sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - The Curse of Monkey Island (1997)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 1997
Available on: PC
Developer(s): LucasArts
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

Everybody loved Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. It sealed the Monkey Island series’ status as one of the most essential game series’ of all time. However, many people seemed to hate the cliffhanger ending, since they thought that regardless of the questions it left unanswered, the series would never continue. Years passed, and people gave up hope of ever discovering the secret of Big Whoop and the true fate of Guybrush Threepwood. In 1997, LucasArts struck back with The Curse of Monkey Island, and once again millions and millions of fans around the world could be able to strap on the “second-biggest pirate boots they’d ever seen”, in the last SCUMM-based game created. The ageless graphical style of the game, the amazing voiceover work, its non-stop humour and great puzzles instantly made The Curse of Monkey Island one of LucasArts’ undeniable milestones. Not quite as interesting as its predecessor, but a classic nevertheless.

A pirate I was meant to be, trim the sails and roam the sea!

Dominic Armato : Guybrush Threepwood
Alexandra Boyd : Governor Elaine Marley / Son Pirate
Earl Boen : Demon Zombie Pirate LeChuck
Denny Delk : Murray / Skully / Father Pirate
Neil Ross : Wally B. Feed
Alan Young : Haggis McMutton
Michael Sorich : Edward Van Helgen / Charles DeGoulash
Gregg Berger : Cutthroat Bill
Gary Coleman : Kenny Falmouth
Joe Nipote : Wharf Rat

Guybrush Threepwood is stranded at sea, having escaped LeChuck’s demonic Carnival of the Damned with no actual memory of the events taking place there. He soon finds himself in the clutches of his archnemesis, who is once again on a mission to force Elaine’s hand in marriage. Guybrush manages to destroy LeChuck’s ship along with its zombified captain, but also makes the mistake of proposing to Elaine with a cursed voodoo ring that turns his significant other into a statue of solid gold. Guybrush must travel to a commonly uncharted island to find the only way to break the curse, and be prepared for yet another confrontation with LeChuck, who has once again found a loophole in the laws of death.

My friend once said that even today, after two technically more advanced games, The Curse of Monkey Island looks the best in all the series, and I’ve got to agree on that. The style of the animation, which is in consistency with the three previous games – it’s just way more polished – is amazingly timeless. The game still looks just as good as it did in ’97. The only rough spot I can name is Guybrush’s definition. Pixels tend to clutter up whenever he’s at a certain distance. Also, going into character design, I don’t quite dig this version of our mighty pirate. I would’ve liked the trenchcoat and the cool beard he sported in Monkey Island 2; apparently he would’ve too, since he’s asking around about hair replacements and mentions his mysteriously vanished beard a few times. On the other hand, his thin, slightly hunched build and dorky face fit other characters’ usual perception of him. The supporting cast, however, is definitely to my liking. The Curse of Monkey Island brings back a few old buddies, as well as a few new legends of the series, such as Murray the Evil Talking Skull, and the pirate crew Guybrush needs to assemble as his first major task in the game.

The streets of Puerto Pollo.
The characters aren’t all looks, this time they also have voices. Voiceover work is one of the most defining aspects of the game, as it expands the satirical side of the game and gives the characters even more personality than they originally had. 21-year old Monkey Island fan Dominic Armato stars as Guybrush Threepwood in his first major role and nails the part so well that it’s no wonder that at age 34, he’s considered one of the greatest voiceover actors of all time... but, he’s also stuck with this one single starring role. British Alexandra Boyd gives Elaine a sultry, yet tough voice which we don’t hear that much, since Elaine has just about the same amount of screen time she did in Monkey Island 2. Earl Boen, most known from his role as Dr. Silberman in the Terminator movies, IS LeChuck, and I mean that in the quite literal sense. Damn, he nails that pirate slang. Among voiceover staples, we have the Scottish veteran Alan Young – most known for his acclaimed voiceover role as Scrooge McDuck – as the equally Scottish pirate barber Haggis McMutton, and the late duo of Kathleen Freeman and Gary Coleman as Madame Xima the fortune teller and the very Eric Cartman-like little asshole Kenny Falmouth, respectively.

Unlike many other SCUMM games, The Curse of Monkey Island is very musical. Some sort of background music is practically playing all the time. Luckily it can be turned off, since it’s very repetitive and gets boring especially on the Mega-Monkey level, since some of the puzzles can turn out to be quite tricky and time consuming. However, the swordfighting music is good; a basic pirate theme, but it works. Since the game is finally graced with voiceover work, we even get a true treat in the form of “A Pirate I Was Meant to Be”, one of the most recognizable songs in gaming history, sung by the voice actors Dominic Armato, Alan Young, Gregg Berger and Michael Sorich. This is a song that never fails. Same goes for the classic main theme, which is of course remixed and rearranged, and literally explodes into motion in this game’s case.

The original crew of the Sea Cucumber... they
seem like a capable bunch.
Where do we start? Those old school students who still haven’t played the game and keep on wondering if its as good as people say it is and does it have anything on the first two games... the answer to all your questions is yes, yes, a thousand times yes. Plotwise and structurally, the game is a lot like the first two games combined. There are six acts instead of the usual four, of which the first one is the “intro puzzle” and the last one the very traditional Guybrush vs. LeChuck showdown. The four in between make up the main game. The first two remind me a LOT of the first Monkey Island game. Let’s see: the main setting’s a town with a clock tower, there’s a restaurant with a guy (sorta) advertising a new LucasArts game, and an instance in which you have to solve a puzzle to advance on the map, remotely like the bridge toll in the first game. Want more plausible evidence? How about having to complete three trials, of which one is a duel and one requires you to go on a treasure hunt? How about having to assemble a crew, charter a ship and find a map to travel to an unknown destination? How about the return of insult swordfighting? That’s The Secret of Monkey Island, right there.

