Tales of Monkey Island

Game Description: As with its predecessors, Tales of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure game. Players assume the role of protagonist Guybrush Threepwood, a hapless wannabe pirate, in exploring 3D environments and solving a variety of puzzles. In contrast to previous games by Telltale Games, but in keeping with preceding Monkey Island games, Tales of Monkey Island allows players to combine certain items in their inventory to create new items. The game world is explored through use of the keyboard and mouse on the PC, and the Nunchuk on the Wii. Each chapter of the game is estimated to be between two and four hours, depending on the player's ability to deal with the puzzles.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter One: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review

Won't anyone think of the monkeys?

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Screenshot 

HIGH Pink Pajama Pierre...say that three times fast.

LOW Wandering the jungle in circles, trying to figure out the map when you're not good with maps.

WTF Voodoo root-beer.

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™ has a bit of a problem. While fighting the evil (and undead) LeChuck, he screwed up a voodoo recipe and, instead of destroying his nemesis, turned him human. And then he left LeChuck alone on a ship—with his wife. To make matters worse, Guybrush's hand is all green and poxy and has totally gone Dr. Strangelove: punching him in the face, making rude gestures at people and generally not cooperating with him. Our hero finds himself stranded on an island where the winds always blow inward; thus, it's impossible to sail away from it. Will Guybrush ever make it off of Flotsam Island? Will he see his wife Elaine again? Will he be able to save all those monkeys from whatever horrible thing LeChuck is trying to do to them?

Part of LucasArts's long-standing Monkey Island point-and-click adventure game series, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is the first of five chapters in Tales of Monkey Island. Although he's a swashbuckling pirate, the only rapier Guybrush uses is his wit. He gets what he wants by talking to people, and by finding, combining and using items. (Throwing a plant root into a barrel of grog is a cheap way to get root beer).

Just because there's no enemy-slashing doesn't mean that Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is boring. The game sparkles with likeable characters and humor. There are plenty of Monkey Island veterans on the development team—including design director Dave Grossman, who worked on the original Monkey Island and its sequel—as well as people who've worked on Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People and Sam & Max Hit the Road. Thus, there's plenty of good comedy writing on display here. In fact, the game's writing is so good that I don't know how to review it without giving everything away. The game itself was surprisingly difficult; seeing every single thing in the environment as potentially useful took a lot of getting used to, and I had to consult an FAQ more times than I care to admit.

I'm not very good with maps, so I wasn't fond of the jungle where Threepwood spends quite a bit of time. In this jungle he follows maps which have pictures of animals on them (a bee, a monkey, a boar, and a bird). At diverging paths, players must listen for the sound of the animal next on the map and follow it. Unfortunately, there are no visual cues for these sounds at all, so gamers with hearing impairments will have unnecessary difficulty.

These puzzles are just a vehicle to move the story along: lab-rat tasks that reward us with Guybrush Threepwood's wit and wisdom ("It's amazing how many of life's problems are solved by indiscriminate cannon fire"), as well as his uncanny ability to run into interesting (read: strange) people. There's Davey Nipperkin, a reporter who's amid a drought of treasure-huntin,' ship-stealin,' bar-fightin' pirate news; a Spanish explorer searching for the ultra-rare Dark Ninja Dave doll Power Pirate action figure, and a creepy French doctor who wants Threepwood to donate his hand to science—while he's still using it.

Yes, these characters are stereotypes, or 180-degree reversals of same (the scurvy pirate who makes and sells glassblown unicorns, for instance). Still, what are pirate stories but fairy-tales with a grain of historical truth? Indeed, as I played I kept thinking of The Princess Bride, and I don't think the game's skinny blond pirate protagonist is the only reason why. The satire on display here is neither subtle nor particularly insightful, but it is funny. And Guybrush is so likeable—in that pestering, caddish sort of way—that I want to know what happens to him. That, really, is what a serial game should accomplish; to leave players hungry for more. Rating:7.5 out of 10 Dark Ninja Daves

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed 1 time). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains alcohol reference, comic mischief, mild language, mild suggestive themes. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal has a couple of jokes about underwear and bodily functions, as well as many references to grog. There's a scene where The Voodoo Lady tells a long and apparently graphic story about her lover, but the player never hears it. The most potentially offensive line is when someone tells Guybrush that he has "pirate spunk" and Guybrush says, "Ew." E10+ seems like a pretty accurate rating to me.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: You're going to have some problems. While you can turn subtitles on in the Settings menu, there's a jungle that Guybrush can only find his way around by following the sounds of different animals. Online walkthoughs give good directions, but Guybrush spends a good-sized chunk of the game in this jungle. the developers could definitely have put some visual indicators in.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Two: The Siege of Spinner Cay Review

Something's fishy in Spinner Cay

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Two: The Siege of Spinner Cay Screenshot

HIGH The main characters are as strong as before—perhaps moreso.

