There aren’t many games that can stand the test of time as well as Monkey Island. Many games that I remember fondly from my childhood are, if I’m being totally honest with myself, either unplayable now or about as enjoyable as yet another PS3 vs XBOX 360 game comparison article.
But Monkey Island completely bucks that trend. Admittedly the Adventure genre as a whole hasn’t suffered as much as most other genres have. Some would say this is mainly because the industry all but gave up on it over a decade ago. This could be, and to an extent is, probably true. However that would be doing a massive disservice to the quality of the games produced during this golden era, to the countless people that worked tirelessly on titles such as The Secret of Monkey Island, The Digg, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango, and to the fact that they’re just brilliant games, regardless of how long ago they were released or what genre they sit within.
Taking into consideration the legacy of the Monkey Island series, it was therefore a bit of a risk for TellTale to release brand new episodic content based on a series that isn’t recent, whose fans are so protective of the series and can, in some instances, even recite conversations word-for-word from the original game, and in a genre that, PC aside, doesn’t really still have much of an audience. But it paid off. The PC (and subsequently a short while thereafter, the Wii) version sold well, received positive critical praise from reviewers (myself being one of them) and everyone pretty much agreed that they had done the originals justice. Banana skin avoidance skill +10.
But when I heard that it was coming to the PS3 my heart sank, for two reasons. The first reason was because I was very concerned as to whether the PS3 audience would take to this type of game, and the second reason was because, well, how do I put this…the Sam & Max and Wallace & Gromit conversions released on the XBOX 360 were technically diabolical. Here were games that previously could run on fairly rudimentary PC specs, didn’t have GPU intensive visuals and had very little going on on-screen suffering on next-generation equipment. Watching well-known characters move around arthritically wasn’t a lot of fun and detracted from the atmosphere. It’s hard to believe it’s really Gromit on your screen when he’s walking around like an asthmatic ant carrying shopping.
While I can’t say for certain whether the PS3 audience will take to this type of game (it’s too early for sales figures to prove one way or the other at this stage), I can confirm that none of the technical issues that suffered previous TellTale console conversions exist. All of the characters move gracefully around the screen. None of the voice over work sounds as though it has been recorded down the phone, or suffer from lines of dialogues interrupting other lines. There is no slowdown when you ask Guybrush to walk across the screen and interact with a parrot and it actually ran much better than the PC version did on my 2gb, 1.9ghz laptop.
The control scheme can be a bit of a fuss, as was probably expected, but it works reasonably well and is much less twitchy than the one found in the Wallace & Gromit titles (although Guybrush still has an annoying tendency to suddenly walk in a different direction to that which you are pressing, or interacting with the plank on the boat instead of the map which you are walking towards). Interacting with objects not directly in front of you is easily dealt with by circling through all of the objects on-screen and in direct view of Guybrush with a press of L1 or R1, and all objects on-screen that can be interacted with can be viewed by pressing either of the triggers. The above method isn’t faultless, for some reason it won’t always allow you to cycle through to an interactive object in front of you until you move a miniscule distance to either side, but it wasn’t enough for me to consider deducting any points over or enough to prevent the PS3 version being my preferred version.
In terms of the game itself, Tales of Monkey Island is very enjoyable. While the majority of each of the five episodes can be played through fairly easily, there are always one or two puzzles that will have you stumped for much longer (especially in the latter episodes). The story also ties in nicely between episodes (unlike, for instance, the original Sam & Max games that may as well have been separate releases rather than episodic content) while not overusing characters, locations or puzzle-solutions to the point of annoyance.
The majority of the characters are memorable and indeed many of the supporting cast steal the show. To name any of them here could be interpreted as a spoiler, so I won’t, but you’ll know who I mean when you meet them. The episodes do vary in terms of quality, but no more than you would experience in a game made up of levels or stages. I’ve very rarely played a game where each stage or level is as good, if not better, than the last, and this is no exception.
The first episode sets the scene well, introducing you to key characters, seamlessly introducing the lead characters to those that may not be familiar with them from years-gone-by, and generally holds your hand throughout the puzzle solving. Nobody, not even newcomers to the genre, should have any problems with the first episode and should easily be able to complete it within three hours. The second episode is very much the same, although a couple of the puzzles are tougher and you may expect another half an hour game time out of it. It does however feel a bit like a filler episode; think second album syndrome.
The third episode is where it starts getting really interesting though. The characters suddenly take on more life, the puzzles become more ingenious and even more fun to solve, and the story becomes more intriguing. It’s also more difficult, not much, but just enough to challenge you and to make you consider everything in your inventory and how to use it. It’s hard to think how they could have made episode three any stronger (within the context of the game), and it sets up the final two episodes perfectly, both of which don’t quite meet the heights of the third but come very close.
All in all Tales of Monkey Island should take you around 15-20 hours to complete, possibly slightly longer if you are a complete newcomer to the genre, which coupled with how enjoyable it all is, and the very reasonable price-point of £13.99, makes it an almost essential purchase. It’s a perfect Sunday afternoon game; one that can lighten your mood, be comfortable and easy to play reclining in a chair and/or enjoyed with friends and family helping out with solutions.
There’s very little to mark Tales of Monkey Island down on. If I’m being critical I should point out that the ‘humour’ passed me by on a number of occasions (the original is still very funny, whereas there were a number of jokes that just failed to get any reaction from me, but as humour is subjective, it’s hard to be too critical on this point). I should also point out that the music and sound effects often make dialogue lines inaudible, resulting in a quick trip to the options menu to turn them down a little whenever you start a new episode. There are also a few rather long (relative to the episode length) and quiet scenes within each episode that not very much happens in, other than a fair bit of walking or scene setting. Finally the voiceover work, at times, is rather lacking. Elaine’s voice in particular stands out as one that isn’t delivered particularly well, and I’m still not sold on Guybrush’s voice being a great representation of his character, even if it is still the original voice actor.
It doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of its predecessors, especially ‘Secret’ and ‘Curse’, but then that’s surely akin to saying that Scarlett Johansson isn’t quite as stunning as Shakira. She isn’t, but I still would.