want to go back to mêlé, the phatt, booty and scabb islands. It’s cool to come back in one place. You’ve done it with floatsom and it was good (particularly at night) but the island the island didn’t look piraty enough in the first place.
    - Cemeteries and swamps are important.
    - Le Marquis de Singe doesn’t seem appropriate neither. The idea of a crazy scientist opposed to the vaudoo lady is interesting but the design of the character disturbed me, when Morgan Leflay is really refreshing. I’ve always thought that a second woman were needed in monkey island (like Kate capsize ). Anyway, the crazy scientist theme is closed to the maniac mansion saga, I’m not sure that it’s appropriate to monkey island.
    - Generally monkey island games miss something: pirates. In SOMI there were a lot of pirates just hanging around, or drinking at the scumm bar, they contributed to the ambiance.
    - I really liked the search and the use of books in MI2. This aspect was not emphasized enough in TOMI.
    - It’s really cool to go underwater. Guybrush should go more often, or more longer.
    - I really like in MI2 to begin in one island and then that the intrigue moved to the three islands, enlarging the initial environment instead of moving from one island to another.
    - Stan in TOMI is not funny enough. Stan always comes with a new franchise; in TOMI he was not important enough.
    - Love intrigues (Leflay/threepwood vs. Lechuck/Marley) in TOMI really improved the narrative.
    - The place accorded to the vaudoo lady is really interesting in TOMI.
    - The afterworld and the daemon bride are awesome.
    - The jungles may be larger and like mazes. It’s cool to draw oneself a personal map of a jungle or a forest. The size of the forest in SOMI was good.
    - TOMI missed sword fights. Even if grimaces were funny, monkey islands needs sword fights.
    - Shipwrecks were never used enough.
    - Maybe the circus theme of SOMI is underestimated.
    - Guybrush acting like a child from times to times is really funny.
    - pieces o'8 are missing. In SOMI and MI2 we had the opportunity to make a little money.

  • As I read messages throughout the forum something disturbs the winds of my mind. I don't think there are any anachronism in SOMI and MI2.

    I think Guybrush is a child lost in the theme park. He is evolving in D. Winnicot potential space: the wolrd of illusion. It means that the world he sees is a combination of his imagination and real objects of the theme park (like a coke machine + Guybrush = Grog machine). So this world is in part a creation of Guybrush, but he pretends not to know that, so he seems to found the things he plays with. What I really like I think, is guybrush own perception of the theme park.

    So, there is no anachronism in the first Monkey Island, because for Guybrush this world is important and he plays with it "seriously", he doesn't want to put things that shouldn't be in a pirate world. Unfortunatly, as a child, he makes some mistakes. There would be anachronism if Monkey Island events really took place in the past, but I don't think so.

    To me there are "good anachronisms" in monkey island follow-up, for example the dioramas at the end of COMI, and there are bad ones, like people sunbathing at the beginning of COMI, or the sushi Bar in EFMI.

  • [QUOTE=Astro Gnocci;159129]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:
    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:?

    i AGREE WITH THIS

  • I think my main thing at this point is that I don't want TellTale to take on more MI unless they start working for a higher denominator. Working for the Wii severely compromised so much that was critical to maintaining the legacy of pure excellence. The graphics looked dated, models were repeated, landscapes were bare and simple, the sound quality was straight up awful, the music was all MIDI, incredibly low bitrate, etc. At the very least I'd like to see much more detailed, active environments. And the puzzle design was also "lowest common denominator." I want to see Monkey Island in full budget 2010, no corners cut. Maybe that's too much to ask, but I feel the legacy deserves it.

  • @RockNRoll said: I think my main thing at this point is that I don't want TellTale to take on more MI unless they start working for a higher denominator. Working for the Wii severely compromised so much that was critical to maintaining the legacy of pure excellence. The graphics looked dated, models were repeated, landscapes were bare and simple, the sound quality was straight up awful, the music was all MIDI, incredibly low bitrate, etc. At the very least I'd like to see much more detailed, active environments. And the puzzle design was also "lowest common denominator." I want to see Monkey Island in full budget 2010, no corners cut. Maybe that's too much to ask, but I feel the legacy deserves it.

    That won't see the light of day in 2010 because of Sam & Max. Maybe they'd start work on it late 2010 but we certainly wouldn't hear about it until summer next year at the earliest.

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