Tales is a triumph for episodic gaming and edges very closely to being in the same class as The Curse of Monkey Island

User Rating: 9 | Tales of Monkey Island PC
The signature quality of the Monkey Island series, since it was first developed by Ron Gilbert and Lucasfilm Games in 1992, has been its self-awareness and depreciative humour. Before the outbreak of military simulations, gamers warmed fondly to the often hilarious antics of an anachronistic, wannabe pirate, Guybrush Threepwood. Till recently the adventure genre looked to become extinct as gamers embraced more casual and action-based experiences. Telltale Games, a company specialising in episodic gaming, reinvigorated adventure games by relaunching intellectual properties like Sam and Max through digital distribution services. Tales of Monkey Island is the fifth Monkey Island game and the first not to be developed by LucasArts. It is also one of the best because across each of its five downloadable chapters it's a surprisingly involving adventure, with puzzles that are likely to both challenge and frustrate gamers. Yet it rewards the patient player with a genuinely funny script and charming characters too.

From the outset Tales makes interesting changes to reinvigorate its familiar premise. The player is again cast as Guybrush Threepwood, out to save his wife Elaine Marley from the demon pirate LeChuck, who has stalked them for years across the Caribbean. Yet the opening epilogue of the first chapter, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, cleverly throws the player a curve ball. A spell that is meant to destroy LeChuck turns him into a human and then casts a pox that infects and posses Guybrush's hand and dozens of other pirates too. Washed up on the seemingly inescapable Flotsam Island, Guybrush must find a way to return to Elaine and stop the plague. From here players are tasked with picking up and stealing items and talking to zany characters to solve an assortment of tricky puzzles. Guybrush handles relatively smoothly with a keyboard, although having to hold down the run key can feel sticky at times. Pleasantly, the interface is minimal. A very clean and simple inventory keeps track of your items and allows you to inspect or combine objects together.

In fitting with the games humorous and wildly playful tone, many of the games puzzles are deliberately implausible. They require a lot of guesswork, trail-and-error, or the process of elimination by scanning each area for objects. There's little gravity about the situations, which can make them as funny as they are difficult. The game starts off a little slowly with Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. There's a frustrating maze sequence and a few annoying characters but from the start of the second chapter and onwards there's more variety to the puzzles and more locations to explore. It gradually builds momentum and it is surprising how involving the crazy plot becomes. This is in part due to the games exciting use of the episodic format, with each chapter ending with a rousing climax. It's a very effective technique because I was inspired to download the next chapter immediately.

The game does not rest on the glory of the franchises well-loved foundations either as some liberties are taken in develops the game's story and characters. There are hints at new relationships between unlikely pairings, leaving the narrative as reasonably unpredictable. However, some of the threads tie-up a little too safely, Guybrush's relationship with his assassin and admirer Morgan LeFlay in particular and the game also has a weaker grasp on some of its bigger revelations towards the end. After finishing the fifth chapter, be sure to stay till after the credits to see how one loose end is tied up. These complaints aside, the game's writers have a sophisticated understanding of comedy. The key to any kind of comedy is to play it straight. Dominic Armato reads Guybrush perfectly, a young man entirely nonchalant about his separation from the rest of the pirate world but also entirely naive about his own anachronistic traits too. When contrasted with the gloomy and overdramatic speak of the side characters, a near-perfect comedic tone is achieved. Only a few characters, like a newspaper reporter called Davey Nipperkin, feel misplaced and Morgan LeFlay's voice work sounds more like a character from a Disney movie. But adding to the fun of the buccaneering are broad swipes at modern life including: celebrity, political parties, the legal system and groaning pop culture references. Tales of Monkey Island wins big for being as smart as it is laugh out loud hilarious.

For those who are willing to spend multiple hours searching for tiny items and wading through some rather obscure clues, each episode of Tales of Monkey Island will thoroughly reward these persistent players. The continuation and development of many of these very lovable characters will bring back and surprise old fans of the series. Those unfamiliar to the games will be amused by the hysterical writing and pitch-perfect voice work that takes aim at all aspects of modern society. Aside from a slightly rushed final chapter and a lack of replay value, Tales is a triumph for episodic gaming and edges very closely to being in the same class as The Curse of Monkey Island.