Review / Tales of Monkey Island (PC)

You’ve journeyed far, sailing the seven seas and acquiring the sacred Sword of Kaflu, the only weapon that can slay the villainous undead pirate LeChuck. As your vessel approaches the zombie pirate’s, you see your wife, Elaine, tied to the mast and in the evil LeChuck’s clutches. You prepare to board LeChuck’s ship and rescue your beloved, but you must first enchant your mighty sword with…some magical voodoo root beer. So begins the latest entry in LucasArts’ long-running pirate parody series, Tales of Monkey Island.

Over 15 years ago, LucasArts released The Secret of Monkey Island and forever changed adventure games. Secret spawned three sequels, the last of which was released in 2000. Those fans who have suffered the long, nine year wait will for the most part be rewarded with Tales of Monkey Island.

For the uninitiated, the Monkey Island games take the form of the classic adventure paradigm – games are largely story-driven and focus on a number of impossible scenarios in which you must solve puzzles using your wits and the items around you in order to progress. TOMK fits this bill perfectly – puzzles are fun, engaging, and often just downright funny. While I don’t want to spoil anything, one notable sequence involves taking imprints of various wooden carvings with a block of cheese, and then using the markings on said cheese to manipulate an ancient idol to change the course of the wind – all just business as usual in the Monkey Island universe. Moreover, while there’s nothing overly challenging in the game, TOMK does have a new hint system to prevent you from getting frustrated with a puzzle you simply can’t solve.

In typical Monkey Island fashion, the story is focused on reuniting main character and pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood with his girl, the aforementioned Elaine Marley. After finding the voodoo root beer, disaster ensues and Guybrush washes ashore Flotsam Island, where he is shipless and where the winds always blow inward. The majority of the game is spent figuring out how to procure a ship and change the course of the wind in order to set sail, find Elaine, and send LeChuck back to hell. The plot is filled with suspense, humor, and interesting island settings and scenarios. The pitiful pirate hero provides a sympathetic lead for the game, as well. Yet, despite his best efforts, Guybrush always tends to be more Captain Crunch than Captain Jack Sparrow.

The game’s music is phenomenal and true to the catchy Caribbean themes of the Monkey Island series. Moreover, the voice acting is top-notch, with a number of voice actors returning to fill their roles, including Dominic Armato as Guybrush Threepwood. The controls are tight, unobtrusive, and true to the point and click roots of the series.

While there is much to admire about Tales of Monkey Island, the game has some shortcomings. Chief among them is the campaign’s short length, which clocks in at less than 10 hours. Not only does the game leave you wanting more, but the story ends on a frustrating note. Much like Halo 2’s finale, TOMK’s conclusion takes the form of an abrupt, unsatisfying cliffhanger that demands an infuriating wait until the next episode is released.

Finally, in recent years, adventure games have shifted focus with mixed success from stunning animated artistry into the realm of 3D graphics. Indeed, this series’ previous entry, Escape From Monkey Island, found limited fanfare due to aesthetically bland graphics and awkward 3D play mechanics. Tales of Monkey Island is prone to some of the same pitfalls as its 3D predecessors. Namely, the graphical presentation is serviceable, but nothing special. In addition, the 3D environments seem needless and out of place for an adventure game, as there are but a few puzzles that require you to truly think in three dimensional space.

The bottom line is this: Tales of Monkey Island is not going to set the world on fire. It will not change the way you think about games, nor does it even pack the same punch as the original Secret of Monkey Island. That being said, if you are a fan of the Monkey Island series, or if you like adventure games in general, then Tales of Monkey Island is for you. It is a competent, entertaining, downright funny game, and it’s safe to say that you’ll be smiling from start to finish.

+ Monkey Island is back in good form
+ Puzzles are fresh, fun, and funny
+ The sole purpose of the ending is to ensure a sequel

– 3D graphics are out of place, a bit dated
– Game is very short
– The sole purpose of the ending is to ensure a sequel