maanantai 14. helmikuuta 2011

REVIEW - Tales of Monkey Island (2009)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 2009
Available on: MAC, PC, PS3, Wii
Developer(s): Telltale Games
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

By late 2008, LucasArts had finally been convinced that point 'n' click was coming back and they began to reflect on the possibility of remaking two of their most successful titles, The Secret of Monkey Island and its first sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Telltale Games, on the other hand, was planning to resurrect the Monkey Island series with a whole new game divided into episodes, similar to their Sam & Max sequels. LucasArts joined in on this project. With Dave Grossman directing the whole thing, franchise creator Ron Gilbert working as an advisor, Michael Land as the composer, Mike Stemmle as a co-writer and most of the classic voice cast reprising their roles, what could possibly go wrong with Tales of Monkey Island? Well, sadly a part of it's just further proof that the franchise would've been ready to be laid to rest after the third game. Tales of Monkey Island is a funny, nostalgic trip, but the true magic that made the first three games some of the best in history, is all but gone.

Mermen, manatees and the joys of the afterlife

Dominic Armato : Guybrush Threepwood
Alexandra Boyd : Elaine Marley-Threepwood
Adam Harrington / Earl Boen / Kevin Blackton : LeChuck
Nicki Rapp : Morgan LeFlay
Jared Emerson-Johnson : Marquis de Singe
Roger Jackson : Reginald van Winslow / Galeb / Hemlock McGee / Bartender
Alison Ewing : The Voodoo Lady / Kathryn "Kate" Krebbs
Gavin Hammon : Stan
Denny Delk : Murray
Andrew Chaikin : Murkel Trenchfoot / Captain McGillicutty / Coronado de Cava / Bugeye / Ted

Guybrush Threepwood has faced some amazing challenges in his life, but now every odd is stacked against him. His arch nemesis LeChuck has been turned into a human and he has Guybrush's wife Elaine. Guybrush's hand is possessed by LeChuck's evil spirit, which spreads to every pirate he comes in contact with. He's stalked by a mentally twisted French surgeon deeply fascinated with his extraordinary voodoo handicap, and a beautiful mercenary hired to kill him - but who is also his biggest fan. No, being a mighty pirate is not easy.

Things to do on Flotsam Island when you're
When Telltale made the first episode of Sam & Max Save the World in 2006, nobody knew what to expect. Some people just disregarded the fact that the whole game was made by some of the same people that made Hit the Road in 1993, and why? Because the LucasArts logo was missing. However, what started as a simple web project to pay homage to the classic adventure and get people talking, became some sort of a cult phenomenon among point 'n' click fanatics. "Season two", Sam & Max Beyond Time and Space, did even better critically.

I believe that it was after the final episode of season two, that I personally started thinking how cool it would be if Telltale brought back other LucasArts franchises; I was never a HUGE Sam & Max fan, but I was a huge Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones fan back in the day. Oh, and there was also the very, very tiny case of a minor game called The Secret of Monkey Island. That game had a couple of decent sequels too, if I remember correctly. All modesty aside, when I heard that Telltale WAS actually bringing back Monkey Island, in co-operation with their former employers, I was soiling myself from here to the Caribbean. When I saw the first screenshots, I knew that this series would wipe the floor with Escape from Monkey Island. Well, not the whole series. Tales of Monkey Island is like a rollercoaster of quality. Some of it's really bad - or just so far fetched it hurts to think about it - and on many occasions, just when it's about to really pick up, it falls flat again. It has strong characters, some very good character-driven storylines, and a whole shipload of juicy references to the history of the franchise, but the whole thing just keeps cracking apart due to restrictive one-button gameplay, occasionally ridiculous puzzles and plot elements that just aren't welcome to the Monkey Island mythos if you ask me.

The character design is way better than it was in Escape from Monkey Island. Guybrush is kind of a mix between his incarnations in Monkey Island 2 and The Curse of Monkey Island; I love the goatee. LeChuck looks like LeChuck this time around and not the THING he was in Escape. The graphics are good and dynamic all around, a bit glitchy as is the sound bank, but all in all, the game is one of the best looking games on the PlayStation Network. The music's classic stuff by Michael Land; almost every vintage Monkey Island tune makes an appearance with the exception of "A Pirate I Was Meant to Be".

Guybrush kicks unusually nice butt.
The quality of the voice acting is pretty 50/50, or should I say 70/30. Dominic Armato, Alexandra Boyd and Earl Boen know what they're doing, but Boen isn't even here for the whole time; Adam Harrington does LeChuck's voice in the first chapter for some reason, and Kevin Blackton does the human LeChuck. Denny Delk reprises his role as Murray, and the demonic talking skull totally redeems his crappy appearance in Escape from Monkey Island with one that might be even better than his very first appearance in The Curse of Monkey Island! Nicki Rapp is a very welcome new addition to the cast as pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay, she's such a loveable character. All in all, the voice cast is good, but two characters that would've been better off if they were axed from the script altogether are the Voodoo Lady and Stan. Yeah, they've appeared in every Monkey Island game and some would say a Monkey Island game isn't the same without 'em. Now we can say with certainty: no, it isn't - who are these people? Even the midget version of Stan in Escape was more believable than this one, at least he talked like Stan. The Voodoo Lady's accent is so weak and fake, I can't even listen to her. Oh yeah, then there's the "French" dude. I think overexaggerating a French accent is a bit of an old joke; actually, I think Peter Sellers' inspector Clouseau was the first and last funny French character in any media, and over 30 years have passed since the last (decent) Pink Panther movie. It's not just the accent, though; that de Singe guy drives me insane. Apparently that's the point, but if it is, a little less screen time would've sufficed.

