Grab your voodoo dolls, fine leather jackets and hilarious one-liners! We’re setting sail for Monkey Island!
Back in 2009 Telltale games launched a brand new series into the sea of Monkey Island fandom! Knowing how well Telltale Games had previously handled the Sam and Max reboot fans of the franchise set sail on a sea of pure joy and excitement, knowing there was little worry that they’d screw up this continuation of a true classic.
Monkey Island is a game series that I hold very dear to my heart as I am sure many other classic point and click adventure gamers do too. All 3 original releases had so far been on top of their game until the abomination of the 4th game came along and changed a perfect formula, much to the distain of long time fans like myself. Telltale Games is a developer that listens to their audience, knows what they want and are generally fans themselves of what they’re creating, this in mind they made sure to create a story gap between the previous games and Tales of Monkey Island.
Previously only Episode 1 could have been found on the iPad and I had always been skeptical to purchase for 2 reasons. I had already played through them all on my Macbook, and Telltale Games had never released a full series on the iPad to that date. We were all surprised to find all 5 episodes available in one go! Setting a great example for hopefully more Telltale releases in the future.
If you’re an iPad 1 user, I’ll make it really simple for you, either upgrade your iPad, or purchase the game on a different system. The Tales of Monkey series is simply put, broken on the iPad 1. Only those who don’t mind an atrocious jerky performance and frequent sound problems will tolerate this on the iPad 1. Although it runs the problems in performance are so vast it ruins the experience, much like Monkey Island 4 did. Those of you fortunate enough to have an iPad2, continue to read on as to why you should play this game series as my review will be mostly focused on this version.
If you have taken the time out to follow my chain of reviews for the Back to the Future releases on the iPad, you’ll probably know by now that with each episode not much mechanically changes in the game. The same exists here, so instead of getting you to jump between 5 different articles, I have condensed all the episodes into 1 feature.
You control Guygrush using the virtual stick we’ve seen in most TellTale Games on the iPad so far… the same virtual stick that isn’t as accurate as we’d like. Pull the stick a little further along and Guybrush will go into a run or fast walk depending on the area he’s in. The only major problems with the stick occur when you reach a fork in the road or the camera changes, and you’ll end up walking in a completely different direction (This is the same on the Mac/PC versions so it isn’t a porting issue). I do miss the old school method of just tapping a location and your character will walk there though, surely such a control scheme could have been implemented into the iPad.
When you press and hold both fingers down the screen will be dotted with red markers so you know what objects you can interact with. This is a very handy feature seeing as we don’t have the ability to wave a mouse across the screen and highlight hotspots but it’s implementation is inaccurate at the best of times. Often I would find the dots would be placed in areas that referred to something in the distant background or too far in the foreground and tapping on that dot itself did nothing. Another missing feature here was the object names. It would have been nice to see the names floating under the dots so I know exactly what i am combining my inventory with.
Other minor discrepancies that stood out for me was the distant background, or sky images are not lining up correctly. You’d see faint lines where they all the different textures connect, not exactly game breaking but some cases the game looked more like the characters are small models in a homemade diorama instead of characters inhabiting their own world.
Voice work is top notch with almost all the original voice cast from Curse of Monkey Island returning to reprise their roles. Earl Boen (From the Terminator movies) as LeChuck and Dominic Armato as Guybrush Threepwood both have very distinctive character voices so it was good to see them reprising their roles for this series once more.
Monkey Island has always appealed to it’s audience with it’s genuine side splitting humor. I’m not talking the kind of funny where you play a game and let out a half hearted ‘heh’ sound, I’m talking full on belly bouncing laughter, and it’s never far away in all episodes. Guybrush will make small side comments along the way or even mid conversation that will leave you in stitches. You’re quite often given 3 equally funny replies in some conversations, but regardless of what you pick Guybrush may say something completely different, this is not a bug, this happens because it’s funny! It’s not just the dialogue that’s funny either, Telltale Games have thrown in loads of visual humor as well a little nods to other games in the same genre (Take a close look at the clam under the sea in episode 3). There is even an excellent YouTube joke in episode 1. The mix of modern humor in pirate times is struck with a perfect balance.
We see a host of new characters introduced as well as some old favorites returning, it just wouldn’t be a Monkey Island game without the fast talking shyster Stan now would it, or even the demonic talking skull Murray since is introduction back in Monkey Island 3!
New characters include Reginald Winslow, Guybrush Threepwood’s first mate and Pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay. Both are welcome additions to the Monkey Island series, more so Winslow because of a quirkiness and strange fetish for the ship’s map. Morgan however is Guybrush’s number 1 fan, but at the same time sent to kill him. As the episodes progress their relationship develops and leaves you thinking at times whether Guybrush will leave Elaine for this new feisty sea lass.
