sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Escape from Monkey Island (2000)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 2000
Available on: MAC, PC, PS2
Developer(s): LucasArts
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

I personally think, all things considered, that people could’ve lived without a
Monkey Island 4. Tim Schafer’s Grim Fandango killed SCUMM and the new 3D GrimE engine did work for that one good game’s benefit in terms of standing out from the rest of LucasArts’ titles, but applying GrimE technology to a new Monkey Island game sounded really awkward on paper. Not only does the absence of SCUMM hurt the game – it is also plagued by other far worse ideas concerning attempts at more dynamic gameplay and whole new minigames, lackluster design by yet another new team of main developers, and the overall feeling of the whole storyline not belonging in the series’ canon, thanks to its predictable twists and literally gaping plotholes immediately spotted by any fan of the series. A big part of the game, especially its first half, is more than decent post-point ‘n’ click action, but as the end draws closer, Escape from Monkey Island turns out, without a doubt, the weakest link in the Monkey Island series.

The name’s Threepwood, GrimEbrush Threepwood.

Dominic Armato :
Guybrush Marley-Threepwood / Duck / Monkey #4
Charity James : Governor Elaine Marley-Threepwood
Earl Boen : Charles L. Charles / Demon Zombie Pirate LeChuck / Pirate #3
Nick Tate : Ozzie Mandrill
Darryl Kurylo : Admiral Casaba / Monkey #3
Tom Kane : Bagel / Heckler / Pegnose Pete / Pirate #6
Paul Eiding : Bank Manager / Gunner Simkins / Pirate #5
Pamela Tyson : Carla
Rob Paulsen : Castenada / Judge Kahuna / Parrot / SCUMM Bartender
Cam Clarke : Meathook / Clive

Guybrush and Elaine have finally married, but a shadow is cast over their beautiful (yet unlikely) union when they return to Melée Island to find that Elaine has been declared dead and that a slimy politician named Charles L. Charles is making an attempt at her gubernatorial seat. In addition, virtually all property and business in the whole Tri-Island area has been taken over by Charles’ associate, an Australian, pirate-hating land developer named Ozzie Mandrill. While Elaine rallies against Charles, Guybrush travels to Lucre Island to meet with his wife’s lawyers, and gets involved in a quest that will lead him to the most terrifying secret of all the Caribbean, the Ultimate Insult. Of course, he’s not the only one after it.

Monkey Island in full 3D... read: Nintendo 64 type of colourful polygon hell with characters that could be straight out of Sony’s Spyro the Dragon, on pre-rendered backgrounds. Doesn’t work for me at all. It’s nothing like the awesome look of Grim Fandango. I thought The Curse of Monkey Island looked a bit too family oriented for a Monkey Island game, but this one goes way beyond that. I’ll get back to the quite embarrassing storyboard and character design extensively in just a bit, I feel they’re worth a few more glances than I usually dedicate to a game’s audiovisuals. Like the previous game, the soundtrack is comprised of boring background music and a few nice, stereotypical pirate tunes. No groundbreakers like “A Pirate I Was Meant to Be” here. A rather bland, unoriginal remix of the Monkey Island theme starts the show.

Melée Island... or what's left of it.
Dominic Armato reprises his role as Guybrush Threepwood and with him aboard, the true Monkey Island factor of the game soars by tens of percents. Besides him, the game is practically owned by minor characters, since the main cast is lost. Alexandra Boyd is replaced with an American, of all possible choices, which makes me feel like the casting directors were high when they thought they could place this game in some sort of consistency and equal effect with the previous one. Even Earl Boen sounds like he’s bored and just cashing in. Nick Tate is the only main cast member besides Armato who does his job just right as the new Aussie villain Ozzie Mandrill. Minor characters such as the returning Murray – what a pathetically written part, though – navigator Ignatius Cheese, and Guybrush’s original crew from The Secret of Monkey Island rule the show.