LOW The secondary characters? Not so much.

WTF Swashbuckly ending! Wait—WHAT?!

When we last left Guybrush Threepwood, he was sailing his ship, the Screaming Narwhal, away from an evil French doctor. But, the Marquee DeSinge will pay any price for Threepwood and his voodoo-cursed hand; in The Siege of Spinner Cay, we find our hero facing off against hired mercenary Morgan LeFlay. She gets his hand, but he gets her grappling hook to use as a suitably pirate-y replacement. Free from the inconvenience of a defiant cursed hand (and now sporting a very stylish hook), Guybrush docks in a town called Spinner Cay, which is full of merfolk. This place may be the key to finding La Esponja Grande, the cure for the voodoo pox.

Although I've heard of LucasArts' venerable Monkey Island series, these Tales... spinoffs from Telltale are the first Monkey Island games I've ever played. (My last experience with a point-and-click adventure game was Riven, many years ago). While I'm still getting the hang of the whole not-really-killing-enemies thing, I also still enjoy the games' humor and their characters, who are often not what they seem to be at first glance.

"Do I LOOK like a man who knows what's good for me?" Guybrush tells a pirate infected with the voodoo pox that he released Pandora-like upon the world via his own incompetence. His wife, Elaine, is not so much a damsel-in-distress as an assistant, a Jeeves to her husband's Bertie Wooster. By the time Threepwood "rescues" her, she's got everything under control: the monkeynapped primates are being rounded up, and the pirate who abducted her isn't such a bad guy after all. In fact, he's hunting magical artifacts in the jungle right now! Why don't you go help him, honey?

If The Siege of Spinner Cay has a weakness, it's that the game's secondary characters aren't as rich or as interesting as they were in the first installment. The merfolk who inhabit the Cay are all carbon-copies of one another. Guybrush can't tell the men from the women, and this same non-descriptness is reflected in their personalities as well. There are exceptions—pirate hunter LeFlay and the pair of poxy pirates who are supposed to bury a golden artifact for their captain come to mind—but on the whole, the people (and fish) Guybrush meets aren't as fun this time around.

Nonetheless, the Threepwoods and LeChuck are still as amusing as ever. I definitely want to know what happens next. Especially after the ending: "I wasn't expecting that at all" doesn't even approach my feelings about it. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures This game was obtained via publisher and was reviewed on the PC. Approximately 6 hours were spent in single-player mode; it was completed one time. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains alcohol reference, cartoon violence, mild language, suggestive themes. If children can watch a PG-rated movie, they should be fine with The Siege of Spinner Cay. Guybrush Threepwood is a bit morally ambiguous for a hero (he is a pirate, after all), but all the violence is Loony Toon-ridiculous and the suggestive themes are not even strong enough to be double entendres.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: Unlike the previous installment, Spinner Cay is totally accessible. There are subtitle options for the dialogue, and there are no significant auditory cues. Even the one puzzle that depends on sound is captioned.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Three: Lair of the Leviathan Review

"This should be interesting. Or fraught with peril."

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 3 Lair of the Leviathan Screenshot

HIGH Murray's rendition of the closing credits.

LOW These games are always over too soon.

WTF Much of the game takes place inside a giant manatee.

Things aren't going well for Guybrush Threepwood. His ship is stuck inside a giant manatee (don't ask), and Threepwood fangirl-turned pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay is stuck with him. To top it off, the manatee's lost his sense of direction, and explorer Coronado De Cava has asked Guybrush to replace his old crew, who all died. But if De Cava's crew are dead, who are those guys partying like frat boys in the belly of the beast? Can Guybrush steer the lost manatee back on course? And for the love of God, why don't manatees have blowholes?

Lair of the Leviathan is the strangest chapter of Tales of Monkey Island yet—and I mean that as a compliment. Guybrush Threepwood spends much of the adventure inside a giant manatee, water-sliding from mouth to belly and sidestepping pools of bile, which apparently have a high alcohol content. (Beware that yellow stuff, though, bra). In order to get free and find the voodoo-magic-sucking Esponja Grande and thereby rid the world of the voodoo pox that is ultimately his fault, Guybrush must befriend a brotherhood of bile-drunk partiers. Joining the Brotherhood will take all of his wits...and most of his liver.

