By Marty Mulrooney
After the euphoria that came along with the realisation that NEW Monkey Island games were being made started to wear off, I began to panic. Perhaps my review of Narwhal had been over generous? Perhaps the only way forward from there on was downwards. After all, there is a lot riding on this new series of games, not just for the future of the franchise, but perhaps for the future of the genre. Luckily, although there are some minor hick-ups in the second chapter of Tales Of Monkey Island, it largely builds on the strengths of the past episode. In fact, it served to remind me exactly why my review for Chapter 1 was justified in it’s praise: Monkey Island is back, and it is never less than a pleasure to watch Guybrush in his latest crazy adventure, doing what he does best… and some other stuff he sucks at!
The game starts immediately were the last game left off, with a stunning sword fight that left me grinning from ear to ear. The camera-angles, music and puzzle solving in this section all combine here to produce a fantastic opening that is so good, it actually made the rest of the game feel slightly too slow paced. Luckily, good things come to those who wait, and the new story has plenty of surprises in store. Mer-People confuse Guybrush with their elusive genders, LeChuck is STILL acting like a good guy and Elaine is seeming a little bit strange…
But before all that, I must say that I love the slightly new direction Telltale have taken with our hero Guybrush Threepwood. Let us not forget, in the past games he has done some pretty impressive stuff, and news travels fast! This is not to say that Guybrush is no longer a wimp at times (he is) or that he wears the pants in his relationship (he doesn’t). Still, there were moments in this episode were, quite frankly, he was a BADASS! His steely gaze, his fearlessness during a sword fight… Guybrush definitely has a harder edge than before and I really like it! It is about time that he grew a bit more into the mighty pirate that he tells everyone he is. This ties back nicely to when Elaine says the “mighty pirate” line at the beginning of Chapter 1. Originally, I though this line was a throwaway joke. Revisiting the scene now, I get the impression Elaine is starting to believe it, and with good reason! I like Guybrush being something of a Legend akin to the way LeChuck had been known far and wide for years.
I don’t want to tell any more of the story for fear of ruining anyones fun, but I will say that Spinner Cay features a series of islands (The Jerkbait Islands), and I really liked how there was a lot of sea travel involved in this Chapter. It added to the feeling of being a pirate, and more than that, the idea of being a sailor and a captain. Guybrush also undergoes a new transformation that I won’t spoil, but surprised me in it’s simplicity in the short term, yet its complexity in the long term. I guess now he is more of a pirate than ever!
The graphics are overall at least as good as what we have seen before, feeling nice and solid with some lovely lighting effects added this time round. Sadly, some of the graphical blemishes from the last episode still remain (such as seams visible in certain textures) and I didn’t really appreciate yet another jungle maze. It felt like some assets were simply being reused which was a bit disappointing. There was also one point in the game (a cutscene) were the background was ridiculously low res and blurred as hell. This was quite bizarre and annoyed me a fair bit: are we starting to see the trade-offs for the game also having to be a certain size for the Wii-Store release? I hope not, and will give Telltale the benefit of the doubt for now, as the rest of the game was great.
My main worry in this regard (trade-offs due to the Wii and also due to the PC download size) was definitely audio quality. The first game was fine to my ears, yet upon playing Spinner Cay, one scene near the beginning in particular had Elaine’s dialogue sounding awful! I actually reinstalled my sound card thinking it was dying on me! Luckily, not long after release, Telltale updated the game file so it has uncompressed audio. (From 229mb originally to 257mb now). The dialogue now sounds fine, and I hope in future episodes this will prove to be a non-issue. Players who have the original files installed can download the new one and it will just update the files and keep their saves. New players yet to download the game need not fear, you will never experience the sound of Elaine popping and hissing. Just download the game as usual and you will be good to go!
Chapter 2 felt slightly shorter to me than Chapter 1, but I don’t mind too much. It didn’t feel stretched out and had a nice pace to it. One area I feel the game has improved since Narhwhal is the dialogue and the jokes. Guybrush and Elaine are better than ever (Dominic Armato and Alexandra Boyd have some great chemistry and comic timing) and some new characters, especially a certain pirate-hunter, slot into the world of Monkey Island very nicely indeed. Even Winslow is growing on me all the time! I think that Guybrush’s pyrite parrot is the surprise of the chapter though. He has some of the best lines in the whole game! (Well, the same line really, but it is funny as hell!) He may even break some gamers hearts at one point… but I don’t want to spoil that either!
The fact I don’t want to ruin even the smallest detail is testament to Telltale’s success at continuing the Monkey Island Saga (TM) and I really do feel that after this episode, the only way to go now is up! If they can iron out some small bugs and tighten the graphics and sound some more, I see no reason why later episodes cannot rival the glory days of LucasArts. So I could finish on a downer, and say how some puzzles seemed slightly obtuse (nothing as bad as a monkey wrench mind you!) or that there were some minor bugs (go where you aren’t supposed to at the end and you may see floating cannon balls, and the sail for your ship still on the island you got it from earlier on!) yet I still feel this does little to dull the sharpness of the writing and creativity being poured into Tales of Monkey Island, and for that I am thankful. So, a good second episode? Without a doubt. Better than the first? Slightly less polished maybe, but still a step up in the story and dialogue. Sadly, some gamers may find it all too brief, and be annoyed at the blemishes, so for that it loses a mark. Still, with any luck Episode 3 will hopefully blow these two chapters out of the water! Roll on Lair Of The Leviathan!
8 OUT OF 10
Be sure to check back soon, as Dominic Armato will be doing an episode-specific mini-interview after every chapter, every month! His “The Siege of Spinner Cay” Q&A with Alternative Magazine will be up soon!
Update: See what Dom thought about this episode here!
You can also see a much longer and comprehensive interview we did earlier on with Dom here.