Not long ago Ludo played the demo of Telltale’s return to Lucas Arts’ most beloved adventure franchise. And after debating over the pricing options (or lack thereof) I eventually gave in and decided to see how it measured up.
First off, there’s a big divide in people who played Monkey Island. There’s the hardcore adventure gamers, who had already ploughed through the harder and more punishing Sierra titles before Lucas Arts took over the scene, these people prize the puzzles above all else and hold Monkey Island 2 up as the pinnacle of the genre, seeing anything that came thereafter as heresy. Then there’s the more casual adventure gamers, who came to the genre on the back of the more forgiving Lucas Arts games, and play them primarily for the humour (in the case of Monkey Island, for the story in more serious fare) with the gameplay in second place. These people like Monkey Island 3 as much as the originals, but not Monkey Island 4 (no-one likes Monkey Island 4). In the interests of full disclosure, I’m firmly in the latter camp.
First off, the interface, Telltale have been in the odd position of re-inventing the wheel when it comes to adventure games, or at least explaining to people what a wheel is as slowly and carefully as possible. They’ve had to gradually re-introduce point and click to a sceptical audience, so there is no right click to look, left click to touch (something that takes some getting used to) no varying interactions and definitely no verb table, it’s left click for everything. Combining items has only just returned to the Telltale setup, and it’s done in a rather clunky menu interface rather than the traditional method. As Ludo pointed out, you move Guybrush by clicking and dragging in the chosen direction, making him swagger drunkenly. What he did not mention, because the game neglects to tell you itself, is that you can (and will) walk around with the arrow keys instead.
The intro itself very much harks back to Monkey Island 3, with Elaine kidnapped and Guybrush confronting LeChuck before he can declare victory with a voodoo ritual. There’s some neat little refferences here which imply that Guybrush has gone through the usual Monkey Island rigmorole (aquiring a ship, a crew and the peices of a voodoo MacGuffin) before you’ve even started playing. The opening, which most of you will have seen in early videos, is a little uncertain, delivering no big laughs and relying a mite too heavilly on shout outs to the previous games.
Once that is over however, Guybrush washes up on Flotsam Island, where the winds only blow in, and begins the quest proper. It’s here that the game really begins to take off, with Telltale finding their feet and using humour that is in the style of the previous games, but not lifted directly from it. There are still call backs (I awaited with baited breath to see if they’d mention Guybrush’s fear of porcelain at one point) and the openings are taken, but they don’t make a meal of them, and they don’t let the dominate the lines. The whole episode gets stronger over time, with the arrival of at least one treasured support character from games past (hopefully more will come in future) and the introduction of some new ones who will doubtless follow you over time. The whole thing ends with a neat cliffhanger that whets the appetite for next month’s outing.
Now, for the puzzle crowd. Though I’m not fully qualified to judge, I felt that the puzzles did well in walking that fine line between cleverness and difficulty. I was only stuck at one point, and managed to solve it accidentally the next day, yet it was just hard enough to make me feel clever, rather than making the puzzles seem easy. There is a clever series of map puzzles that had me smile at myself when I worked out the answer although (not unlike the rest of the series) having quickly figured it out following the directions in full proved a trifle arduous. In this aspect Telltale made a lovely little improvment anyone attempting a similar puzzle should consider, a little icon on the bottom left that teleports you back to the start if you get lost. There’s also a lovely little mini game in the doctor’s clinic, where all your items are taken away and you must use only what you can get to to make it through.
All in all this really was triumphant return for the series, it honestly felt like a real Monkey Island game, hitting all the right notes. And with the quality only increasing over the course of the game, future installments could surpass even that high water mark.
Dante, pleasantly nostalgic, signing out.