Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal


Genre:   Adventure

Developer & Publisher:    Telltale Games & LucasArts

Released:  July 2009

PC Requirements:   Windows XP / Vista, Pentium 4 Processor, 512MB RAM, 32MB 64MB Video card, DirectX 9,0c


Additional Screenshots




by Becky


The Secret of Monkey Island, released in 1990 on floppy disk, was the first offering in the classic Monkey Island adventure series by LucasArts. It introduced Guybrush Threepwood, an unassuming young man who wanted to be a pirate and was prepared to do whatever it took (however humiliating) to become one. The game also introduced the ghost pirate LeChuck, love interest Elaine Marley, the Voodoo Lady and other characters. 

Three more Monkey Island adventures were published over the following ten years. Guybrush claimed in Escape from Monkey Island (2000) that he had an unbreakable five game contract; however, LucasArts did not seem interested in continuing the Monkey Island franchise. Although I (along with many other adventure gamers) had thoroughly enjoyed the series, I finally came to terms with the idea that the days of Monkey Island were over.

So it was with considerable astonishment that I received the news, announced on June 1, 2009, that a new series of Monkey Island games – Tales of Monkey Island -- was soon to be released. The games are developed by Telltale Games in cooperation with LucasArts and will be issued episodically (five episodes in all). The Telltale development team includes designers who worked on previous Monkey Island games – Dave Grossman and Mike Stemmle among them.*

Reviving a gaming franchise is a risky business. You have to balance the expectations of gamers who want the new games to be “near replicas” of the beloved classics, with the expectations of gamers who want all the latest bells and whistles.

“‘Guybrush’ is one word.” – Guybrush Threepwood

I’m certainly not exempt from the “clouds of nostalgia” syndrome. When I first saw the Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal screenshots, I thought: “Hmmm, is this the Guybrush I used to know so well? He looks a bit gaunt. Plus the beard is weird.” Was nostalgia overwhelming my memories? I decided to take a look back at wannabe pirate images from the older games.

Strange how the mind forgets. In The Secret of Monkey Island, Guybrush is so pixelated he looks like any generic young man in old-fashioned clothing. In Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge he’s acquired a blue jacket and a more elaborate hairdo plus a couple of facial rectangles that faintly resemble hair.

In Curse of Monkey Island, he’s skinny and his face is cartoonishly long. He’s lost the jacket, beard and mustache, and acquired a silly red sash. He’s so homely that when he dons the giant tofu mask, it’s an improvement.

In Escape from Monkey Island, he’s rounder (he’s now in 3D), his face is shorter, and he wears a snappy red suit. For the first time you can tell in-game that his eyes are blue. He’s become almost cuddly (must be Elaine’s influence), except for the jaggies at the edges.

The current ten-years-before-the-mast Guybrush is a combination of traits from those previous games. The long face is back, as are the beard and mustache and the blue jacket. He’s lost the jaggies and pixelation and the red sash. The features on his face are more detailed and expressions are actually recognizable. His eyebrows move, his pony tail blows in the breeze, and he’s gained eye sockets and piercings.

As I played further into Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, I was pleased to discover what was most important -- the old Threepwood personality still shines through. Our hero is voiced by Dominic Armato, who voiced Guybrush in Curse and Escape. Mr. Amato IS Guybrush Threepwood. He’s assisted in this character portrayal by excellent writing, including entertaining quips and asides. But I suspect that Mr. Amato could recite lines from Shakespeare and still sound like Guybrush Threepwood.

“I feel a pirate-y quest coming on.” – Guybrush Threepwood

So we’ve got our favorite inept pirate back in a tale that’s Monkey Island outlandish. Launch of the Screaming Narwhal opens with Elaine a prisoner on a ship where the evil LeChuck is using a hapless monkey in a dastardly voodoo ritual. The opening cut scene features the puffy/swirly clouds and stylized, colorful graphics of the previous games in the series. The first sequence takes place on the pitching decks of two ships as Guybrush dashes to the rescue, sporting the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu.

All our hero must do to vanquish LeChuck forever is (according to the recipe): “Spray cutlass with enchanted root beer.” Easy, right? But somehow everything goes wrong, and he comes into contact with the undead/ghost pirate at just the wrong moment. The result: Guybrush’s left hand takes on the color and texture of LeChuck -- green with spots.

The hand rapidly succumbs to LeChuck’s evil influence, refusing to fight. (Later, the hand begins pulling Guybrush’s hair, tweaking his nose and poking him in the eye.) To make matters worse, an explosion aboard ship sets our no-longer-wannabe pirate drifting, unconscious, on a bit of wreckage. When he finally wakes up on the shores of Flotsam Island, he has no news of Elaine’s plight or what has happened to LeChuck. From this point, his mission is to get off the island.

