Launch of the Screaming What?!
When we last saw Guybrush Threepwood, he was in a bind. Escape from Monkey Island was a game far from the series' adventure roots - it was in 3D, more confusing than anything else, not as funny as before, and just plain weird. It's tough to imagine someone trying to save Monkey Island after that critical flop, and it literally took a decade for us to see a light at the end of the long, winding "will-we-see-a-sequel?" tunnel. But thankfully Telltale Games joined up with LucasArts to turn Monkey Island into this episodic series, like they did with yet another classic adventure game series, Sam & Max.
[image1]Monkey Island is one of the seminal game series and is synonymous with the adventure game genre - its mix of witty humor, clever puzzles and laid-back gameplay proved to be a success in the early nineties. All the charm that you might remember so fondly makes the transition to the episodic formula quite well, with very few bumps here and there. Whether you pick this up for Wii (through Wiiware) or the PC, there's a great adventure to be had in the first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwall, or at least the start of one.
Guybrush ends up stranded in Floatsam Island after another round in the endless fight against the ghost pirate, Le Chuck, and it's up to him to find a way off the island. All's not as simple as just finding a ship, however, as the island is suffering from a mysterious change in winds that prevents any attempts at navigation. Adding salt to Guybrush's wound, he somehow gets one of his hands cursed, prompting him to seek a cure.
In a different approach from the Sam and Max series, or even Wallace and Gromit for that matter, the story in Tales of Monkey Island Episode One acts as the first chapter in a larger arching series that will comprise of five separate monthly episodes. That's not to say that Launch of the Screaming Narwhal does not stand on its own two feet in terms of story, but don't expect the tale to resolve at the end of this game.
[image2]Taking a cue from the earlier Wallace and Gromit episodic games, Tales of Monkey Island lets you directly control your character, while retaining the need to point and click the environment and menu navigation. Items can again be combined for use (vitally so), as are dialog options that you'll have to choose carefully in order to get anything at all out of Floatsam's stubborn citizens. Speaking of citizens, with the rare exception of a possible recurring character, most look nearly identical with the same facial expressions and mannerisms, which is disappointing considering how much personality other supporting characters in past Monkey Island games have. Guybrush's design also received an update, leaving the mighty pirate with a more rugged look, bandit goateé included.
As you might expect, the voice acting in this new series is shaping up to be awesome. Just like Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, all of the main Monkey Island cast make a return, joined by great performances by new voice-actors in supporting roles. Don't be surprised to see plenty of dialog references to past Monkey Island games and a few of the other Telltale games. On the other hand, if you never played any of the past games in the series, you won't miss much story-wise, as returning characters don't get much screen time other than at the beginning of the episode.
At around four hours, escaping this new island won't take any longer than any of the other episodic games you might have happened to play from Telltale. Puzzles are cleverly designed to make use of item combinations that are not at all impossible, dialogue options, or a mix between the two, and if you happen to get stuck, there's always a tip that can be activated in the options menu. So don't expect to be stuck for long nor should you expect the ridiculous cat-hair-on-glue story trigger type of scenario, and in most cases, the answers are quite obvious and easy to figure out with a bit of patience.
[image3]Both Wii and PC versions offer a solid game but do have their peculiarities. The PC version looks and sounds as good as past Telltale Games; that is, mostly good, with simple character models and visuals that do not make the common computer stutter, and the option of both mouse/keyboard or controller inputs. On the other hand, you'll have to buy the entire five episode season $35 package upfront. As for the Wiiware version, it controls using both the Nunchuk and Wii-mote with muddier visuals and choppier performance, but it can be bought as a single standalone download for 1000 Wii Points.
Tales of Monkey Island Episode One: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal serves as a great start for this five-part series. While it doesn't contain much story-wise, it more than makes up for it by setting up the future episodes, especially considering how this chapter ends. If you picked up the PC package for Tales of Monkey Island, there's little reason to regret your purchase, as you will have plenty of reasons to expect a great story and plenty of laughs in the coming volumes of this new tale in the legendary Monkey Island series.