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Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal review

Excellent
AT A GLANCE
  • Funniest comedy adventure in ages
  • Solid writing
  • Excellent puzzle design
  • Some tedious jungle exploration
  • No new standout characters
  • Will have to wait for the next chapter

Nostalgia? Please. As great as the original Secret of Monkey Island is, it’s a new adventure we’ve all been craving. Even though Tales is the first of the series not made by LucasArts (although Telltale have no shortage of people who worked on them, such as Dave Grossman and Mike Stemmle), make no mistake: it’s officially the fifth game in the series, not some farmed-out spin-off.

The obvious question: is Tales of Monkey Island another genre-redefining masterpiece like the original games? Well... no. Is it still worthy of carrying on their legacy? Absolutely. It’s easily Telltale’s best game so far, and the funniest comedy adventure in ages. Tales is another episodic series, but don’t let that put you off. Unlike past Telltale games, such and Sam & Max, there’s no central hub to get bored of retreading over the next few months, and it’s already clear that we’re in for a proper story arc, not just a set of largely random plotlines.

In terms of length, this first chapter (‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’) is a solid three or four hours of adventure, kicking off with Guybrush accidentally infecting both himself and the Caribbean with a noxious voodoo plague, then focusing on his attempts to escape an island where the winds only ever blow inland. In other words, it’s classic Monkey Island stuff, with several new twists, including the surprise reveal of the undead pirate LeChuck’s latest hideous form, and Guybrush being cursed with an evil left hand out to get him. An old gag, yes, but still fun.

Taken as a standalone adventure, we all know what matters in a Monkey Island game: puzzles, writing, and not having the words ‘Escape From’ anywhere in the title. Chapter 1 succeeds at all three, with solid writing, lots of genuinely funny bits, and excellent puzzle design. Capturing a ship is the chapter’s highlight, with Guybrush not so much winning the light-hearted battle of wits as daisy-chaining failure until success is the only option left.

The only real disappointment, ignoring some tedious jungle exploration, is that as good as the script is, the new cast has yet to offer any real breakout characters like Stan or Murray. They’re not bad, it’s just that aside from the villain, and a pirate hunter yet to appear in person, we can’t honestly remember any of their names. This slight lack of oomph aside, it’s good news across the board. As ever, it’s impossible to predict how the series as a whole will pan out, but if Telltale can keep up this level of quality, we’ll have nothing to worry about on our return voyage to the Caribbean’s finest destination.

Jul 16, 2009

More Info

Release date: Jul 07 2009 - PC
Jul 27 2009 - Wii (US)
Jul 07 2009 - PC (UK)
Available Platforms: PC, Wii
Genre: Adventure
Published by: LucasArts
Developed by: Telltale Games
ESRB Rating:
Everyone 10+: Alcohol Reference, Comic Mischief, Mild Suggestive Themes, Mild Language
PEGI Rating:
12+

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6 comments

  • smallberry - July 17, 2009 5:32 a.m.

    Just finished the game and I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised. It was genuinely funny for the most part. I totally agree with it not having any standout characters though. But its early days yet. Even if they bring one of the old ones back I'd be happy. Also, I did notice a few naughty double entendres. The Telltale guys have managed to bring back most of the quality of humor without direct input from Ron and Tim (please correct me if I'm wrong), and for that I applaud them.
  • JohnnyMaverik - July 17, 2009 10:47 a.m.

    "The Telltale guys have managed to bring back most of the quality of humor without direct input from Ron and Tim (please correct me if I'm wrong), and for that I applaud them." Not wrong although Dave Grossman needs a mention when it comes to the origional 2 monkey island chapters, who actually took the role of Design Director on this Telltale project according to wikipedia which I didn't know either until about 5 seconds ago... so there you go.
  • DeadGirls - July 17, 2009 5:18 p.m.

    I will probably end up getting this (I already bought the special edition remake) but I'm a bit turned off by the graphics. It's Ugly.
  • TheHumbleSlave - July 17, 2009 3:04 a.m.

    I never got around to playing any of the previous games even though I love adventure games. I'm hoping that there are no ridiculous puzzles like in the new Sam and Max games. This review was great and I will definitely buy all the chapters. I am a bit let down that you have to wait for them to all come out, but that does not turn me away from this game.
  • smallberry - July 17, 2009 1:52 p.m.

    @JohnnyMaverik I didn't know that. But I'm glad these guys care enough about the property to stay on and see that its done right. Also, did anyone find the shout out to Ron Gilbert in the game? *Hint: Look at the shrine in the Voodoo Lady's shack. I have a feeling we'll see that character in the games coming episodes. The symbolism is in multiple locations.
  • JosefMotley - February 2, 2010 10:59 a.m.

    can't believe this review. i trusted you guys and got a copy of this, with my fingers firmly crossed that this wasn't going to be a horrible repeat of the last two monkey island games... but: the new monkey island game is a total abomination of fiddly controls, illogical puzzles, irritatingly random wandering around in a jungle for ages and not so much rehashing as raping of old jokes to the point where anyone who played this first would find the first two PROPER games less funny. this is what i hoped wouldn't happen but fully expected to occur after the awful monkey islands 3 & 4. SIGH. it seems the games industry haven't learnt anything from the point & click games made over ten years ago and instead are systematically removing all the things that made them fun in the first place and churning them out purely for the nostalgia crowd, who they seem to believe will lap up anything vaguely retro regardless of its actual quality. THIS IS WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU BASICALLY STEAL THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF A GENIUS AND TRY AND REPLACE HIM WITH UTTER HACKS. I feel really sorry for Ron Gilbert. the two monkey island games that he wrote (as part of a trilogy that he wasn't allowed to finish) basically did all the work in making a name for the series and are now outnumbered by what is essentially bad fan fiction. It's Ren & Stimpy all over again..... Luckily Telltale Games' take on Sam & Max isn't another thoughtlessly brutal maiming like this game. It's actually funny for one thing, and the puzzles make sense. Avoid Tales of Monkey Island LIKE THE PLAGUE.

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