Telltale games kicked off their Tales of Monkey Island episodic series with a bang in "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal." We came away very impressed with the inaugural effort, praising its wit and gameplay and firmly recommending a purchase.
Today, the second episode in the series, T"he Siege of Spinner Cay" is available for download. We managed to get our grubby mitts on it and give it a run through. Can it hit the high bar set by its predecessor or does it come up short? Read on as Conrad Zimmerman and Brad Nicholson deliver a review.
The Siege of Spinner Cay (WiiWare, PC [reviewed])
"The Siege of Spinner Cay" picks up right where Launch of the Screaming Narwhal left off. Having unwittingly released a voodoo pox upon the Carribbean, Guybrush is on his way to the Jerkbait Islands to learn the secrets of La Esponja Grande, a magical sea sponge purported to have the power to cure the rapidly spreading ailment. Meanwhile, he continues to be pursued by The Marquis De Singe who is determined to have the mighty pirate's pox-infected hand. And what exactly is going on between Elaine and LeChuck, anyway?
The story this time around is passable, but doesn't offer much in the way of a payoff. This episode seems to be predominately focused on planting seeds for future chapters in the tale. This is fine, but results in a bit of a lull after a much stronger opening to the series. Taken on its own, it is not particularly compelling.
It's still funny, at least. Spinner Cay has considerably less fan service than the previous installment, allowing the humor to stand on its own without relying on established jokes. For the most part, it can, though I wonder exactly how much longer Telltale intends to drag out a running gag involving Guybrush's pyrite parrot because I'm starting to get a little tired of it by this point.
Gameplay remains unchanged in this chapter, which should come as no surprise. That said, there are some issues which did not manifest themselves as severely in episode one. First is the travel map. Guybrush has quite a bit of ground to cover in this game. The Jerkbait Islands consist of a cluster of three landmasses which can be traveled between by raft.
The largest of these islands features a jungle similar in nature to that of previous games in the series. There's no need to follow a convoluted route to reach anything (thank God) but it would have been nice to provide a faster mode of travel between significant screens in the jungle after you've been there the first time, as has typically been done. The lack of one makes wandering through the same screens over and over monotonous and a bit annoying, especially if you're getting frustrated with a puzzle.
As is often the case in a Monkey Island game, puzzles largely revolve around using or combining items to accomplish a goal. Once more, nothing about the puzzles is out of the reach of the player. All puzzles have pretty clear solutions and a little tinkering with items in your inventory will usually provide some insight if you're lost. That is, of course, provided you have the items you need.
On several occasions, I completely missed something I needed to pick up. In most instances, this is totally due to inobservance on my part but there are a couple that I failed to find due to the environments. I should not have to scan the mouse over every bit of screen in case something can be interacted with and there are items that are small enough and blend in with the environment enough that they struck me as being far too easy to overlook, even when I have a very good idea of what it is I'm looking for.
Finally, I had some trouble with the mouse controls for the game, something which I found to work to my satisfaction in Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. The mouse felt unresponsive in some areas of the game and in others Guybrush would walk in the complete opposite direction than the one I was dragging my mouse. Eventually, I abandoned the mouse altogether for movement out of annoyance.
These problems would be easier to overlook if the content of the story were strong. Since it is not, it's drawn them into sharp relief and make the game feel somewhat disappointing. I'm hopeful that the series will come back with a vengeance in episode three, but The Siege of Spinner Cay is not what I had expected from Tales of Monkey Island after such an excellent beginning.
Last month’s chapter was a tight narrative-driven experience. Oozing charm and stroking nostalgia with iconic characters and interesting puzzles, it pushed all the right buttons for fans of the no-longer-so-forgotten franchise. This chapter isn’t so different. It’s obvious that the devs spent some time with the Special Edition re-release of Monkey Island because of numerous throwbacks -- “How appropriate, you fight like a cow! -- to the original. A steady stream of funny lines, several compelling plot reveals and numerous clever puzzles complete the package, but a few bad design choices pollute this otherwise borderline good chapter.
It opens with ‘mighty pirate’ Threepwood braving the salt-laden currents outside of Flotsam Island in search of his wife, as well as a cure for the misanthropic voodoo pox. The solution to the spotted problem lies with La Esponja Grande, a mystical sponge with untold powers. Elaine crops up quickly, so the focus narrows to saving the little world from the pox.
Indeed, the search for the fabled thing isn’t easy. Guybrush needs to collect three ‘summoning artifacts’ in order to uncover its secrets. Forgoing the tight and constricted narrative-led puzzles, Telltale Games created five islands to scour, giving this chapter a smidgen of an open-world feel. This comes at a cost. Three of the tiny islands are almost barren, which can lead to some confusion, especially when dealing with illogical puzzles. Telltale failed to relate when the three perimeter islands come into play. When a puzzle stumps, a lot of time is wasted moving the Narwhal between these places with the silly hope that some new thing was triggered on them because an event triggered elsewhere.
The notable but pointless objects of interest on the islands -- a skeleton or a rock outcropping -- don’t help, either. Like the last chapter and its pointless objects (the sponge necklace, for one), it’s possible that at least two of these islands won’t have their moment in the spotlight until the next (or next-next) chapter.
The flow disruption is annoying, but the chapter does gain steam in the latter half as the action rises after mini-goals are met. Plus, it doesn’t hurt when the thought of the just how unimportant the three islands are finally crosses the mind. Lord knows it took me long enough to realize my logic mistakes.
There’s much more character in this chapter, mainly because some larger-than-life fixtures of the MI series are slotted into main roles in this chapter’s underwhelming story. It’s a story, which is, as Conrad believes, nothing more than a set piece for the next adventure, but at least the characters have pizzazz.
This isn’t an amazing follow-up, but it services for those in Tales of Monkey Island withdrawal. As a standalone narrative, it’s a flimsy thing with little to give to the player other than a few good giggles. But, at the same time, this is a competent adventure title with some intelligent puzzles and decently unique places to explore. If you’re a fan, you’ll dig this and walk away with that familiar MI afterglow. If you're not, perhaps a trial is in order.
Total Score: 6.5 -- Alright (6s may be slightly above average or simply inoffensive. Fans of the genre should enjoy them a bit, but a fair few will be left unfulfilled.)