I am - like most people I know who like computer games - a huuuuuuge "Monkey Island" fan. The first "Monkey Island" game was the first adventure game I had; back when I had a 386 SX with 2 megs of RAM and 20 MHz.
Before that, I got to know "Murder On The Mississippi", then "Maniac Mansion" and then "Zak McKracken" - I played all of those on the Commodore 64 of a good friend, so I wasn't a complete stranger to graphic adventures with a SCUMM interface back then.
I remember sitting at home of another good friend watching him play through "The Secret Of Monkey Island" in two sessions together with that friend I mentioned above. So it was basically more like watching a funny adventure film in two parts on two evenings rather than playing a game because we "only" watched. It was an awesome experience nonetheless, of course. So later I got the game myself and really enjoyed it. (Probably mostly because I still remembered the solutions to most puzzles in the game, I must admit.) You might imagine the awesomeness of having an own comedic, piratey world to explore in form of a computer game at home.
That was 19 years ago.
Of course, I also got the sequels that were made. "Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge", the voodoo-soaked epic adventure with the weird and definitive ending which was so strangely glossed over (if not huggermuggered) about six years later by the long awaited, near-perfect and very moody comic extravaganza "The Curse Of Monkey Island". Apart from the fact that main (anti-)hero Guybrush Threepwood(, Mighty Pirate™) had apparently turned into a skinny beanpole and the whole epic plot from the predecessors were replaced by a story that resembled a comedy series feel like "oh fun! What will that droll evil LeChuck be up to next?", everything was just perfect. With the (again, long awaited) fourth part of the series, "Escape From Monkey Island", which came out another 3 years later, it got rather bland. The once so romantic and adventurous pirate world was replaced by some dull 3D environment that felt like an artificial tourist trap of the present day instead of a pirate-infested caribbean dream - with real estate brokers, Starbucks, desk job contracts and lawyers. Well, at least it still was relatively lively and full of detail and contained some recollections of places and persons of the first game, so it was sort of okay. If you were able to cope with the horrible keyboard controls, that is.
Now it's 2009. For 9 years nothing had happened in Guybrush's world. Then - suddenly! - three things happened. Firstly, I nearly got a heart attack when I read the headlines that secondly, there was a new "Monkey Island" underway and that thirdly, the first part of the series would get a remake by LucasArts themselves. Little did I know what all this would turn out to be...
Let's first turn to the remake of "Monkey Island 1", called "The Secret Of Monkey Island - Special Edition". It contains all-new comic graphics, speech that's done perfectly and the great soundtrack that's also been redone. "What more could you ask for?" you might ask.
Well... for starters, Guybrush's looks quite... erm... take getting used to a bit (the portrait you can see above is one of the better pictures you'll see in the game). With the rest of the character portraits (that were so magnificent in their original versions in 1990) it also varies a lot! Carla, the swordmaster was masterfully recreated as well as her acquaintance Smirk. The two guys they absolutely f*&ked up graphically are the two pirates in the Scumm Bar: Mancomb Seepgood and the other guy with the glass eye that's so afraid of LeChuck. Well... some people say they fit in that new style of graphics but in my personal opinion they look absolutely ridiculous. In their original portraits you could take them serious, you could imagine they're real pirates. In their new versions they look like retarded fools, nothing more. This new graphical character design is a shame - because the locations in the game are breathtakingly beautiful!!
Thus, it's a good thing you can change from new graphics to old graphics in an instant by pressing a button, of course! But that doesn't make the new style of graphics any better, does it? Oh, and they messed up the controls, too... with an emphasis on changing between keyboard and mouse control it gets unneccessarily difficult. Anyone ever tried freeing Otis with these controls? Another thing which in my opinion sucks a lot is the fact that as soon as you change to the old graphic style you don't hear any speech anymore. I can understand that it changes the background music to the old style but the speech should have been there anyway! Why didn't they implement an option where you can turn it on and off? Would have been the best way if you ask me.
Oh well, let's stop hanging around in the past and let's see what the NEW stuff is like! Telltale Games, the ones that already gave us the great episodic "Sam & Max"-series now makes a new series called:
Until now, there are two episodes out already (yeah, it's episodic, too, following a monthly schedule), called "Launch Of The Screaming Narwhal" and "The Siege Of Spinner Cay". I've played through the first one and I'm right in the middle of the second one. Which actually is the reason I started this (huge) blog entry in the first place.
In the past few weeks Telltale Games began spreading the word that "Tales Of Monkey Island" is their best selling game series of all time - like that's some kind of achievement! Yeah right guys! No matter what other company would have made a new "Monkey Island" game - it would have sold JUST AS MANY COPIES AS YOU!! 'Cause it's a "Monkey Island" game! It's a game each and every adventure gamer has been waiting for in the past 9 (read: NINE!!) YEARS! Just what did you think would happen??! Each time the topic "graphic adventure" is mentioned in a conversation anywhere in the world, the next words that come up are "Monkey Island", sure thing!
Bad things first: the new "Monkey Island" is in 3D (am I imagining things or did I actually hear some fans yelping in frustration again...?) with some surprisingly empty locations, (senselessly) horrible controls and really sparse dialogue. The worst thing about the controls is that you navigate Guybrush via the WASD-keys on the keyboard or (if you really feel like you need the extra frustration) you hold the right mouse button to make guybrush run and turn some tiny compass that's to be seen around him with the mouse to specify the direction - you can see that (really thin) circle with the arrow around Guybrush in the picture on the left. That simply sucks. It is beyond me why Telltale didn't use a simple point & click interface! Or... as the Angry Video Game Nerd would put it... "what were they thinking??" Sometimes I think they used these controls to hide the fact that there are too few things to click on (that's what I've been talking about above by mentioning the "surprisingly empty locations"). If they had used a point & click interface it might have been too obvious that there's actually not much to point and click on!
And as there's not much to see, there's not much to say either. Remember the huge amount of funny lines, all the hilarious dialogue from Monkey Island 3 and 4? I've played through those two games quite some times (German and English versions) - and still I know I haven't heard all of the countless contained comedic comments! Now, "Tales" may leave you sore as there are roughly five short lines to choose from in each dialogue with a character and as soon as you've clicked them you'll recognize that there aren't any more! They just repeat all over again! Also, Guybrush doesn't seem half as funny as in the previous parts! In Monkey 4 he always had a funny (and senseless, most of the time) comment to say between two sentences. Well, not anymore. Just keep that in mind when you buy "Tales", so that you aren't that unpleasantly surprised later on.
And did I mention that Guybrush - again! - looks quite strange? In my opinion his face is a lot too long and the emphasis on his cheekbones looks unpretty. I liked Guybrush most in Monkey Island 2 (in-game) and Monkey Island 4 (on the boxart). Then again, that's a matter of taste, too...
Well... as soon as you're actually IN the game you'll recognize that it's an experience you want to make anyway! Wanna know why that is?
"Tales Of Monkey Island" has some brilliant voice acting (featuring the original voice actor for Guybrush: Dominic Armato, who REALLY did a great job), an awesome soundtrack, nice puzzles and an interesting plot. In fact the plot is so interesting - I wish they had done something like that earlier on in a 2D-game!! On the other hand it already seems quite a bit predictable how it all will turn out.
How it will turn out exactly? I guess we'll have to wait another 4 months for that - until the last of the six episodes will be released. I'll launch ScummVM now and play a bit of "LeChuck's Revenge" again... now where did I leave that bottle o' near-grog again...