Episode 1 – Launch of the Screaming Narwhal
The Set up – The game takes place after/towards the end of a non-existant 5th game, leaving Lucasarts to fill the gap if they ever wanted to. Guybrush Threepwood’s wife, Elaine has been held hostage once more by the Zombie Demon Ghost etc… Pirate LeChuck on his ship just off the coast of The Rock of Gelato. It’s up to you to bring “Hot Monkey Vengeance” to LeChuck using the voodoo empowered Cutlass of Kaflu! In doing so however you release all of the voodoo elements trapped within LeChuck, turning him human, cursing your hand, releasing a “Pox of LeChuck” across the Gulf of Melange and blowing the ship up. This sends you hurtling towards Flotsam Island. Not the best possible start, but without a doubt the most accurate when Guybrush is involved. Stranded on Flotsam island you need to find yourself a ship to get back to the Rock of Gelato and stop LeChuck, however whilst stranded you discover that the winds only blow inwards, another puzzle for the world’s most logical thinking pirate to solve before leaving.
Episode 1 is a great set up for the series, introducing you to some returning regulars such as the helpful voodoo lady and new nemesis, the Marquis de Singe, who can best be described as a crazy french doctor who wants Guybrush’s now cursed voodoo hand for his experiments.
Most of your classic adventure gaming abilities are restored here, in particular my favorite of combining objects which is scarce in more modern releases of this genre. The difficulty is also set at a satisfying level, you won’t find yourself head scratching for too long before moving along. In addition if the game see’s you’re struggling to solve a puzzle Guybrush will mutter a slight clue to himself that should help you along your way.
EPISODE 1 RATING
Great Story, Good puzzles but let down by the control system and shortness of the introductory episode.
Stand Out Puzzle – Treasure map quest
Episode 2 – The Siege of Spinner Cay
If episode 1 was the impactful kick start any series needs, then episode 2 is the story builder. Nothing too much happens here other than setting up future episodes. At this point you’re on a quest to find La Esponja Grande, a voodoo absorbing sponge that will cure the entire Gulf of Melange from the Pox of LeChuck. The Episode starts off strong, with a gentle nod to Monkey Island’s sword fighting days, disappointingly though, there is no back and forth with insults. Soon after you arrive at Spinner Cay, a small bay inhabited by mermaids… errr.. mermen… Let’s just say merfolk and you can make you’re own mind up when you play as the confusion plays a strong part in this episode in a way that’s nothing short of comical. Any long time Monkey Island fan though knows that anything fantastical that happens in Monkey Island is usually sourced from voodoo, or in reference to modern day, but the introduction of these merfolk is just plain weird! They play very little to the main story after this episode, and their presence feels like they could have been replaced with something more piratey.
You’ll bump into the now human, and seemingly reformed Le Chuck here too. Le Chuck is trying his hardest to be a thinker like Guybrush but he just doesn’t quite have the smarts. Guybrush to the rescue in a funny little puzzle where you tell Le Chuck what to do in the form of the old style verb system. Look at… Use…. and so on. The funniest part of the episode by far is Guybrush’s attitude towards Le Chuck, whilst appearing to help, but calling him a jerk behind his back in a spoilt brat round-a-bout way.
EPISODE 2 RATING
This episode is the shortest of the 5, the controls remain clunky and the introduction of the merfolk to the series doesn’t sit well.
Stand Out Puzzle – Sword Fight at the beginning and helping Le Chuck solve a puzzle of his own.
Episode 3 – Lair of the Leviathan
Things start to shake up in episode 3, once more we’re introduced to a new location in the form of the inside of a giant manatee’s belly and another handful of new characters, thankfully all human…ish. We even have the glorious return of Murray the demonic talking skull. Puzzles are much more intense in this episode too, giving you the challenge that you’ll be hungry for at this point. You’ll meet Coronado De Cava, an explorer who is also on a quest to find La Esponja Grande but the giant manatee you all find yourselves trapped within has a cochlea (inner ear piece) missing so has lost all sense of direction to the ancient manatee mating grounds where La Esponja is fabled to be.
De Cava has been abandoned by his crew and left to find a way out of the giant manatee on his own, what he doesn’t know is his crew are just around the corner, hiding from him. They’ve even managed to create their own men’s club with bar, music and punchbag, not to mention piles of gold and treasure. They also have the missing cochlea so it’s up to Guybrush to befriend them and get hold of that cochlea. This is done by working on each character individually to sway them round to the Guybrush Threepwood fan club using the regular methods of point and click puzzle solving.
Each Monkey Island game in the past (expect LeChucks Revenge) has had either insult sword fighting or an equivalent. Monkey Island 3 had Rhyming Sword fighting, Monkey Island 4 had the disgraceful Monkey Kombat and Tales of Monkey Island introduces a new format in nasty face stare downs. It’s a fun and really funny puzzle, some of the expressions are so ridiculous you’ll be falling out your seat.
Episode 3 really shines in it’s final puzzle, one which is much more true to the traditional insult sword fighting mechanics of matching up conversation replies. You are left to woo a female manatee in conversation so you can gain access to the cave she’s hiding in. You’re equipped in traditional Guybrush fashion with an translation item that can only be best described as a ‘close, but now exactly the item you want’… It’s very much the closest thing you’ll find to the final sword fight with the sword master back in Monkey Island 1 in the series.
