Reviewing an episodic game is one of the few things that gets easier the longer the series goes on. No new gameplay mechanics to detail and assess, it all boils down to story telling, plot and the general atmosphere of the product. In short, the important parts of any adventure game.
This new episode of Monkey Island begins with Guybrush and co. trapped inside the mouth of the second biggest manatee I’ve ever seen after an attempt to discover the location of La Esponja Grande. To make matters worse, a smokin’ hot pirate hunter managed to sneak her way on board prior to the devouring, and is now in the process of sulking. It’s a somewhat unbelievable situation, but like with all Monkey Island plots it manages to work.
There is a feeling that every Telltale game up to this point have been, to some extent, prototypes for this rather than games in their own right. It’s not a feeling that existed before this game, but when one takes into account the various changes in the production method for Monkey Island, it becomes a little clear. The lack of repetition and back tracking between the various episodes, the serialised plot, the clearly defined and individual characters, they all stand out in ways that Sam and Max or Wallace and Gromit did not.
Despite the serialised nature of the series, episode 3 has done well in providing the monthly dose of progress and achievement that you require from an episodic title. Your goals are clearly defined, and achieving them feels like a success rather than a trap to pull you into the next chapter. It can’t stand on its own as a game, but then it’s not meant to. An episode of Lost will not stand on its own either, for example, and while Monkey Island is nowhere near as convoluted and drawn out as that show it still borrows from the same serial model.
Telltale have said before that this series of Monkey Island can be thought of as one game split into five parts, and their commitment to that borders on caste-iron. There are a few flaws that nibble into the game’s success, but they are quite minor and often countered by something awesome not long afterwards. For instance, without giving too much away, a lazy mechanic is used at the start of the episode to deprive you of an item you will have carried through the previous episodes, only for a much cooler item to be acquired later, albeit for a much shorter time. It’s almost a one-step backwards, two forwards approach except I am loathe to bestow that upon them just yet. Not until they fix the needlessly stupid item combination mechanic.
People have picked up on this before, and perhaps Ben has even mentioned this in his previous reviews, but when games created by amateurs using a freeware toolset allow items to be combined by clicking one item onto the other, Telltale’s method is flawed. I would almost go so far as to say their combination box is old hat, but even some of the very earliest point-and-click adventure games had no problem with item combination. They’ve managed to create a solution for a problem that never existed, and it’s not even nearly as good as the solution already available.
I don’t like the way you move Guybrush either. Why have they suddenly decided that pointing and clicking is unacceptable? You use it for interacting with the world in every other way, so why not moving?
These are not new problems to the series, however, and they are minor niggles at best. In fact, I’m hard pressed to find anything to complain about properly in this new episode. The jokes are funny, almost laugh-out-loud so on some occasions, the plot works, and despite some disappointing stereotypes the new characters are entertaining. The only thing I can comment on is something that has yet to become an actual problem, only has the potential to become so.
Telltale love the franchise, that much is very clear, and are very aware of what it is the fans want to see. To that end they’ve slipped in references and homages to older games, brought back old voice actors and characters, and it has worked very well. I just worry that they are beginning to edge closer to the fanservice line. They’re not there yet, not by a long shot, and they’ve done a remarkable job of having a proper position in the story for any returning characters, but all it would take is a single slip. One gratuitous piece of fanservice could, in my opinion, dent the merit of this series. They’re not there yet, and hopefully they never will be, I just hope they are aware of the dangers.
I’m sure they are.