Tales of Monkey Island and The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

July 28, 2009

So, a month and a bit ago there was all this news about a new episodic Money Island game and a remake of the original. I was sceptical at the time, but now they’re both on Steam and I’ve played them both all the way through. Verdict?

Let’s tackle the first episode of Tales of Monkey Island first. This is a full 3D game which keeps all of the classic adventure game traits (inventory, awkward controls, only one right solution etc) and feels a lot like the 4th game in the series, Escape from Monkey Island. The graphics manage to be moderately attractive and the character design is ok, but the lip syncing and other animations are stiff, lifeless and distracting. This is perhaps a result of a limited budget and episodic problems, but it just doesn’t have as much life as older MI games despite the improvements in technology.

The story sees Guybrush once more battling the Ghost Pirate LeChuck™ who subsequently steals his ship and his wife, Elaine Marley. It’s a familiar start to a MI game which is a pity considering the imagination put into the first two all those years ago. Anyway, Guybrush ends up on yet another Island, unable to leave and find Elaine until he’s solved a couple of puzzles and picked up everything that he can. This is pretty much how you spend the first installment, subtitled ‘Launch of the Screaming Narwhal’ after the ship which Guybrush procures early on. So plotwise things aren’t amazing, but for fans of the series there’s a warming sense of familiarity that comes across in the writing and the characters, and since it’s been so many years since the last MI game it’s easy to forgive. Most of the voice acting behind the script is strong, some is unremarkable, but there was at least one occasion when I giggled out loud, and the gags hit a lot more than they miss.

Now, the control. It is, in my mind, a bit broken. There was nothing particularly wrong with pointing and clicking 20 years ago, and since TOMI keeps every other adventure gaming tradition in tact it’s a mystery why they messed up the movement controls and the inventory screen so badly. You hold and click the left mouse button to make Guybrush move, and if you want him to run rather than walk (and why wouldn’t you) you have to hold the right mouse button. Simultaneously. It’s very, very irritating and makes navigating the various screens a pain. The inventory screen is only accessible if you move the pointer to the right hand side of the screen and there are no context sensitive actions to make using and combing items easy. Instead you have to drag and drop the two items you want to combine into two boxes and then click a further button to combine them. It’s more clunky than the inventory screens from Resident Evil and I was longing for the old SCUMM interface at times.

The question is, do the puzzles and the atmosphere make up for its faults? Well, for me, TOMI was good while it lasted, and certainly made me anxious for the release of the next part in a couple of months. The writing was solid and at times had echoes of classic MI and the puzzles were relatively painless, logical and funny, though that’s coming from someone who’s grown accustomed to the warped conventions of adventure gaming over many years. However, it’s really hard to recommend TOMI to anyone who hasn’t sampled MI action in the past.

Now, to the ‘special edition’ of The Secret of Money Island. This is still an excellent game and for anyone who’s never played it before I can’t recommend it more, especially since it’s only £7 on Steam and offers at least 7 hours of play. For anyone who has played the original there’s less to like. The new art and higher resolution is good, and on the surface it’s nice that they’ve completely overlaid and integrated all of the animation and voice acting to sync up with the original game, which you can hot-swap between at any point by hitting F10. However, because everything has to be linked into the old game there’s been no scope for improving the animation. New screens look pretty, but the characters jerk about, spoiling the whole effect and wasting the opportunity to make something special. Though they wouldn’t fiddle with the animation, the control has been altered to allow the new artwork more screen space. However, it’s been replaced with another control scheme that is no where near as good as the original game. Though I tried to mostly play the game with the new graphics and voice acting there are certain puzzles which are virtually impossible to complete using the new control scheme (like getting the credit note from the store keeper or juggling the corrosive grog).

So, for me much of the special edition was a waste of time. For first timers it’s still a must buy, and it has a pretty decent hint system built in, but veterans might be turned off by the irritating changes.


One Response to “Tales of Monkey Island and The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition”

  1. […] of the problems with the control and inventory system are still present (see my review of the first chapter) and there’s even another maze-like forest to navigate, although this time it has a linear […]

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