An adventure game is nothing without puzzles, and those in Lair of the Leviathan are challenging but sensical—the kind that might make me check an FAQ, but then I'd feel silly afterwards. ("Oh, of course!") While in training for a pirate face-making contest, Guybrush must "collect" funny faces from the other pirates to use in his arsenal. De Cava refuses to make a face if "asked" directly ("ARR!"); he also refuses to drink the yellow bile, because it causes his eyes to do funny things. It was easy enough to put two and two together—trick De Cava into drinking yellow bile, get his coveted pirate face—but I couldn't figure how how to do that on my own. After finding the answer in an FAQ I thought: "Hey! That's really clever!"

While I thought characterization was lacking in the previous installment, it makes a triumphant return here. The Brotherhood are stereotypical in a fun, cartoonish way: there's the nerd, the bad-boy leader, and the frat boy who owes a debt to Sean Penn's character in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Their personalities, so familiar to us, are ripe for Guybrush to play off of. Shy Noogie wants a date with Morgan LaFlay, and Threepwood promises him one—but tells Morgan he's sending her on a three-pronged "recon mission."

Morgan herself is not as simple (or as evil) as she first appears. She highlights Guybrush's dismissive attitude towards women, mostly because she doesn't put up with it. While his wife Elaine either ignores his arrogance or thinks it's cute, Morgan's responses are those of a fan who realizes that the object of her admiration isn't so great after all. She shakes her head, rolls her eyes, tosses his (autographed) picture away. But she is never crushed; Morgan confronts her idol's imperfection and doesn't let him treat her like crap. When Guybrush needs her help in a fight, she makes him apologize to her—properly—before she jumps in.

Lair of the Leviathan is, I think, the best chapter of Tales of Monkey Island so far. Here's hoping the quality writing and characterization continues in the remaining chapters. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately six hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode (completed 1 time). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains alcohol reference, comic mischief, mild language, mild suggestive themes. Like its Tales of Monkey Island predecessors, Lair of the Leviathan should be appropriate for older kids. There's some sexual innuendo (dating is a heavy theme in this game), as well as some alcohol- (well, bile- ) drinking.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: All dialogue is subtitled (captions can be turned on in the Options), and there are no significant auditory cues—though you will miss out on Murray the Skull's snarky interpretation of the end credits.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Four: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood Review

Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate-at-Law

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Four: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood Screenshot

HIGH The Harry Potter-esque way that the plotline connects back to Chapter 1.

LOW The gameplay connects back to Chapter 1 (i.e. the jungle) as well.

WTF Morgan?! Nooooooo!

After an adventure inside a manatee he'd just as soon forget, Captain Threepwood is back on Flotsam Island—and all his dastardly deeds have caught up with him. The people of Flotsam are charging him with everything from scalding the finest leg on the island with nacho sauce to consonant defacement. And Guybrush, never one to pass up anything self-serving or foolhardy, offers to defend himself at trial. How will he get out of this mess in one piece? (Hint: with lots of lying, bribery and mischief-making).

In Chapter 4 of Tales of Monkey Island (The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood), our hero faces his greatest challenge yet: the pirate legal system. Channeling Phoenix Wright, he must threaten buy off cross-examine witnesses and tamper with collect evidence. Ensign Hemlock's cat was paralyzed with fear by Guybrush's bar fight? Nothing some iron shavings and an electromagnetic monkey can't fix!

Once again, there are all kinds of interesting characters for Guybrush to meet up with. In court is the perpetually hand-waving prosecutor Stan (remember him?) who tries to sell cheap trial souvenirs after hours. The Right Honorable Judge Wallace P. Grindstump mixes drinks in Club 41 at night. Perhaps Guybrush's interactions with them don't have the depth of his relationship with Morgan LeFlay in the previous installment, but they're still funny.

As for the puzzles, they run the gamut from clever to downright confusing. In between fetching Joachin de Oro a glass eye the color of Pirate Pox Rage ("like all the cool pirates have") and winning a Fugu Jolokia pepper by holding it to his tongue for 11 seconds (which is harder than it looks), Guybrush has to once again brave the jungle with a map. This time, the map in question is a menu of specific meals which must be fed in a certain order for the voodoo-sucking La Esponja Grande, in order to mature the artifact enough to cure everyone of the Pox of LeChuck. The way(s) Guybrush folds the map effect the physical layout of the jungle—which is actually pretty clever, once I figured it out. I've never liked the jungle—for personality and spatial processing reasons—but it doesn't come close to ruining the game for me.