EPISODE 3 RATING
It’s superior difficulty and introduction of yet another new location can only benefit the series. Makes for a perfectly timed mid-series episode too. Once complete you will feel like you are now on the road to conclusion.
Stand Out Puzzle – How to woo a Manatee 101
Episode 4 – The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood
In episode 4 Guybrush is forced to return to Flotsam Island for a court hearing in which several cases are against him. Here we won’t really see any new locations to explore, or any more new cast. We do however see the return of the man with the magic jacket, crazy arms and motor mouth! It could only be Stan, and he’s looking a little worse for wear too. You name it, this guy has sold it, from Ship’s, coffins, life insurance and real estate, Stan’s business skills are more varied than Le Chuck’s ability to take on different life forms. In this meeting Stan takes on the career path of lawyer and prosecutor (As well as a bit on the side selling Guybrush Merchandise, promoting the court hearing as “Trial of the Century…ry…ry….”)
The game plays out a bit more differently here, preventing you from progressing with your adventure until you’ve cleared your name. To do that you will need to gather evidence to prove that the witnesses are lying about the charges put against you then present it in court. The humor in this episode is once more top notch, from interrogating yourself at the bar to the back and forth between Stan and Guybrush, you’re in for another barrel of laughs here.
As the story progresses revelations are made that potentially rock the foundations of the entire Monkey Island saga from the very first game. I wouldn’t have expected something as big as this to be revealed/changed etc… but I am glad it was, as it explains a few things, and no, it’s not the Secret of Monkey Island. Luckily Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island creator) was onboard for some of the production of this game series, so I assume such a change went by his approval first.
Elsewhere, the Marquis de Singe is now in possession of your missing hand and is looking to use La Esponja Grande to absorb all of the Voodoo power from the entire Gulf of Melange for his own hideous plans, so once you’ve proven your innocence you’ve already got your next quest lined up.
Episode 4 has so much in it with the comedy we expect to find in a Monkey Island game, solid puzzle work, dash of romance, touch of betrayal and even death! The set up for the final episode is excellent as you really can’t imagine how the story will continue.
EPISODE 4 RATING
The slight change in gameplay style in the courtroom is nicely welcomed and the return to familiar stomping grounds proves the game is solid enough to be just as enjoyable in an already visited location, without a doubt the most funny and surprisingly dramatic episode from the series.
Stand Out Puzzle – Feast of the Senses (Damn that static carpet!)
Episode 5 – Rise of the Pirate God
Ok, Spoilery bit here, if you haven’t played any of the previous episodes yet but have read this far into the feature then you will know if you want to play this game or not. I can’t write a synopsis of this episode without there being a few spoilers in it, but hey, if you don’t care for spoilers then read away.
You start the game buried, not the kind of buried from Monkey Island 3 where you’re not really dead, you are properly dead here. You’re a semi transparent ghostly form reminiscent of Le Chuck’s ghost form from Monkey Island 1. Guybrush has only 1 thing in his inventory too, a shred of life, the one last thing stopping him from being cut off from living existence for good.
The location you’re in is called ‘The Crossroads’, best described as a pirate limbo. Other than the grave you just climbed out of, and a central island you have a choice of 3 locations, each deriving of a pirate profession (Sword fighting, thievery and treasure hunting) to go to. To make your way back to the land of the living you’ll need to solve puzzles across the 5 plains. One thing I noticed with this episode is there is a lot of back an forth between areas, even as you progress and you open up more places to go, you have to travel between them all to use or pick up single bits of inventory making the puzzles seem like a little more of a chore than a joy to play through. I also noticed that a lot of textures, inventory for example, had been reduced in this episode too, and after playing the first 4 episodes in the same 2 days, it was easy to notice.
Most characters you meet in the crossroads return from previous episodes and have all met their demise to Le Chuck at some point along the way in Tales of Monkey Island. The atmosphere is a lot more somber too, there aren’t as many jokes but there is a nifty insult sword fighting scene where you fight 2 people at the same time and your reply must match both. The final battle with Le Chuck is good enough, and follows the time old tradition from Monkey Island 1 -3 where Le Chuck is chasing you from scene to scene leaving you with only a short amount of time to make quick decisions before he knocks you into a different scene. Using this formula alone, show Telltale Games have done a great fan service here, if only the final battle had been a bit longer.
EPISODE 5 RATING
Episode 5 is a suiting finish to a fantastic series, but doesn’t score higher then a 3.5 because of it’s requirement to repeatedly go back and forth between places taking the fun out of it slightly and because the final battle felt like it could have done with more to it.
Stand Out Puzzle – The very last one, as it had me stumped for quite a bit, but when it’s explained it makes sense.
Overall Series Rating
Although my individual ratings round up to a solid 3.5, I’ve upped the score to a 4 for overall experience. Tales of Monkey Island is an outstanding series held back by it’s poor performance on the iPad 1, bad control system, minor bugs and bad habit of repeating a few puzzles along the way. The story is not as strong as the original games but is more than capable of holding it’s own weight. If you enjoy point and click adventure games, then this is a must buy, just make sure you buy it on the iPad 2 if you want to get the most out of it.