Like I said, I would like to delve deeper into the storyboard design including the characters, first. Everything about this game, straight off the bat, feels so damn off, even the humour – although the game provides the best laughs since Monkey Island 2 on a few occasions, I’ll give it that much. Who the hell is Timmy the Monkey? What sort of earthquake reduced Melée Island to a small shred of land? When did Guybrush’s masculinity reduce to absolute, plain zero? I really didn’t dig the supposedly funny Marley-Threepwood joke. Guybrush has always been a loser, but there’s always been a certain tough charisma about him. Here they took his naive, immature and helpless side and took it way too far. Guybrush turned from a loveable loser into a pathetic loser. On top of all, he looks gay. Even worse than in Curse (hey, that rhymed – how’s that for an insult?). Elaine... well, she’s Elaine. With an American accent, which really throws me off. No matter how much her proverbial balls have grown. LeChuck – don’t call it a spoiler, you know they can’t make a Monkey Island without him – is like a shadow of his own self. He looks more like a villain in some really crappy children’s cartoon than the evil demon zombie he’s referred to as. The flashback sequence in the beginning, as well as another scene later, show LeChuck in the zombie form he was in Monkey Island 2 – in whose view?! IT looks more like a fossilized ball of mucus with a black beard and a pirate hat! Ozzie Mandrill is great. He looks like a villain, the mob-boss type of villain, speaks in a cranky Australian accent, and moreover, brings some good laughs to the table – up until the second half of the game, where he makes a fool out of himself along with everyone else. Watching the Ozzie/LeChuck conspiracy unfold actually reminds me of the movie Batman Forever, in which the great Tommy Lee Jones played one of the greatest Batman villains ever and did it moderately well (the mask sucked, though), and he was partnered with an equally great villain, whose part was ruined by the hectic manners of the otherwise great Jim Carrey. Murray is downplayed, I would’ve rather left him out of the fray completely than see him like this, Stan’s new endeavor is well written, but the character design sucks monkey balls – he’s suddenly become a midget – and they changed the actor, and the true story behind the returning Herman Toothrot, which has quite an effect on the storyline of the whole game, is just ridiculous. And not even in the funny sort of way, this is one huge plothole that botches the story Monkey Island fans have grown up with.

Another victim of society...
Well, even if Escape from Monkey Island virtually doesn’t feel like it belongs in the series at all, and the quality of the humour twists back, forth and sideways, there are some clever jokes and references to the earlier games, which make the game that much enjoyable for a fan to play. My favourites are the numerous returns to the first game’s events, brought on especially by Guybrush’s original crew of three: Otis, Carla and Meathook, who are all voiced brilliantly and are responsible for many of the game’s best jokes besides the inside ones. It seems that the official canon of Monkey Island notes the alternate ending of Secret in which Guybrush accidentally sinks his own ship, and the writers have a lot of fun with it. They could’ve spared some of that fun to replace the more tired jokes.

So, the days of SCUMM are over and Escape from Monkey Island therefore runs on GrimE, being the second and last game to utilize LucasArts’ new “groundbreaking” interface. This is a different version of the engine than the one they used in Grim Fandango; the 3D environments are expanded and there’s a lot more moving around going to happen than in Grim. In the intro of the game, people who haven’t played Grim Fandango get a simple puzzle to practice the use of the new command list. Using the command list is easy, once you get used to the fact that you cannot play by using the mouse; Guybrush can only be controlled by either the keyboard or a joypad. As an avid console player, I’m with the latter, especially since once you get to move around, using the keyboard might break your hands piece by piece. There’s so much running around going to happen, and Guybrush has more than a slight tendency to walk/run the wrong way, or simply refuse to advance the way you want him to, and it’s usually the path you need to follow. You have to stand in front of certain doors just right to be able to open them. If you don’t, Guybrush might run away from the door on his own or just stomp his feet in place, no matter how many times you tell him to open the damn door from the command list, or walk towards the door – that manages the same thing in this particular game.

The inventory system’s the same as in Grim Fandango; you pick up items and manually place them in your inventory, they don’t just disappear or end up in your pants by themselves. I never did like this system, but it can definitely be gotten used to. What’s great about the game, is that you can use fast exit in any environment at any time. You don’t have to run around searching an exit in any of the fairly large towns, you just need to push one button to get outside or to the map quickly.

