Sheepwood? It's Threepwood!
I'm sure I haven't mentioned this to the people at Giantbomb; I am a gigantic Monkey Island fan. I first played Monkey Island at the tender age of 8 in 1990. Although I was young, I instantly fell in love with the atmosphere, story, humor, and characters. Sure, I may not have understood all of the jokes but something about the game clicked with me, whether it was the inside jokes such as the Loom reference(a game I actually played before Monkey Island) and the sequence in the stump where it asks you to insert disc #23, 47, etc.(yes, even at the young age of 8 actually understood the joke) or the various hilarious characters such as the Head of a Navigator. After beating the game several times that year, I eagerly awaited Monkey Island 2.
When Monkey Island 2 came out, I was more excited than I had ever been before; hell, I was probably more excited about this than any game I had ever received/heard about in the past. I beat Monkey Island 2 the day it came out, and several more times over the following years. Then came Curse of Monkey Island; I was actually scared that a third entry in the series would never come out but to my surprise, it did. Sure, I didn't like Curse as much as 1 or 2 but it's still a classic and a game I constantly revisit. Escape, however, was a different story. I was excited to hear that a 4th entry in the series was coming but the 3d aspect scared me. I decided to purchase it anyway, played it for maybe an hour and then never touched it again. Escape, although a better than average game, was an abomination in the Monkey Island franchise; it's the ginger kid of a family and doesn't deserve to be called the fourth entry in the series. After Escape, I didn't really care if I ever saw another Monkey Island game.
Years later, I changed my opinion on whether I wanted to see a new Monkey Island. The adventure genre had been dying for years and I was yerning for another great and humorous experience in the Monkey Island series. I almost crapped myself when I heard that Telltale was doing an episodic Monkey Island game and I promptly went to their website and pre-ordered it. Well, it came out today, I've beaten it, and here are my thoughts.
I've played a few Telltale games in the past; Sam & Max never really interested me, I could care less about Strongbad, and Walace and Gromit is uninteresting. I knew Telltale had the chops to create something spectacular and after playing Chapter 1, it looks like they will deliver with with Tales of Monkey Island.
Everything you love about the original Monkey Island games is here. Almost all of the jokes are spot on, the characters are interesting(especially the doctor and Van Winslow), and the entire chapter is a great entry in what's sure to be a fantastic experience. Dominic Armato and the rest of the voice cast did as good of a job in this game as they did with Curse. I have heard some complaints around the net about the visuals, in fact, I was one of those that complained. I would still like to have seen the new game in 2D, but the 3D visuals grew on me and by the end of the game I felt that the art-style perfectly matched the style of the previous games.
Do I have any complaints? I do have a few. The controls are a little strange as you can choose between standard WASD FPS style controls and a new type of point and click system; actually it's more like click and point. Basically you select Guybrush with the left mouse button, slightly move it in the direction you wish to walk to and let go when you get there. After the first 30 minutes, it feels pretty natural but the standard point and click control scheme would have worked better. Another complaint deals with character models. All of the characters look fine but minor characters look fairly generic. I wanted to see more diversity and artistic style in character design; I want Telltale to get a little more crazy which they may actually do with the chapters proceeding this one. The last complaint I have deals with the puzzles. For the most part, they are fine but I feel like they are a bit easy. There was only one point in the game that I got stuck but it was actually a pretty simple puzzle that I was making more difficult than it needed to be, perhaps because that's what I'm used to in classic point and click adventure games.
Tales of Monkey Island: Chapter 1 - Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is exactly what Monkey Island needed, a shot in the arm. Sure, it has a few quirks and annoyances but all of the stuff that really matters is intact. How would I place it against the other games? Well, it's a much better game than Escape and is close to the quality of Curse but it's not quite there yet. But this is only the beginning of Tales and I expect more greatness to come.