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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