Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One Review

Written by Joe Martin

July 7, 2009 | 08:00

Tags: #adventure-game #episode #guybrush #monkey-island #screaming-narwhal #scumm #tales-of-monkey-island #wiiware

Companies: #lucasarts #telltale-games

Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

Unfortunately though, it isn’t all plain sailing for Guybrush Sheepshod and there are a few points where Telltale's ‘rewake’ of the The Secret of Monkey Island series falters like the logic behind the practices of a vegetarian cannibal.

For starters, there’s the control system. Adventure games that control well in 3D are pretty rare and, while Tales of Monkey Island isn’t woefully bad, it isn’t anywhere near as smooth as it should be, especially if you want to rely on the mouse-driven interface.

There are two ways to navigate Guybrush around the world, one of which uses the simple WASD set up and the other involves holding down the mouse buttons and pulling in the direction you want Guybrush to go. Frankly, neither system is ideal and you’re still likely to get stuck on the corner of buildings occasionally thanks to this.

Balancing out the inaccuracy of character navigation though is the fact that Telltale has reintroduced the cursor interaction system, so you can just click on things to use them, rather than having to navigate right up to them and cycle through a list of different commands as in Escape from Monkey Island. Admittedly, some of the puzzle complexity has been stripped out by the lack of a verb list and the fact that one-click does everything, but the game is still challenging and the increased immersion and screen space compensates perfectly. Moving around Flotsam Island may be a tad cumbersome at times, but actually doing things is still as accurate and speedy as ever.

Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One Review Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One
P'ah! You can sleep when you're dead. Or later tonight.

In visual terms Tales of Monkey Island is a bit hit-and-miss too and though the actual style and design of nearly everything in the game is pixel-perfect both on its own merits and with respect to the rest of the series, the graphics themselves actually look a bit bland sometimes.

Lechuck is still easily identifiable, for example, and his black beard and red commodore uniform that ripples with green evil are still as iconic as ever but at the same time it doesn’t look quite as good as it could. It’s as if the character models have been thrown together in a hurry and are lacking the final polish, an impression that is likely down to the cartoony style that makes everything look a bit plain when viewed from afar.

Granted, the graphics don't look bad per se and we wouldn’t want a photo-realistic Monkey Island any more than we’d want to see a real three-headed monkey in our living room, but the style is still noticeably bland at points and arguably in need of an extra layer of effects and flair when it comes to building design. Then again, maybe we’re just pining for the days of hand-drawn backgrounds and character art.

Really though, wittering on about all this ‘graphics’ and ‘controls’ nonsense is leading us further and further away from our genuine feelings about the game. So, pay attention to this next because this is crucial; Yes, the controls are a little fiddly and the episodic nature means it’s over in a few hours (Tales' biggest problem is perhaps its brevity) and so on, but Tales of Monkey Island is still bloody brilliant.

Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One Review Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One
Being able to hold your breath for ten minutes won't help you now, Threepwood!

It’s hilarious in a way that makes you laugh out loud regularly – and if you consider that for a moment you’ll realise how rare that is in computer games. It’s got characters who have actual depth and who you can actually closely relate to, but it achieves that feeling without ever having a line of dialogue that you’ll actually want to skip through.

The whole game hangs together almost like an interactive Pixar movie, with jokes for all age ranges and a cast that will endear itself to practically all audiences. More than once during the review we considered that Tales of Monkey Island would be best experienced if played through with friends and family nearby and listening in – which really is the logical extension of the episodic model Telltale favours.

How the series develops from this point onward is obviously going to be critical and the season as a whole could fall flat at any point – which it almost does at the anti-climatic ending to this episode – but Screaming Narwhal is a stunning debut on the whole. Anyone with a sense of humour or a passion for adventure games would be doing themselves an injustice if they let Tales of Monkey Island pass them by without investigation, even if it won’t truly be a ‘Must Play’ until the entire season is available and we can judge the experience as a whole. Sceptics might want to wait and see how the reviews for the rest of the season play out and then pick up the entire set in one fell swoop, but our time with the game tells us that there's no harm in jumping in and trying the first episode right now. It's awesome.

Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One Review Tales of Monkey Island: Episode One

Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of The Screaming Narwhal

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October 14 2021 | 15:04