I think we're done with the characters, but I'd still like to mention that I'm a bit thrown off by all the magic and hoodoo in the whole game. Many lengthy and complex puzzles are based on some sort of voodoo spells instead of real logic, like the Feast of the Senses and Diet of the Senses near the end of the whole thing. I believe I made my opinion on these sorts of puzzles very clear when I reviewed Escape from Monkey Island, and when nearly whole chapters of several hours are based on some stupid plots of tinkering with the size, weight and volume of a magical sponge (correct) using the power of voodoo, you can imagine I did not fully enjoy my long-anticipated return to the Monkey Island franchise. I wish it would've only been all the voodoo, but there are also plot elements which just don't belong, such as the merpeople in chapter two, the lovestruck manatees in chapter three, and the whole La Esponja Grande business. I just don't buy it. I have to give the developers some credit for the final chapter, though; despite a crappy main puzzle (the Diet), I loved the script. Too bad it took this long for the game to truly make an impression. Chapter three came quite close, thanks to Murray's ultra-strong performance.

I hate the French.
Each Tales of Monkey Island chapter somewhat differs from the last in style. The first two chapters, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal and The Siege of Spinner Cay, are about the same style and size, but in the second one, Guybrush gains an "auto-item" which can be used in several different situations and stays with you to the end, it's pretty hard to remember you have it with you. The third chapter, Lair of the Leviathan, is the favourite chapter of many fans due to its whole host of great new characters, as well as Murray's long-anticipated return. In this chapter, you also learn the ways of the face-off, this game's equivalent to insult swordfighting and... *sigh*... Monkey Kombat. The fourth chapter, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, has you standing on trial for the most part, and doing the Feast of the Senses puzzle to cure the Pox of LeChuck. The fifth and final chapter, Rise of the Pirate God, is indeed my favourite of all the chapters even though the stupid Diet puzzle gets on my nerves. I really, really can't explain anything that goes on in this chapter, it's something you have to witness yourself. I'll just say that the whole chapter's probably the most epic stunt Guybrush Threepwood has ever managed or will ever manage. It leaves a great aftertaste, even if all of the last 15-20 hours haven't been that great.

The humour works throughout the line, even some age-old jokes like the ones about the three-headed monkey and fine leather jackets appear at the exact right moments, and with the exact right amount of variation to still catch a well-deserved snicker or two. However, it was great atmosphere and gameplay that used to support the humour, and vice versa, and atmosphere and gameplay are exactly what's missing from Tales of Monkey Island. To put it simply, Tales of Monkey Island works like Escape from Monkey Island without all those command lists. Movement's in full 3D. One button controls the inventory, in which you can still combine items as always. You can switch between hot spots with the push of one button. What's wrong, then? Well, automatic function's what's wrong. There's one single action you can perform on each hot spot. For example, if you need to switch something on, you can't simply look at the switch, you automatically press it. There's so much in this game you can accomplish simply by lighting up all the hot spots on the screen and going through them one by one. "I don't know what the solution was, I don't even know what the puzzle was all about, I just kept pressing buttons." This can happen, at least in the early chapters. In the final chapters, the puzzles become so kooky that it's amazing if you manage without a walkthrough. I had to resort to a walkthrough once and I seriously would've liked to see the look on my face when I uncovered the solution. It took the next hour from me to come up with some inane logic to what just happened, and what I had to do. Once again, this relates to the Feast and Diet puzzles.

A sad excuse for a Stan.
It lacks logic, or to be more specific, it incorporates some extremely strange logic, so yeah, Tales of Monkey Island is pretty hard. The first two chapters are of moderate difficulty, and shouldn't pose much of a threat to veterans of the adventure genre, but from chapter three onwards, the going gets quite tough and chapter five really puts your brain to a test with its supernatural puzzles. The whole game has a Trophy set of 55: that's five Bronzes, five Silvers, and one Gold per chapter. Not bad for a game so cheap; what is it these days, $8? What sucks about the Trophy system is that each chapter is listed separately in your Collection. Quite an ugly clutter in my opinion. The Trophies are extremely easy to obtain, I think my lowest total from a single chapter is 80% at the moment. About a half of a single chapter's Trophies comprises of story trinkets, while the other half comprises of completely extra stuff, such as talking to someone or interacting with an object an excessive amount of times.

There are highs, there are lows, there's stuff caught in the middle, and in the end, you don't rightly know what to make of Tales of Monkey Island. As much as I'd like to tell you how well Telltale and LucasArts restored the franchise nearly a decade after the lukewarm Escape from Monkey Island, the restoration just doesn't hold throughout the whole game. Some of Guybrush Threepwood's best personal moments are experienced during the course of Tales of Monkey Island, there are some great characters, both new and old - but the thrill is gone. How about remaking this game in SCUMM? It wouldn't remove the stupidity of the puzzles, but it would make them more fun.

Graphics : 9.0
Sound : 8.2
Playability : 7.5
Challenge : 8.0
Overall : 7.7


GameRankings: 86.67% (PC), 86.29% (PS3), 80.58% (Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, Wii), 80.60% (The Siege of Spinner Cay, Wii), 85.00% (Lair of the Leviathan, Wii), 84.00% (The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, Wii), 81.57% (Rise of the Pirate God, Wii)

The only game in the series in which Monkey Island is not visited once.

The game has the largest body count out of all Monkey Island games.

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