I can remember the first time I played a Monkey Island game. It was a demo of the Curse of Monkey Island, and I immediately loved it. The great graphics and music, and Murray, made me play the demo at least several times over some years. Then I got my hands on the full game, and enjoyed it a lot – the Pirate Song, the Banjo Contest, Fencing with Rottingham and many other great puzzles were really fun and funny. I missed out on Escape from Monkey Island (played a demo for a little while, but didn't enjoy it at all), and never played either Monkey Island 1 or 2. But, thanks to Talk Like a Pirate Day, I managed to play the first episode of the fifth game in the series – Tales of Monkey Island last year, and then my girlfriend bought the whole game this year using the same occasion. We finished it last weekend, and so here are some of my thoughts.
The game focuses on a zombie plague which Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate (TM) unintentionally started when he defeated LeChuck again – this time however, LeChuck has been returned to human form, while Guybrush notices that he's becoming afflicted with some sort of a voodoo pox. Needless to say, he's going to need some time and a lot of effort to deal with healing the Caribbean, while dealing with pox-inflicted pirates, a mad scientist, a pirate hunter who pursues him relentlessly, and a old crazed explorer who had a romantic relationship with the Voodoo Lady...
Tales of Monkey Island is rich in interesting characters, and the overall plot is good, with a nice twist at the end of the fourth episode, and another post-credits twist at the end of the entire game. Music is really enjoyable, but the graphics need some more commentary. On the one hand, they are really nice to look at – a cartoonish full 3D style fits the series perfectly, and the face expressions and gestures of some characters (the protagonist in particular) are very well done. However, you cannot help but notice that the graphics engine is sometimes glitchy. This is most easily seen with facial expressions of some characters, when their chin suddenly sticks out in a strange way, or the eyebrows don't behave like they're supposed to. It's a minor flaw of the game, but it kind of ruins the entire very positive effect. Another problem the graphics have is that there is a pretty small variation of character models – many of the pirates you encounter are going to look exactly the same, with little to none difference in their looks. It's not tiresome or irritating or anything like that, but I can't help but notice that it could have been done better.
What's an adventure game without good riddles and puzzles? While Tales of Monkey Island has some less-than-logical puzzles, most of them are actually quite easy to work out. To some people, especially the older, hardcore adventure gaming fans, this may seem like a bad thing, but for those of you who enjoy casual adventure games (such as myself), the difficulty of ToMI should be just right, with some headscratching at points. There are some rather tedious sections of the game where you're supposed to walk back and forth between several locations, but they are a few and far between. There are some very enjoyable puzzles as well, and some highlights include a 'make a scary face' duel, using voodoo cards to enforce magical effects on people, the Feast for the Senses and Diet for the Senses quests, using basic phrases from a Manatee dictionary as pick-up lines, and fighting two enemies while taunting them so that one of the feels offended, while the other feels complimented. There are really fun to play through, and funny to see in action.
The game is divided into five episodes, and they are of a somewhat varying quality. The first one sets the scene and is quite fun, but nothing too special. The second introduces some interesting things, but feels a bit slow. The third and fourth are equally good, with some interesting puzzles, plot twists and characters. The fifth and final one is very uneven, starting off slow, getting more interesting in the middle part, and finishing off with a somewhat unsatisfying ending. It really seems that the final episode of the season was rushed – there are a number of characters who are clearly underdeveloped, and there's a lot of items which seem like they were meant to be used, or used more than they did, but some of the puzzles didn't make the final cut. The ending itself fails to be memorable, but it is somewhat redeemed by the post-credit reveal teaser.
Tales of Monkey Island is a well done, though not exceptional, adventure game. If you're looking for a major challenge, you may come away somewhat disappointed. If you're more into casual adventure games, I think that ToMI is a very good title in that regard, especially if you played the earlier Monkey Island games and liked them. For the hardcore fans of the series, this fifth instalment may seem like a pretty weak game, but I really think everyone should give it a try. The humour is there, even though it'll more likely make you snicker than laugh out loud, the characters are really likeable, and the voice acting is excellent (apart from Elaine's voice actress which I found quite uneven – sometimes she sounds just right, sometimes it seems something's just not entirely right with the voice). It is, overall, a job well done, worth at least a 7/10. Quite enjoyable, not really irritating, with only some minor issues which do not influence the overall enjoyment too much, I can easily recommend this game to any adventure game fan, and to most non-adventure gamers out there.
PS: during this year's Talk Like a Pirate Day, I also bought the Special Editions of the first two games in the series, as they were available very cheap. I've yet to play them, but can hardly wait to see those classics in action.