Ever since The Walking Dead series came out of Telltale Games, I had to force myself to consider that some of their games weren't complete tripe. With the rather disappointing Back to the Future and Sam and Max series behind them, they somehow managed to produce one of the best films/choose your own cutscene adventures of the year. So just recently I thought it was high time to get over myself and come back to play the Tales of Monkey Island, which was released after the two other abysmal series, but before the brilliant TWD. And to my complete surprise, it also didn't suck.
The issue with the previous games was this. There were very few environments within each puzzle segment, and the puzzles were so insipid, that a mere clicking on everything to find all the items necessary to complete the puzzle, and then clicking on all the remaining things with all the things in your inventory was not only efficient, but bore little difference to the puzzle solution itself. Basically, everything was too easy. And the parts that weren't easy were only that way because the relevant solution items were too small or otherwise hidden in the environment. Finding the solution items should never be the tricky part of the solving process. The trick should be in the deductive process.
But in this series, the Monkey Island series, it was. There were enough dead ends and pure logical puzzles and random red herrings that thinking was rewarded. The answers were always obvious when revealed, but not so obvious as to just be an issue of item acquisition. There are several aha! moments when the sufficient items in your inventory are used in unique ways to solve a puzzle which seemed impassable. And that makes the entire game worthwhile.
Also the source material is dutiful taken care of. The game maintains some of the charm of the original Monkey Island games, not just through references to the previous games, or attention to character, but through the style of humour and the use of narrative trees to expand on that humour. These trademark trees, where back and forth witty banter occurs between two characters without reflecting on story consequence or requiring progression at all, pop up from time to time and are the best source of laughs in the game. They don't occur as frequently as in the originals but they're still worth the price of admission.
The game is not without its flaws though. I found the last episode weak and unconvincing especially the final confrontation's conclusion. Not to mention it's completely missing the traditional "Guybrush kicks butt" penultimate chapter that was the final payoff to the puzzles in all the previous Monkey Island games (aside the story resolution). The second chapter was marred by hiding an island in the borders of the map, and the fourth by unlocking items in a previously explored location without due notification or prior signposting. But for the most part it steers completely clear of these standard annoying adventure game errors, so it is to be commended for that.
My only real complaint is that this was episodic. Because of this, there is this pre-baked structure in each episode of framing the big interesting puzzle with two smaller ones to ease people into the game, and then speed up the action at the end. Playing straight through two episodes or more, this puts quite a bit too much downtime between the larger puzzles, and that is unfortunate.
But overall, this is a good Monkey Island game. The puzzles were solid, the humour in consistent tone and quality (if a bit sparse) and the plot reasonable (or good up until episode 5). Still Monkey Island and Monkey Island 3 were great games. Monkey Island 2 dragged on a bit, was admittedly too hard for me when I played it and suffered at the end as well. And Monkey Island 4 was abominable for reasons I have repressed. So when I say this game is good, it doesn't hold a candle to 1 and 3. It beats out 2 in my book, and no-one chooses to remember 4.
So as an adventure game, buy it.
As a Monkey Island game, don't expect too much from it, but then buy it.
4/5. May replay on occasion.
(Monkey Island 1 and 3 get 5/5s, Monkey Island 2 gets a 3.5 and 4 gets 2 or something).
Posted: December 5th, 2013