Tales of Monkey Island - Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review

By Patrick Klepek - Posted Jul 15, 2009

When's the last time you couldn't stop smiling while playing a video game? It doesn't very happen to me very often. But virtually nothing could wipe the smirk that was seemingly tattooed to my face while reviewing Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, the first of a five-part episodic new story in LucasArts' classic franchise.

The Pros
  • Most puzzles make you feel smart
  • Feels like a Monkey Island game
  • Witty writing, full of clever lines
The Cons
  • Trial-and-error puzzles are frustrating
  • Dialogue choices don't have much impact
  • The wait for the second episode

secret of monkey islandWhen's the last time you couldn't stop smiling while playing a video game? It doesn't very happen to me very often. But virtually nothing could wipe the smirk that was seemingly tattooed to my face while reviewing Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, the first of a five-part episodic new story in LucasArts' classic franchise. It's not a gut-buster, but Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is pure joy.

THE START OF SOMETHING NEW

Launch of the Screaming Narwhal doesn't ignore what's already happened; in fact, it picks up where the Monkey Island series last off, with the clumsy everypirate Guybrush Threepwood in pursuit of his wife, Elaine, who's been kidnapped (again) by the evil LeChuck. From there, it's a whole new adventure for Guybrush, an adventure whose first act proves that Monkey Island is perfectly suited to Telltale's sense of humor.

Tales of Monkey IslandAdventure games live or die based on their writing. Luckily, Telltale employs many talented scribes, but if you haven't found yourself laughing at Telltale's previous efforts (see: Sam & Max, Wallace & Gromit), Launch of the Screaming Narwhal isn't about to change your mind. It's very much in the same vein of their previous efforts. As I alluded to before, the first installment in this new Monkey Island didn't have me exactly laughing out loud, but there was enough to keep me chuckling the whole way through. Plus, the game maintains a Monkey Island hallmark of on-screen descriptors interacting with gameplay. For example: click on "voodoo ingredients" and Guybrush gabs about how he can't use them; afterwards, they become "useless voodoo ingredients." Subtle but fun.

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IT'S THE PUZZLES, STUPID

There aren't many mechanics to adventure games, either. The puzzles are the essentials of the genre, a mechanic that's mystified designers since the genre's inception. Telltale's games have made great strides in reducing the obtuseness of adventure game puzzles, instead favoring brain teasers that produce "a-ha!" moments that challenge without overly frustrating. There's nothing worse than being reduced to crawling over to GameFAQs to find the solution to something that later seems obvious. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal tepidly straddles the line between satisfying and hair pulling; while I never had to resort to a guide in my own playthrough, a particularly annoying maze-based puzzle reduced my possible solutions to sheer trial-and-error. It's a classic adventure trapping, and one I'm hoping Telltale eliminates from future episodes.

Don't sweat over the new interface, either. It's not the tried-and-true point-to-walk system that the old Monkey Island games relied on, but I had no trouble adapting to the new keyboard and mouse setup. Plus, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal introduces item combining into Telltale's adventure games. It's a welcomed, if underused, addition.

Tales of Monkey IslandDespite my own reservations about the game's art style (an overblown controversy), it actually fits. Unfortunately for apprehensive gamers, the art looks rather awful in screens and Telltale picked cringe-worthy locales to debut their new take on the series' once hand-drawn 2D style. There are some beautiful locations here, especially in the jungle, and it only takes a few minutes of clicking around before I'd completely forgotten my reservations about Telltale's stylistic decisions. Guybrush's hair, though? Yuck.

MOAR…?

With roughly three to four hours of just-one-more-click gameplay, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal isn't the best Monkey Island adventure yet, but it does something arguably more important: it genuinely feels like a new Monkey Island game. Bravo, Telltale.