I did not stutter – that classic franchise spawned by Lucasfilm Games (later renamed LucasArts) nineteen years ago is back in a new incarnation. Telltale Games brings us a new chapter in an episodic format, and I for one could not be more pleased that they did.
The original "Secret of Monkey Island" was quite groundbreaking in its time. Most adventure games in that era were not nearly so open-ended and resilient to player experimentation. Each of the three sequels over the years has tried to further those qualities, as well as provide some of the most shameless pun-based humor ever seen in any computer game series.
"Tales of Monkey Island" does not disappoint in any of these departments. Especially the last one, but more on that later.
"Tales" continues the story of (sort of) pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his lovely wife Elaine Marley. After nine years of pirating bliss since the last installment ("Escape from Monkey Island"), we find Guybrush again chasing down his old enemy, the evil, voodoo-empowered Pirate LeChuck, who has again kidnapped Elaine. There is a great deal more back-history between these guys, which is summed up nicely at the Telltale Games website.
The game is actually broken up into five episodes, each of which takes up immediately after the last on left off. For the later episodes, there is a "previously" movie that plays when you start them. This makes it possible to play a later episode without having played a prior one, although things tend to make the most sense if you play them all in order.
The gameplay controls are good for the most part. To move around you have to click and drag the mouse in the direction you want Guybrush to go. Alternately, you can use the W-A-S-D keys to move him in that direction. Either one takes getting used to, though, as your view of his surroundings is always at an oblique, unchangeable angle. Fortunately, you can click the things you need to interact with from any distance, and he will go over to them, which saves a bit of effort.
The inventory is very easy to use. There is an inspection button that you can use on any object, but is especially useful in reading maps and documents. Some items need to be combined in order to be used to solve a puzzle. This is quite easily done with the combiner slots on the inventory panel. Just put the two items in and hit the button, and voila!
Fortunately, you can’t just combine two random items if a solution doesn’t call for it. That’s pretty much a mark of this game, and has been since the first one: wrong decisions don’t irrevocably ruin the game. Usually, something funny happens, and then you are back where you were before making that decision, to try again. This definitely keeps the game from becoming overly frustrating.
Of course, what you may find frustrating (if you have absolutely no sense of humor that is) is the propensity of jokes based on puns or other word play. And I mean powerful, gut-wrenching, soul-crushing puns that will leave a weaker player begging for mercy. However, it is usually good to think along those lines when trying to solve a puzzle. For instance, you won’t be able to solve Guybrush’s need for a fizzy root beer substitute armed with only some flat grog, a plant, and some breath mints unless you can recognize the humor behind it. And then a little piece of you dies, but in a good way.
Each of the five episodes is available for $8.95, and while each of them is a bit short for a full-sized game, there is a lot of game time for that price. Or you can get all five for $34.95, which is even better than getting a free episode.
"Tales of Monkey Island" is a series of well-thought-out entertaining adventures that any fan of the series would whole-heartedly enjoy. It earns an impressive 4.5 out of 5 gems.
Now, don’t make me wait nine more years for the next one!