The second half of the game continues to throw references to the first game right in our faces, but at the same time, strong references to Monkey Island 2 come along in geographical style, as well as several dialogues. Of course, people can also expect some sort of explanation to Monkey Island 2’s events, especially its strange ending at some point, it’s hinted at from the very beginning. After all, storywise, The Curse of Monkey Island is by all means the end of the Monkey Island trilogy. The ones that have come after feel like stand-alone games.

Let’s go over some basics. The game utilizes the eighth and final version of the SCUMM engine, and as far as gameplay is concerned, all old school nagging aside, this is the best version of the interface – a modified version of the unified icon we saw in Full Throttle. The HUD consists of your cursor and object names. Whenever the cursor turns red and an object name appears, you can interact with the object by either pressing the left mouse button and choosing a bodily function associated with your hand (pick up, push, pull, etc.), eyes (look at, look through etc.) or mouth (talk, eat, blow, etc.), OR by pressing the right button to open the inventory and choose an item to use on the object. It’s simple and not nearly as tardy to use all kinds of strange functions as it is in most games. You can also skip cutscenes and dialogue lines that aren’t clues or otherwise important to your progress, and finally, you can use quick enter/exit anywhere by double-clicking the exit arrow. No more walking around, back and forth like an idiot, or spending tens of minutes on just rowing a boat from point A to point B and back. This game is smooth!

Old man Goodsoup had quite a night last
night... and it's our job to cure him.
The quality of humour in this game, one of the most important aspects of the Monkey Island series' appeal, has been greatly debated since day one. Like I said, the voice actors do a great job, and I wouldn’t say that if I didn’t think the game is written by geniuses as well. Of course, some old jokes return all the way from “three-headed monkey” and even the infamous “stump joke”, but there’s a whole huge lot of new laughs ranging from cultural references to Star Wars jokes to original, intelligent humour on this ship. This kind of logically brings me to insult swordfighting. The minigame which most people found one of the most entertaining bits of The Secret of Monkey Island due to its undeniable originality returns, this time at sea and this time with rhyming insults. There’s also the option of taking on a “minigame in a minigame” by taking part in a poor man’s strategy game, involving a naval battle against the pirates you’re going to cross your sword with, and upgradeable cannons for your ship. I’m not a huge fan of this bit, luckily it’s 100% optional regardless of the difficulty level you choose in the beginning, but I must say the swordfighting itself is faster and less tedious than it was in the first game. The insults aren’t as funny, but you learn all the jabs you need against the appointed sword master at a much faster pace.

One thing that I also love about this particular game among all SCUMM classics, is that there’s a wide array of optional stuff you can do, not to your actual advantage, but just to get as much humour out of the game as you possibly can. Usually you just get responses like “I can’t do that.” or “Nah.” when you try something that doesn’t help you advance, but in this game, you can freely try out several things, such as with a book on ventriloquism; you actually need the book in one single spot in the game, but you can use it for a quick joke on almost everyone you meet as long as you have it. On some occasions, there are even multiple ways to solve puzzles.

Answering to why the game doesn’t quite have the same effect on me as Monkey Island 2 is hard, since just about everything’s in place. Well, as I mentioned earlier, Guybrush’s design isn’t at its coolest, and I miss a faithful recreation of the ambient, dark atmosphere of the first two games. Also, aside from a couple of bits of mature dialogue and controversial themes, The Curse of Monkey Island has a certain watered down, almost family oriented feel to it. Grisly images like the navigator head in the first game and torn zombie limbs from the second game are nowhere to be found; it’s comic book antihorror all the way, the humour has completely taken over for the underlying darkness. As amazing as Murray is as a character, I’d bet he would’ve looked deliciously gross in the first two games and become even greater than he already is.

Another satisfied customer.
Divided into six acts that range from 10 minutes to 3-4 hours in length – assuming you’re playing the game for the first time – The Curse of Monkey Island is a fairly lengthy game. Monkey Island 2 included the “Normal” difficulty level as sort of a joke, so that game critics would have the brain capacity to beat the game, but here, the difference between the “Normal” game and “Mega-Monkey” is no mere joke. The game says that Mega-Monkey includes more puzzles, but that’s not a quite correct way to put it. It has the same puzzles, but in about 20 of the puzzles across the board the solutions are slightly more complexed. Mega-Monkey is the true version of the game, as the easier level settles on some really illogical and incomplete solutions. The puzzles in Mega-Monkey might have you spewing out grey matter from your ears at first, for hours even, but figuring them out is very rewarding and will have you going “WELL OF COURSE!”; they’re logical, well explained and fun, no exceptions.

LucasArts buries SCUMM with style, through the incredible, even if stylistically faulty third installment in their flagship series. The Curse of Monkey Island was one of the first games that brought me into the world of computer gaming, which I had always backed away from on behalf of the advantages of home consoles. Even though I’m still about a thousand times more at home with a controller than a mouse and a keyboard, this is one masterpiece I could never imagine playing on something other than this classic pairing of hardware. A fine testament to the true magic of point ‘n’ click.

Graphics : 9.3
Sound : 9.2
Playability : 9.6
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 9.5


GameRankings: 89.90%

Murray was supposed to appear in the first act only, lamenting over the loss of his body, but the positive response to his character after the release of the playable demo was so overwhelming that four more scenes were written for him.

One more song entitled “Plank of Love” was written for Guybrush and Elaine to sing during the end credits, but it was never recorded.

World of Monkey Island has an extensive list of all of the game's numerous references to pop culture.

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