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Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Impressions


Now that the first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island is out, it's difficult to to write about. As you may have gleaned, the series is kind of a big deal to me and so to collect my millions of feelings I have about Launch of the Screaming Narwhal and put them here takes considerable thought. Here we are, though - my impressions of the game after watching the credits roll last night.

1 - Visuals
I've lost count of the number of times I insisted that the footage shown at E3 was a work in progress; to wait for the final product to get a better idea of the presentation of this game. I am pleased to report that that wait has pulled off.

Even since the release of the gameplay trailer a mere week before the game came out I noticed a few touches added such as the monkey hands that poke out of the hold of Elaine's captured ship, bringing extra life to the scene. Backgrounds are colourful and well designed, reminding me far more of Curse of Monkey Island's distinctive art style than Escape's rather forgettable one. The whole thing is enhanced by great use of depth-of-field effects and sweeping camera angles which only work because of Telltale's switch to direct control of characters' movement (more on that later). This is the best presented Telltale game yet, make no mistake.

My only slight graphical concerns are that in some scenes, particularly around the docks, the lighting is perhaps not as polished as it could be and that sometimes characters' facial expressions come across as a little unusual (while at other times they are excellent, especially in Guybrush's case). These moments are minor, however.

2 - Music & Speech
Michael Land, who has worked on every iteration of Monkey Island since the first returns to deliver a score which is pleasing and unobtrusive. Part of me wished to hear some more memorable tunes but everything was so suitable that I can't bring myself to complain and I couldn't think of anyone else I'd rather have doing the music for a game in this series.

Meanwhile, on the voices front, everything is just peachy. Dominic Armato hardly needs mentioning - Guybrush is second nature to him and there's nary a line out of place. Several other cast members return and all the new characters are voiced well. The biggest change is that Earl Boen does not reprise his role as LeChuck. While that would have been preferred, Adam Harrington is such a competent replacement that I forgot about it very quickly.

While we're on the dialogue, I just want to mention that there were a few points in the game that I got a choice of, say, three similar but slightly different pieces of dialogue which were funny to read, but what Guybrush would actually say was a more generic response that would fit all three - which felt like a bit of a let down. Luckily, while it happens repeatedly at the start, the dialogue improves considerably after that.

3 - Story
There is a distinct feeling that this is just the set up to a much grander adventure, and as such the story is only enough to whet the appetite in this first Chapter. It's rather reminiscent of the first part of Monkey Island 2 in which Guybrush is similarly trapped on an island. In that scenario, and this, the process of trying to get off the Island neatly sets things up for the rest of the game - even though the actual getting-off-the-island part is rather peripheral to the plot in the grand scheme of things.

In other words, the jury is out, but what I will say is that the story is nice and piratey so far, which is what fans were looking for, and that there is promise of even more piratey things to come.

4 - Puzzles
Telltale have done a great job of pitching the difficulty of this first chapter just right, having played with hints turned all the way off. Puzzled erred slightly on the easy side but never so much that it felt more like watching a film than playing a game. One particular puzzle involving a map made me feel slightly cheated in that the thing I had to do to make it work - while it made some sort of sense - wasn't something I would have thought of to try, and I stumbled on the solution purely by accident.

Aside from that one moment, everything seemed logical and one particular locked-room (or chair - you'll see what I mean) scenario about halfway through the game was one of the most satisfying puzzle moments ever to occur in a Monkey Island game.

5 - Controls
This is worth briefly mentioning. The game controls with WSAD/Arrow keys to move Guybrush about while the mouse handles interaction with the environment in a pretty traditional point 'n' click style.

There is an alternate control scheme which uses a mouse-only click 'n' drag in a direction to move method, but this was fiddly for my taste and apparently doesn't work to well when running the game windowed. Still it's there for those who are physically sickened by the idea of using a keyboard in a graphic adventure game. Whiners.

Speaking of whining, I've seen a lot of it about 'why can't it just be point and click to move?' Briefly, the answer is simple: direct controls allow for far more creative use of camera angles as you are not restricted to making every scene easily navigable by clicking around. Also, on a personal note, when I played Sam and Max I actually found walking around large environments like the main streets a pain. For example, I'd click to move, the screen would scroll, then I'd have to keep clicking at the edge of the screen to make Sam keep moving in the same direction. It's ineligant and a wise move on Telltale's part to start phasing it out - they just need to figure out the mouse-only stuff a bit better if they want to continue in that direction.

6 - Conclusions
I played through this game with the critical eye of someone who has been a big fan of the series since the beginning and knows what they like. After all the excitement it was almost inevitable that finally playing it was not going to be the emotional orgasm that my unrealistic expectations desired, no matter how hard I tried to resist such hopes. So I can't, in all honesty, say that this first chapter was everything I ever hoped it would be because my hopes have been irreparably warped and twisted into improbable proportions.

Dialling back my expectations to something more within the realm of human capability, then, the game merely had to pass three tests, or trials, if you will:

1) The Trial of Not-Doing-Anything-Spectatularly-Wrong
Pass with flying colours.

2) The Trial of Being-Generally-Enjoyable-To-Play

3) The Trial of Anticipation
Basically, and this is the real test for me, after finishing chapter 1, every so often I would suddenly remember that in but another month there will be a brand new episode, then three more after that. When this pops into my head I am filled with glee and positive anticipation and that, more than anything, must mean that Telltale are doing it right.

And finally, Telltale's track record for episodic releases suggest that the best is yet to come for Tales of Monkey Island.
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About KestrelPione of us since 4:37 AM on 07.16.2008

Age: 30
Location: S.E. London, UK
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