With Tales of Monkey Island, Telltale Games continues what it started with its Sam & Max games – breathing new life into an old genre by creating brand-spanking-new adventures starring once-beloved characters. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, the first chapter in Tales of Monkey Island, is the first adventure for Mighty Pirate ™ Guybrush Threepwood since Escape From Monkey Island back in 2009 – almost a decade ago.
Fans of the series will feel right at home immediately upon jumping into the story: Our tale opens up in media res with the nefarious undead pirate LeChuck having captured Guybrush’s beloved wife Elaine (They married back in 1997’s Curse of Monkey Island, Threep-fans! –Ed.) only to be interrupted by the man of the hour himself. Guybrush botches the voodoo spell needed to defeat his nemesis once and for all, is knocked into the sea, and washes up on Flotsam Island. The winds always blow into Flotsam, so the only way for Guybrush to track down LeChuck and Elaine is to somehow reverse the wind and commandeer the only ship on the island – The Screaming Narwhal.
To do so, he’ll have to … well, he’ll have to be an adventure game protagonist. Guybrush advances through the trials and tribulations of Flotsam Island through the standard tools: He needs to talk to everybody, he needs to inspect every single object on screen and take everything that isn’t bolted down, and he needs to use the right Object A in the correct other Object B.
For every puzzle, there is only one correct solution. For example, the only way to re-enchant Guybrush’s voodoo-slaying cutlass is to spray it with fizzy root beer, and the only way to get the fizzy root beer is to chop off a literal root, drop it in a case of Light Grog, and add some breath mints to give it a nice popping fizz. Every puzzle in the game is solved by saying the one right thing, combining the two correct objects together, or doing an exact series of actions in an exact order – or combinations of the above.
That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though – it’s simply just how this style of adventure game works. If you grew up accustomed to trying every object in your inventory on the mystical crack in the wall just to see if anything worked, you’ll be able to ease into Tales of Monkey Island without a problem. The one change that feels like a step backward for the genre is the movement: To move Guybrush, you either hold down and drag the mouse, or use your keyboard, and it doesn’t feel nearly as intuitive as just clicking where you want him to go.
Tales is remarkably faithful to its roots in more than just gameplay, and long-time fans will likely get kicks out of throwaway gags and references to previous games in the series. Even if you haven’t played a Monkey Island game before, Guybrush Threepwood is as dorkily endearing a protagonist as ever, the writing is clever and for the most part, the characters are interesting and unique.
If you want clever, witty writing and an interesting plot with quirky characters, interspersed liberally with pop culture references (a glass tube shaped like the letter U quickly becomes a U-Tube, of course, and then there’s action figure collector D’oro the Explorer) then Launch of the Screaming Narwhal has plenty of those. It reminds us of why we loved these games in the first place – their settings, their stories, and their characters. On the other hand, if the idea of backtracking all across the island just because you missed picking up a random cheese wheel that you need to solve a crucial puzzle doesn’t appeal to you? Well, there’s plenty of that, too, and it can serve as a reminder of why these games fell out of style in the first place.
Of course, that’s what GameFAQs is for, isn’t it?
Bottom Line: A standard adventure game through and through – great characters, great writing, and an interesting first act that leaves you wanting more, overlaid with slightly frustrating controls and puzzles that can be more frustrating than fun. The graphics are fitting for the series, the music is great, and fans of the series should have a blast.
Recommendation: If you’re a fan of Monkey Island in particular or any of the classic adventure games in general, Tales of Monkey Island should be right up your alley. If you can appreciate a good story and funny dialogue at the expense of easy-to-pick-up gameplay, you should consider it.
John Funk fights like a cow.