Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review: Back To The Island
The original “Monkey Island” games have always held a special place in adventure gamers’ hearts. It introduced a humorous perspective on voodoos and pirates as they controlled Guybrush Threepwood into all sorts of crazy situations. Now that Telltale Games has decided to resurrect this franchise after an eight year sleep, will “Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal,” the first episode of the series ready to set sail or will it just sink?
Our tale begins with Guybrush Threepwood caught in yet another conflict with the ghost pirate LeChuck, who has decided to kidnap Guybrush’s wife, Elaine Marley-Threepwood. Things go smoothly for Guybrush as he tries to use his voodoo powered weapon against LeChuck, until a strange twist of fate forces Guybrush off the boat, keeping him separated from both his wife and LeChuck.
Fans of the original series might be a little disappointed with this episode’s design, as it steers focus away from the main icons of the series. The reason behind this decision is to ease new people into the franchise without thrusting them into a journey of confusion. Fortunately, through clever design and writing, it still maintains many of the traits of past “Monkey Island” games, or, more specifically, it still has the witty dialog and painful puzzles to solve. It’s definitely a risky stance, especially when most games nowadays are praised for spoon feeding the player.
However, this is not to praise that having hard puzzles is always a good thing. One thing LucasArts has often done well is in their past adventure games is mix absurdity with logic. In “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal,” a lot of the puzzles are hit and miss. Some are ridiculously easy while others, such as the two maze puzzles, may force you to buy a new keyboard after adequate fits of rage. It doesn’t help the controls are forced in a WASD style either, instead of the typical point-and-click that is expected from this genre.
One of the things that adventure gamers have come to expect from their games is good writing, and every line of dialog in this episode is up to par. With the extensive dialog tree, you will definitely want to hear everything that each character has to say, and examine each object just to observe Guybrush’s reactions. In terms of humor, there is plenty of wit, references to pop culture (e.g. YouTube, Dora the Explorer), and fourth wall breaking. Although in comparison, this is not at the same level of humor as “Sam and Max,” but it does compete with it.
The voice acting is also pretty well done and Dominic Armato, the voice actor for Guybrush from the third and fourth game, returning to reprise everyone’s favorite video game pirate. Like before, he does a good job, and everyone else in the game gives a good performance as well. Visually, “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” is a mixed bag; the background graphics and 3D models for the buildings are very stylized and fit the cartoony theme of “Monkey Island.” The problem is the characters themselves, which follow the Telltale trademark plasticine models and look more like zombies instead of human beings. It worked well in “Wallace and Gromit,” but it doesn’t achieve the same effect here.
If this first episode is a looking glass into the future of the “Monkey Island” series, this could end up being Telltale’s best series. With the clever writing and odd nature that “Monkey Island” games are known for, as well as the difficult puzzles, fans of both “Monkey Island” and adventure games in general will have something special to enjoy.
“Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal” was developed and published by Telltale games for the PC and Wii, and was released on July 7, 2009. This review is based on the PC version of the game.