Is there a more revered video game series? The first two Monkey Island games were arguably the greatest point and click adventures ever made. The clever humour, timeless music, memorable characters and ingenious puzzles etched hapless pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood, gorgeous Governor Elaine Marley and ghost pirate LeChuck in gaming's pantheon of classic creations. Now, some nine years after the poorly received fourth game in the series, Escape from Monkey Island, fans finally have a brand new Monkey Island adventure: Tales of Monkey Island, divided into five episodes and developed by Telltale Games. The first, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, is available to download now for the PC.
Satisfying fans of the originals, those who were there, was an undoubtedly thankless task for Telltale. While the developer is made up of many ex-LucasArts employees, many of whom worked on the famed studio's classic adventure games, it was always going to prove impossible to pen a script, create characters and produce puzzles on a par with Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman's work. We all fondly remember Monkey Island's best moments through rose-tinted nostalgia contact lenses, if not giant goggles. Telltale is following not only the original work, but everyone's memory of it.
As a result, what we have is a decent five hour opening episode that suffers from not having a single moment you'll remember for longer than a day after completion. The game's functional – the graphics are vibrant and crisp (although the off-putting plasticine character models from previous Telltale games returns), and the voice actors, bar the awkwardly gruff Eastenders-esque Elaine, do a good job (Dominic Armato reprises his role as Guybrush from the third and fourth game). But, despite all this good work, there's something missing. After completing the game it's hard to pick out highlights – you have a more general feeling of having had a pleasant time than anything else.
This is in direct contrast to the first two Monkey Island games, adventures that were packed with stand out, hilarious, stick in your head forever moments. There are perhaps three genuinely funny lines throughout the entirety of the first episode – one a rebuke from a grizzled glass-blowing pirate, another a direct reference to the original game and the last a knowing nod to the silly reality of video games (“because of my plus-10 charisma?” and “man, those are some sturdy undies”). However, and this is a crucial however, there is not one bona fide laugh out load gag or slapstick moment throughout.
Even the plot feels underwhelming. The game begins with Guybrush chasing LeChuck across the Caribbean – Elaine is tied up on her own ship as LeChuck begins some kind of demented monkey sacrifice. Guybrush attempts a rescue, using a cutlass soaked in voodoo mojo. When he runs the ghost pirate through something goes wrong – LeChuck is transformed from ghost into living, breathing human, and his evil mojo is transported into Guybrush's left hand as well as spread across the sea.
To make matters worse, an explosion sends Guybrush spiralling into the ocean. He wakes up on the beach of Flotsam Island, a quiet pirate-infested land where the wind mysteriously blows inward, preventing any ship from leaving. Your overall goal is to get off the rock, track down your lovely wife and stop LeChuck's evil machinations once and for all, but in episode one it's all about sorting out that wind and getting hold of a ship.
The game can be played entirely with the mouse: left click and drag to move; left click to interact with the environment, items and objects; and click the scroll wheel to open the inventory (from there you can examine items, combine them and select them for use in the game). For the most part it works well, only getting fiddly when in the island's jungle – an icon allowing you to instantly transport to the area's entrance is easily clicked on by mistake when trying to get Guybrush to move to the left.