This week, Zero Punctuation reviews Tales of Monkey Island.
Having survived on table scraps for several years, the '90s adventure game tradition is enjoying a bit of a resurgence on PC. The Steam listings are getting quite bloated with au nouveau adventure stuff like Sherlock Holmes vs Cthulhu and "Nancy Drew meets Mecha Godzilla". It's like having polished off the buffet at Mr. PC's house, hardcore action titles have now mostly moved on to Mr. Console's homestead and given adventure games a chance to shoulder their way onto a chair, just in time for the sherry trifle. And if adventure games are coming back, then Monkey Island's reappearance was inevitable, because if adventure games were a nation Monkey Island would be on the fucking one dollar bill.
The second installment of the new Tales of Monkey Island episodes recently came out, so I will review them in two ways. Firstly as a fan of the old series in my normal voice and secondly by their own merits in a ridiculous Irish accent.
Monkey Island was part of my childhood. I had the first two on my Amiga. Don't suppose you embryos would remember those times, when a game like Monkey Island 2 came on 12 floppy disks and playing it was like operating an old fashioned switch board. The first two games are still timelessly imaginative, sparkling, and very, very funny and therefore have no place in this review.
The problem with the later installments is the usual one that occurs when a series has been in cryogenics for a few years and the new developers are almost always fans. So in their eagerness to show "respect" for their beloved franchise they prefer to lavish it in tongue baths in place of any significant evolution. In the second episode of Tales of Monkey Island a character whistles a snatch of music from Monkey Island 2, which might have been kind of cool if he had not then said, "Gee I wonder where that music's from!? Hmm Hmm wink wink slurp slurp tongue bath!" I'm reminded of a cat showing affection to its owner by gobbing a dead bird onto his rug.
Oh faith and begorrah, look at this lovely pirate game I've honestly never heard of. You play a pirate named Guybrush Threepwood - coh, what a silly name - who accidentally releases an evil plague upon all his pirate chums or something, I wasn't really paying attention because I was thinking about potatoes at the time. Sadly the situation can't be resolved by murder like with most games and Protestants, so the gameplay revolves around exploration, dialogues, and harvesting every loose object from the four corners of the map and rubbing them all against everything else. Have to say I'm not a big fan of the push me-pull you mouse movement controls, as I was saying to my wife Moira the other day, navigating a 3D environment with a 2D interface is like standing outside the living room window and trying to teach your dog to do his poos on the newspaper.
Guybrush Threepwood, named after a combination of a P.G. Wodehouse character and the Deluxe Paint file extension, was made out in the original game as a lovable every-lad, whose determination to be a pirate was strong enough to overpower his weakness, incompetence, hopeless naïveté, and svelte girlish figure. In the new series he often seems alarmingly competent, which comes to a head in one particularly cringe-worthy episode, when he meets his number one fan, who breathlessly lists his achievements throughout the series and paints the words "Author Surrogate" across the sky in blazing green letters! All characters are free to develop, but in a story that sells itself on wit, a status upgrade can be all that changes a lovable underdog into a smug, wise-cracking tosser.
Ooh, shiver me shamrocks, there's some clever puzzle solving to be had here to be sure. The zenith is where you get strapped to a chair and use various signaling devices to instruct a small monkey. But the clever bits are in a minority, and there's an over-reliance on puzzles no more complex than finding a weird-shaped key to put into a corresponding hole, which I think is cheating a bit - what is this, Resident Evil?
And the inventory system is a bit poor. If you want to combine items - and when you're stuck and have rubbed every item you have on every static object in the world, this is all you have left - you have to go through the little square dance of dragging both items into a little combiney machine and pressing the on button. Don't see why we can't just click one, then the other. Seems like that would save me some time which I could have spent beating me wife.
The action takes place over several islands, and they all feel rather empty, with most of the important objects and characters crammed together in one location. In episode 2 you need to find bait and get your ship repaired, and on one island you find a 'bait and ship repair shop'. It's lazy design dressed up as a joke that doesn't even make sense, like putting a fake moustache on a cat's arse.
God, what am I on about. Well speaking of laziness, I genuinely thought that the three identical characters on the first island would turn out to be a joke, like they're all the same fella wearing different clothes, but no, turns out they're just all based on the same model and I wasn't supposed to notice.
The graphics in the early games were about as realistic as the low resolution could get, lending the humor a more subversive quality that I feel the more cartoony art style diminishes. That might sound like an elitist oldbie reaching for excuses, and that's probably because it is! Tales of Monkey Island certainly has it's moments and it's ultimately harmless. But really what is the point of it? Monkey Island 2 was tight enough to stand alone as a classic. It even attempted to end in a way that would ensure no more sequels, because everything after that would be a slimy white burst of fan wank circling the shower drain. And if you really loved the franchise, you'd understand that. OK, it was a bit sad, but some stories need sad endings. Would Romeo and Juliet have been greatly improved by a sequel where they both spring to life and go on a motorcycle tour of the Mediterranean?
Sadly we live in a world where some people cannot be dissuaded from bad ideas, like spending half a review doing an offensively bad accent. Guinness, Leprechauns, Rose of Tralee, etc.
Actually of Scottish ancestry but can't do the accent: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
Originally he was just called Guy, you see, but the Deluxe Paint file extension was .brush, so there you go
Actually I've never really liked whiskey either