Off to chart new territories in this fine, pink
There are relatively very few items you can carry in this whole game – and not all of them have any use at all, not by a long shot – and that makes the puzzles on the first half of the game very short and simple. Not exactly illogical either, but at times, extremely far fetched. Yet, it’s better this way, as you will see on the later half, which doesn’t only consist of just as far fetched, but downright frustrating puzzles, but also extremely bad storyline twists that will make any hardcore fan want to quit the game in midway, and probably the stupidest minigame ever which is about a thousand times worse than insult swordfighting ever was. Even worse than Blitzball in Final Fantasy X. Oh, wanna hear more? Sure. Here’s a a non-spoiler cross-section of the second half of the game, in other words pretty much the manifest of why this game is such a disappointment.

Despite its shortcomings in certain areas, the game is perfectly playable until the end of Act II. It feels exactly like the developers’ interest and imagination ended right there, and all things considered, their sanity as well. As I already said, the storyline contorts from bland to just incredibly stupid. At the same time, the puzzles offer us even more tedious and far fetched material. A couple of them are based on timing, which is hard in the game as it is, due to the less responsive controls. Yet, the storyline and these timed puzzles are just the beginning. Once you reach the other side of Monkey Island, you’ll have dealt with the aforementioned puzzles and can probably figure out where the storyline is going, as well. Then, enter Monkey Kombat – which replaces insult swordfighting as the prominent “minigame”. Your progress to the end of the game is more or less based on Monkey Kombat, which is an incredibly tedious and not even funny “beat ‘em up” game of countering insults spoken in the language of monkeys with correct responses to drain your opponent’s (mental) health. All in all, the game has more to do with Rock, Paper, Scissors than the vintage swordfighting; each counter-insult works on one, but loses to one. You need to have some sort of chart to jot down the different lines of three-syllable gibberish. Might sound fun, I guess, but believe me, I can’t even describe the stupidity of the game and moreover, the overwhelming case of boredom it inflicts on you. The good news is, you’re nearing the end of this decent adventure game which is however graced with a whole wrong brand.

It's Murray!
The game isn’t hard in the traditional sense, but it is challenging – challenging to bear for a Monkey Island fan, mostly. It’s a very simple, three-dimensional and semi-funny version of a vintage Monkey Island game, filled with would-be tricky puzzles, most in which the “tricky” part is made up of completely unnecessary length (the “Mysts o’ Time” and “drunken parrot” puzzles are particularly annoying – why carry on forever if we already get the idea?), difficulties to get Guybrush moving to the direction you want him to, general uninterest in getting the job done and far fetched logic. Oh, and there’s also one puzzle which defies the whole point ‘n’ click genre. You have a drawing, and you need to extract a certain image from that drawing to glue it on a coffee mug. Usually you need a pair of scissors or something of the kind, right? Well, I look around the whole damn island for a pair of scissors, but can’t find them anywhere. So, what do I do? Well, a guide politely tells me to glue the drawing on the cup. Let’s do that. Whaddaya know? The image turns up on the cup, like it has been neatly cut with scissors. To get the correct coordinates to a far away island, I need an oil painting, a pen, a necklace and a pair of earrings – great logic, huh? – but I no longer need scissors in an adventure game to cut something? OK. These are all clues, by the way, if you happen to need them.

Escape from Monkey Island
is a good game, especially if you’re new to the game and are just in awe of the brand and Guybrush Threepwood’s better one-liners, and can’t necessarily spot even some of the most obvious nuisances. True fans of the series will most likely notice that something is horribly wrong within the first 15 minutes of gameplay, something other than the use of the GrimE engine or Elaine’s whole new accent – others might have more fun with the game, most likely those who have never played one Monkey Island game before. Alas, those unlucky ones will get more for their money and time’s worth somewhere else.

Graphics : 7.5
Sound : 7.9
Playability : 7.4
Challenge : 8.5
Overall : 7.6


GameRankings: 83.92% (PC), 83.29% (PS2)

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

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