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