Tales of Monkey Island Review

By Phil Theobald - Posted Dec 16, 2009

Tales of Monkey Island really is an outstanding adventure filled with well thought-out puzzles and some hilarious jokes. There are also enough plot twists and cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more. Whether you're a longtime Monkey Island fan or this is your first taste of the series, you'll have a blast.

The Pros
  • Tricky, clever puzzles
  • Great voice work
  • Maintains the Monkey Island sense of humor
The Cons
  • Some ugly, repeated character models
  • A few tedious puzzles
  • Clunky control scheme

It's probably safe to say that a lot of people were nervous about Tales of Monkey Island. Not only was this latest entry in the beloved series being handled by a new studio (Telltale Games instead of LucasArts), fans were still a bit gun-shy after the previous Monkey Island adventure: 2000's decidedly lackluster Escape from Monkey Island. Still, Telltale had already proven itself capable of taking the reins from LucasArts with two excellent seasons worth of episodic Sam & Max games, so fear was soon replaced with cautious optimism for many fans.

Tales of Monkey Island

High Seas Havoc

It turns out that the caution wasn't even necessary. If you were waiting to take in all five chapters of this new saga in one sitting, it’s now available to play in its entirety. The game -- taken in as a whole season -- has proven itself to be a worthy successor to the Monkey Island name. Unlike Telltale's previous episodic games, Tales of Monkey Island tells one story throughout its multiple parts, giving the overall experience a more cohesive feel. Although the game is rewarding to longtime fans of the series, an intimate knowledge of the previous games is not required to enjoy this installment. That makes this a perfect game for newcomers to enter the world of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate.

A quality adventure game needs two things: a good plot and good puzzles. As it continues the comedic story from the previous Monkey Island games, Tales' story was never really in question. This time around, the hapless Guybrush has unwittingly unleashed a voodoo pox over the Gulf of Melange while attempting to (again) save his wife from his arch nemesis, the demon pirate LeChuck. Throughout the course of the adventure, Guybrush must cure the pox and rescue his wife while dealing with a twisted doctor, giant manatees, a saucy pirate hunter, a maniacal skull, and more. The script is always amusing and often laugh-out-loud funny. Tales is a game that encourages players to thoroughly explore every corner of the world and listen to every option in a dialogue tree. The best jokes, after all, are usually the ones that you need to go looking for.

Of course, good jokes can be completely ruined with poor delivery. Thankfully, Tales is chock full of top notch voice actors that consistently bring the funny.  Many of the actors from previous games in the series return to voice their respective characters, and they clearly had no problems getting back into their roles. Although everyone does an outstanding job, a special mention should be given to Dominic Armato, the voice of Guybrush. Armato gives the character a unique blend of confidence and cluelessness that makes Guybrush such an endearing hero.

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Puzzles A’Plenty

As for the puzzles, they can occasionally be fiendishly tricky, but they're always quite clever. Given the humorous nature of the game, there's often a sort of cartoon logic that you'll need to follow in order to proceed. That said, there are usually a few subtle clues given that will point you in the right direction so that none of the solutions seem too "out there." It was also nice to see that each of the game's chapters starts off with a simple "intro puzzle" to help get the player back into the swing of things.

In true Monkey Island tradition, one of the more enjoyable puzzle sequences -- insult sword fighting -- returns in Tales, albeit it with a few twists. The new variants on the routine, which requires the player to choose the proper response from a dialogue tree in order to best their opponent, includes a scene inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac, a "make a mean pirate face" contest, and an extremely well-written three-way insult sword fight. These new takes on the formula allow for a welcome callback to previous titles while not seeming like a rehash.

Tales of Monkey Island

Darn Yer Riddles!

Not all of the puzzles are as fun to solve as the insult sword fighting, however. Although the majority of the puzzles are great, there are a few sequences that drag the game down. In the very first chapter, there's a tedious jungle maze that is unfortunately returned to in a later chapter (although it's mercifully less obnoxious the second time around). Has there ever been a jungle/forest maze in a video game that hasn't been horrible? A somewhat tiresome section in the final chapter contains a lot of backtracking through dimensional rips, although it's a relatively small portion of that chapter.

Perhaps the game's biggest problem is its inconsistent character design. Although the main characters -- Guybrush, his wife Elaine, LeChuck, and newcomer Morgan LeFlay -- all look great, many of the secondary characters range in design from bland to downright ugly (and not in the expected "pirates are supposed to be ugly" sort of way). These secondary characters also suffer from the repeated use of basic character models. Expect to see many variations of the same "short and fat" and "tall and skinny" pirates throughout the game. These reused assets are not very well disguised, and it smacks of laziness (or a lack of time and/or budget). Regardless, it's pretty irritating, and it can occasionally result in confusion as you mistake a character for someone else who shares his body type.

Maneuvering Guybrush around can also be a bit difficult. Although the game can be controlled entirely with the mouse, it's incredibly impractical. You'll have trouble keeping the mighty pirate walking in a straight line, much less weaving throughout the environment. Your best bet is to use the mouse/keyboard combination.

Tales of Monkey Island

How Appropriate

Don't let those couple minor issues dissuade you from the game, though. Tales of Monkey Island really is an outstanding adventure filled with well thought-out puzzles and some hilarious jokes. There are also enough plot twists and cliffhangers to keep you coming back for more. Whether you're a longtime Monkey Island fan or this is your first taste of the series, you'll have a blast. Hopefully, Telltale is already working on a sequel.