It’s another of those licenses that takes a developer with balls to accept. But it’s not as if Telltale doesn’t have the pedigree. With former LucasArts adventure Sam & Max under their belt and a proven track record with the Strong Bad and Wallace & Gromit games, it was only a matter of time before LucasArts themselves entrusted one of their other prize jewels with the studio made up of former comrades – and so we see the first episode of Telltale’s latest offering: Tales of Monkey Island. Does it have the right to hold the Monkey Island flag high? If this first episode is anything to go by, it looks promising.
Part one, entitled Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, finds swashbuckling hero Guybush Threepwood about to save his wife Elaine from yet another of pirate ghost LeChuck’s evil schemes. In a short introductory sequence which also serves as the games tutorial, things quickly go awry, and Guybrush finds himself washed up on Flotsam Island without Elaine, LeChuck and an Evil Dead style possessed hand. Tasked with escaping the island in order to rescue Elaine, Narwhal has the player go on several tasks in order to eventually escape the island and those who have played any Telltale game before will instantly be in familiar territory. Once again the rule of three puzzle is employed, but is has to be said that this time it feels far less contrived than those in the Wallace and Gromit series. Occasionally they can be a bit problematic, and do not seem quite as straightforward. Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing will depend entirely on your adventure game experience, but there was more than one occasion where even upon finding out the answer, I did feel a little confused. There’s also a puzzle involving audio cues that’s almost unforgivable for the lack of closed captions for the hard of hearing and seems a silly oversight on Telltale’s part. However for the most the results are very well done and completely in the spirit of previous Monkey Island games.
The visuals too, are absolutely splendid. Although those who may have preferred the more ‘serious’ look of the original MI games, Tales manages to give their interpretation a wonderful style, and I dare say this looks better than LucasArts own 3D step into Monkey Island territory back in Escape From. It’s not just from a purely visual perspective either. The whole episode just exudes a joy that’s pretty hard to describe. The characters both old and new are very well written and defined without being annoying, and the quality of the dialogue and story as a whole is of a very high standard. The humour isn’t exactly going to have anyone rolling in the aisles, but I defy anyone who plays this episode and does not have a smile on their face at some point. Extra credit must go to Dominic Armato for his wonderful voice work, he really nails the charming bumbling of Guybrush well, and it’s a real coup for Telltale to secure his services for the new series. It’s a simple fact that Adventure games live and die on story, characterisation and all in all a decent narrative. This first episode really does manage to nail all these things, and come out the other end as a superb piece of quality gaming, not to mention an absolute nailing of the episodic series format this time.
So overall, it’s pretty safe to say this is definitely a game worthy of the Monkey Island name, and so far Tales from Monkey Island is shaping up to be Telltale’s best adventure to date. Sure there are a few niggles – not least wishing it wasn’t over so quickly – but I for one am really looking forward to the continuing adventures of Guybrush Threepwood. Monkey Island gets a thumbs up from me and a hearty swill of the finest Grog The Reticule has to offer. Yarrrr.