Amidst the mad shuffle of holiday releases, LucasArts quietly wrapped up work on an adventure game many of us have been waiting five years to play. The Curse of Monkey Island is an animated, graphic adventure based on the characters introduced in The Secret of Monkey Island (1990) and its sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge (1992). Like its predecessors, Curse has all the makings of a classic: great gameplay, fantastic graphics and music, challenging puzzles, a complex plot, and hilarious dialogue.
In Curse, you must once again help our wanna-be pirate hero, Guybrush Threepwood, in an epic struggle against the evil zombie pirate LeChuck, who just refuses to stay dead. Once more, LeChuck schemes to kidnap and marry Elaine Marley, governor of half the Caribbean and Guybrush's true love. Drifting into the story just in time to thwart LeChuck's plans, Guybrush stumbles across a cursed diamond engagement ring in the hold of the now thrice-dispatched LeChuck. Unfortunately, our hero slips the ring onto Elaine's finger and transforms her into a gold statue. Just when the situation looked as grim as it could be, a group of mysterious pirates steals Elaine and sails away. So now Guybrush must find his love and discover a way to remove the curse. The adventure can be played on two difficulty levels and is split into six parts. The first is integrated into the introductory story outlined above and is basically a warm-up period. The rest of the game is played much like Full Throttle, Sam 'n' Max, and other LucasArts adventures. You start out on Plunder Island, near the bustling town of Puerto Pollo. Wandering around the island, you'll need to speak to everyone you meet, pick up everything you can carry, and solve a number of bizarre and hilarious puzzles. Eventually, you'll track down Elaine and lift the curse, but only to find yourself faced with an even tougher challenge.
The interface is similar to the one used in Full Throttle. When you want to interact with a person or object, you pull up a simple action menu that lets you use your hands, your eyes, or your mouth. For example, when you run across a large block of tofu, you might pick it up, look at it, or eat it. Conversations in Curse are crucial and often hysterical. The wit of earlier LucasArts games is alive and well here and the voice acting is excellent. Keep an ear out for some well-delivered references to Star Wars, Myst, William Shatner, and even the LucasArts game design philosophy.
Curse has a great, cartoonish look to it. Throughout the game, you'll marvel at the spectacular, film-quality animationThis game is as much fun to watch as it is to play. The music, as you might expect from LucasArts, is phenomenal. In fact, you'll hear updated versions of a few familiar themes from the original Monkey Island games. A few familiar characters will pop up too, including the Voodoo Lady and Wally the cartographer. There are also some great new characters like Murray the demon-spawned skull and Haggis McMutton the pirate barber.
The game's many puzzles are well designed and challenging, but without being utterly frustrating. For the most part, the puzzles are well integrated into the story. Only one - right near the end of the game - struck me as random and a bit disjointed. When you come across a puzzle you'll usually need to solve it using one of the objects in your inventory. If it works, you'll know immediately. If it doesn't, Guybrush will either tell you or offer subtle hints about the correct puzzle solution. Often, you'll need to combine multiple items before you can use them to solve a puzzle. Don't forget to check and recheck your inventory for items you haven't yet tried. Nine times out of ten, you'll have the answer right in the palm of your hand. Also, make sure you revisit locations after significant moments in the plot, since new items and locations often appear as you move through the game.
At one point, you'll get to try your hand at ship-to-ship combat. This segment is like a combination of the memorable insult sword fights of the original Monkey Island and the arcade-style combat of MicroProse's Pirates! or SSI's Buccaneer. For those of you who hated the combat sequences in Full Throttle, you'll be happy to know that you can bypass most of the ship-to-ship action (but not the insult sword fights - one of the game's many high points).
There simply isn't much to dislike about this game, except possibly the ending, which seemed a bit abrupt and anticlimactic after 20 hours of gameplay. Still, The Curse of Monkey Island should more than satisfy the cravings of the Monkey Island faithful and even appeal to gamers who don't typically go in for graphic adventures.