“I love a good challenge.” – Van Winslow, Captain of the Screaming Narwhal

This game features a third person perspective, and movement is by either the WASD keys or the mouse, using a click-and-drag technique. You can pick things up and interact with hotspots by clicking with the mouse. Holding down both mouse buttons causes Guybrush to run (well, most of the time). It took me a while to get used to clicking and dragging, but I found it much easier to move Guybrush around that way than with the keyboard.

The first sequence in the game, aboard ship, is actually harder than it ought to be because the two pirate crafts are pitching and rolling, making it hard to click on things. (I hit Elaine when I was aiming for Chuck, and the gunpowder when I was aiming for the grog). The last sequence in the game was also difficult, because it’s timed and I found it tricky to move Guybrush quickly enough.

Most of the puzzles in Screaming Narwhal involve inventory and are fairly straightforward. To access the inventory, you press the mouse wheel button (or put the cursor to the right side of the screen). A magnifying glass in the inventory allows you to examine things. To combine items, you click and drag each item to the combination area – if the combination works, a golden glow blossoms and the combined item appears on the right.

Non-inventory puzzles include sound and symbol pattern recognition challenges. Two map conundrums were particularly amusing once I cottoned onto the concept. A helpful innovation in jungle maze travel: any time Guybrush wanders through the jungle, you can click on an icon to whisk him back to the entrance. This saves a tremendous amount of frustration for gamers (like me) who are cursed with a poor sense of direction.

There’s one clever timed sequence in addition to the final challenge, plus a couple of quick clicks that take place while a character is distracted. Most memorable was the laboratory/examining room. Here Guybrush finds himself strapped to a chair and uses the environment around him (including animals in cages) to effect a logical yet ridiculously contrived escape.

“Rotting heap of junk vaguely resembling a row boat.” – Hotspot Description

The brightly colored environments in Screaming Narwhal are in full 3D and feature plenty of ambient animations. As you explore, seagulls sweep by and sails and flags flap. The printing press atop the Keelhauler Gazette churns and Guybrush’s left hand trails green vapor. The piratical town is quaint and the jungle paths are edged with palm trees, exotic flowers and mysterious rock formations.

The game introduces several new characters, including a glass blower, a newshound and an action figurine collector. The most intriguing new character, though, is the Marquis De Singe, an exile from the court of King Louis of France. The Marquis has a powdered, rouged face, a fancy wig, pink knee breeches and perspicacity. I hope we see more of him.

“What was that fooping sound?” – The Marquis De Singe, Physician

Lively, syncopated tunes with a Caribbean twist play for much of the game. In town you’ll hear a backdrop of melodic percussion. As Guybrush walks around, an extra musical layer is added -- rollicking piratical music starts up near Club 41, and chillingly dissonant strings are heard in front of the Marquis’ mansion. Michael Land, who composed much of the music for the previous Monkey Island games, also wrote the background music for Screaming Narwhal.

The music is good enough that if you turn it down during the sound location challenge in the jungle, you should turn it back up for other portions of the game.

“Now I be after much darker secrets.” – LeChuck, Undead Pirate

I encountered one glitch: a problem while trying to change the screen resolution that resulted in a blank screen (pressing alt/enter brings up the Settings menu if you encounter this situation).

Aside from this minor slip-up, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal kept me blithely and immersively entertained for five hours of leisurely play. A balance is well struck between the old and the new. Guybrush has returned, and the franchise is in good hands.

Quick List for Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal

A celebrated, self-deprecating, accident-prone pirate is resurrected by LucasArts and Telltale Games. Lots of familiar names are involved -- characters, voiceovers, writers, composers, graphic artists. Pretty much a dream team for relaunching Guybrush Threepwood and the Monkey Island series.

This is the first episode of five. Colorful cartoon-like 3D graphics. Swashbuckling, piratical antics, the evil undead, voodoo, and a genius with wig and pince-nez. Monkeys extra. You can click through the dialogs.

A couple of timed challenges – one is rather difficult. Inventory puzzles, pattern recognition, map interpretation, toying with explosives and glass. One maze-like jungle location with a handy “take me back to the beginning” feature. Sound puzzles (though no tone matching), no sliding tile puzzles, no color discrimination challenges. Most of your body parts can’t die.

Third person perspective. Click-and-drag motion for moving Guybrush (WASD keys as an alternative), point-and-click for hotspot interaction. The Hint system was helpful, though not exhaustive. Handy plot synopsis in the save/load game menu. Plenty of save slots.

No problems with installation. Don’t mess around with the screen resolution unless you’re smart and/or brave. Appropriate for older children.

Monkey Island is back. Don’t miss it.

Final Grade: A-

Tales of Monkey Island can be purchased via download from the Telltale Games website here.

My Computer Specs:

Windows XP Professional

Pentium 2.80 GHz

2.00 GB RAM

Direct X 9.0c

512 MB NVIDIA GeForce 7800 GTX

SB X-Fi Audio

*Historical information about the Monkey Island series was taken from Monkey Island Wiki and Wikipedia.

July, 2009

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