There’s trepidation at first. Pacing around the room. A self-deprecatory chuckle or two. Biting of nails. Then a few sighs, a flash of annoyance. A picosecond of utter horror. Denial. Maybe even furious anger. Then, a reluctant acceptance. Calm, quiet. Maybe even fun!
Island-bound: The pirate returns.
For many gamers, the first 5 minutes of Tales of Monkey Island could well be the most gut-wrenching gaming moments this year. Consider the weight on its shoulders.
The first two Monkey Island games are held on Himalayan pedestals, as glorious relics of the golden era of adventure games in the early 1990s. With their wonderful humour and bizarre plots, they’re easily one of gaming’s most beloved titles. The news of the series’ resurrection was greeted with equal parts joy and outrage, and the angry eye of the Internet was focused sharply on Telltale Games, at the helm of this reboot: Five episodes, one a month, each lasting around 4-5 hours. Not unlike a TV miniseries.
So, first, the good news: The first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island, called Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, is a fun, sharply written game that is highly recommended. It manages to capture the spirit of the original and the voice-acting and music are all spot-on.
The bad? It doesn’t seem to aspire to the dizzying heights set by its predecessors, and there’s a sense that in playing safe, Telltale didn’t have as much fun with the franchise as it could have.
Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood (“capital M, capital P”) returns to thwart Evil Pirate LeChuck’s plans of voodoo-powered world domination. Things, of course, go a bit awry. There’s a mysterious curse in the air, and Guybrush finds himself separated from his wife Elaine, stuck somewhere in the Caribbean, in a strange little place called Flotsam Island.
Controls are simple enough: Walk around using the the keyboard, click to examine or pick up objects. The inventory also allows you to combine two objects to make something new. The puzzles mostly hit the sweet spot between practicality and insanity, and one sequence involving a mad doctor and a lab monkey deserves special mention for the way it’s crafted. If you’re stuck, there’s an in-game hint system that nudges you in the right direction. The graphics are sharp and colourful.
So blame it partly on the colossal expectations that the series carries with it, but you can’t shake the sense that there’s something ultimately underwhelming about Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. It does its job reliably—setting up the story arc, getting you excited about the premise—but it could have aspired for more. The secondary characters in Flotsam are a bit ho-hum, and some of the dialogues are bland—something that would have dragged it down if it were a stand-alone game. But as a pilot episode, this could be the prelude to something wonderful. Fingers crossed. Lucky voodoo charms invoked. Bring it on, we say!
Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is available as a digital download at www.telltalegames.com/monkeyisland. Currently, all five episodes can be ordered for $34.95 (around Rs1,750).