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There are few video game series as loved as the Monkey Island games. Developed on the SCUMM engine by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman, the point-and-click adventure enjoyed several sequels in the 90’s, but fell out of the public eye as the genre moved out of the spotlight. With Telltale games’ revival of the Sam & Max series, rumblings of a Monkey Island return were started, and eventually came true at E3 2009. Mixed with the news of The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition's release and a slew of hard-to-find Lucasarts adventure titles hitting PCs in the near future, the stage seemed set for a full blown Point-and-Click revival. If the renicance is truely upon us, the first one through the door was to be Guybrush Threepwood. Does Telltale do for the Monkey Island series what they did for Sam and Max, or have they plundered more than they can carry?
The story picks up immediately after the never released (or actually developed) Monkey Island 5, and begins with the undead pirate LeChuck preforming an unholy voodoo ceremony on a ship, while Guybrush's wife watches helplessly. Heroically, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate, rushes into action with a powerful, voodoo-fighting scimitar. Sadly, due to a few complications, Guybrush had to make a few substitutions in the recipe, replacing fizzy root beer with fizzy root grog. It doesn't go well. Instead of slaying LeChuck, the would-be fatal blow turns him human, infecting Guybrush’s hand with the “Pox of Lechuck.”
The ship explodes, everything goes black, and Guybrush wakes up on Floatsam Island, where all gusts blow inland. As expected, leaving the island is a good deal more difficult than hoped. To get off, Guybrush needs to use his piratey wiles and interact with a large cast of characters, some old, some familiar, and all quirky and entertaining. With no time to waste, Guybrush needs to find his way off of Floatsam, rescue Elaine, defeat LeChuck, and find a way to stop toe Pox from spreading. Well, eventually, it’s only Episode One, after all.
Though running optimized for the Wii, Tales of Monkey Island looks and sounds great. It’s on a similar engine to the past few Telltale games, but still manages look as vivid and wonderful as could be hoped: the transition from 2D to 3D went well for Guybrush. Writing and voice-acting are stellar, with fantastic pop-culture references and one-liners. It’s hilarious, and represents some of the finest writing in adventure gaming. Being on the same engine means it's already optimized for what it needs to do best: point-and-click controls. As with other Telltale games, players walk around and solve puzzles which usually involve clicking items on other items. This time around Guybrush has a few new tricks up his sleeve, though, and can combinde items for more complicated puzzle solutions. He's also controlled directly, as is the case in the Wallace & Gromit games, emphasizing the adventure aspect.
For the most part, all of the game’s puzzles work very well. A good majority of them are polished, well thought out, and thoroughly clever in execution. It's enjoyable to play as a competent character in a world so full of bumbling ones, and Guybrush often earns the "mighty pirate" moniker he so frequently reminds people of. Sadly, that's not always the case. Occasionally puzzles fall flat, either failing to fully explain the premise or simply not being as obvious as Telltale hoped. These instances are admittedly (and luckily) rare, but detract from the otherwise stellar presentation.
Being the first episode in the season, “Launch of the Screaming Narwhal" shows amazing potential for the Tales of Monkey Island series. Already it’s better than both the Wallace & Gromit and Strongbad series, and makes a move on some episodes of Sam & Max. Fans of Monkey Island should be happy to know that this is the sequel they’ve waited years for, and the series’ future is in great hands. Hopefully the rest of the episodes keep up the quality, and bring the genre and franchise back to center stage.