While Lair of the Leviathan is still my favorite chapter so far, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood still has plenty of everything about the Tales of Monkey Island series that I like: quality writing, loveable characters, and challenging puzzles. I'm sorry there's only one more installment left. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclosures This game was obtained via publisher and played on a PC. Approximately six hours were spent in the single-player mode. (Completed one time). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains: comic mischief, language, mild suggestive themes. Captain Threepwood isn't the most heroic of video game protagonists (he is a pirate, after all). Yes, ordering drinks in a bar is essential to solving a couple of puzzles. And yes, Morgan LeFlay and his wife duke it out while calling each other all sorts of creative names. But everything is more innuendo than explicit; this game should be fine for older children.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: You should have no problems. Subtitles can be turned on in the Options menu and there are no significant auditory cues, unlike the last time Guybrush visited the jungle.

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Five: Rise of the Pirate God Review

"Oh, Heck no. I am not Getting Stuck in this Afterlife."

Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Five: Rise of the Pirate God Screenshot

HIGH: Needing to combine puzzle-solving with speed in the final sequence.

LOW: Needing to combine puzzle-solving with speed in the final sequence.

WTF: Noogie is dead!? Nooo!

My time with Telltale's Tales of Monkey Island series has been amusing, strange, fun—and a little scary. Most of the games I play are paeans to patience rather than skill; if I'm stuck, I just need to kill more enemies, upgrade my weapons or brush up on my roshambo. ("Ah...fire beats ice!") Although every game I've ever played has puzzles in it, I'm not used to sustaining that kind of thinking without some mindless mob-smashing to break it up. Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate ™ may not fight enemies aside from "insult swordfighting" and the occasional face-making contest, but his adventures have allowed me to flex my puzzle-solving muscle in ways that make sense, aren't too overwhelming, and are hilarious.

All these things are still true about Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Five: Rise of the Pirate God. The last chapter of the series opens in a graveyard, where Guybrush Threepwood is buried. Yes, he's really dead. Killed by the LeChuck, he's now in the pirate afterlife. There's Galeb, a "strange old man who kind of smells like olives" and takes pictures of newly-dead souls wandering into the Crossroads for the first time; there's a grog machine (Diet Grog and Grog XD are sold out, natch), and a whole room full of buried treasure. A pirate could stay here forever—unless a formerly-human zombie has kidnapped his wife, of course.

The writing and character development are strengths here, as always, but this is the story's climax; such things take a back seat to action, and the puzzles really shine in this installment. The final showdown between Captain Threepwood and LeChuck is almost as frustrating as it is clever. Guybrush is aboard LeChuck's ship, and his archnemesis will not leave him alone. Like some zombie cuckoo-clock figurine, LeChuck shows up every so often to throw Guybrush to a different part of the ship. The trick is to find context-sensitive items and interact with them as quickly as possible. For instance, under the ship's keel is a key, which Guybrush can snatch when LeChuck throws him that way for a keelhauling.

This last series of puzzles is highly complex—it is the climax of the last chapter in the Tales of Monkey Island series, after all—but Telltale doesn't make it any more frustrating than necessary. Once the player does what she needs to do in a certain area of the ship (gets the key under the ship's keel, let's say), that area gets taken out of rotation and LeChuck stops throwing Guybrush there.

While earlier installments had more interesting interaction between the characters, Rise of the Pirate God ends the series on a high note, gameplay-wise. It also leaves me sad that there aren't any more. I'll miss the perfectly balanced anachronisms, the love-struck manatees, and the truly bizarre puzzles that somehow make total sense. (Of course giving monkeys electric shock makes them collect keys for you). But most of all, I will miss that not-so mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood. His mixture of amorality and naïveté—the sort of thing so many Japanese RPGs try to accomplish but don't—makes him a joy to play. I've had so much fun with Guybrush, I'm ready to play the original Monkey Island games. Rating: 7.5 out of 10.

Disclaimer: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PC. Approximately six hours of play were spent in single-player mode (completed 1 time). There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains alcohol reference, cartoon violence, mild language and mild suggestive themes. Parents of older children don't have much to worry about. As always, the "alcohol reference" is to grog, the "language" consists of the occasional "hell" and "damn," and the sexual innuendo is much milder than in Tales of Monkey Island Chapter Three: Lair of the Leviathan. The player character is a (bumbling, incompetent) pirate, so some emphasis is put on stealing treasure and lying. It's all in good fun, though.

Deaf and Hard of Hearing: You should have no problems. All dialogue is subtitled (you can turn on the subtitles in the Options menu) and there are no significant auditory cues.