Review: Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal


Before I can start to talk about Tales of Monkey Island, the five-part episodic adventure game made by Telltale Games in cooperation with LucasArts, I need to step into the way-back machine nearly twenty years and talk about one of the true classics of the adventure game genre, The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island was released in 1990 by Lucasfilms Games (as LucasArts was then called), and used the SCUMM engine that Lucasfilms had developed as a means to more quickly develop adventure games. The game is largely the brain-child of Ron Gilbert, with the humorous script mostly written by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, all of whom have gone on to have great careers in adventure gaming since. Originally intended as a more serious adventure in the vein of Maniac Mansion and Lucasfilm Games’ Indiana Jones games, the game took a turn towards comedy, which ended up as a great decision as it is the characters and humor that have kept the game a favorite through the years.

Fast forward to E3 2009 when LucasArts and Telltale announced they were producing a 5-part adventure called the Tales of Monkey Island, and LucasArts is re-releasing The Secret of Monkey Island in a special edition. That is, quite frankly, some pretty heady stuff for one major reason: LucasArts, long a favored developer among gamers, seemed to have devolved into a cash-cow milking machine in recent years, so getting all this great stuff coming from them was practically too much to ask!

So how did things turn out? In a word – great!

Since this is a 5-part episodic game similar to the Sam & Max games, I expect that much of the content will be the same from episode to episode. The impact of this is that much of the reviews will cover similar ground from episode to episode, with only new information added specific to each game. Of course, since this is the first one everything is new!

The background story will be familiar to anyone who knows even remotely of the series: Le Chuck, the villain, has kidnapped Elaine… again! It is up to you as Guybrush Threepwood, semi-competent pirate, to figure out how to rescue her. And you have the immediate opportunity to do so, but in true Threepwood form he completely messes it up and you find yourself in an even bigger mess without ship or Elaine.

The opening scene alone is filled with in-jokes, asides, clever witticisms and laugh out loud moments. And it only gets better as the episode progresses. Whereas some of the early episodes of Sam & Max felt like they were still feeling their way along, at this point Telltale really gets it – they are very sure of themselves as they work their way through this tale, keeping pacing even and always giving the player something to do. One thing that is different here – instead of fully encapsulated stories, you are working your way through a larger story arc a bit at a time. It feels different than the other games in that regard, as there isn’t the same sense of resolution.

Anyone who has played any of Telltale Games’ previous efforts (Sam & Max Season 1 & 2, Wallace & Grommit, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People) will no doubt feel at home with the visuals and basic control scheme. Adventure games have historically had 2D visuals with beautiful rendered or hand drawn backgrounds, but Telltale delivers a 3D adventure that really works. Rather than just pointing and clicking to move around and interact, you use the standard WASD keys to move – though in a very constrained space – and then click on objects to interact with them. Of course, Telltale also set things up so you can use the mouse exclusively for movement and interaction.

As this remains a traditional adventure game, it is essentially a story wrapped around a series of puzzles … or a ton of puzzles piled on a story … or maybe a story and puzzles made up for an excuse to tell a load of jokes. Whatever it is, there are loads of puzzles. Some are simple logic puzzles – decode an order, figure out how to accomplish a task, or whatever – but others are more complex. To accomplish these you need to make use of your inventory, which means picking up everything you find. Unlike some games, nobody cares what you take. So whenever you see something try to take it – it might just be useful!

Once you have items in your inventory, you will notice that you can actually combine them to make more useful – and sometimes hilariously named – items. These combined items are often keys to progressing the story. Fortunately the combinations make sense – if a bit convoluted at times! The game is good at avoiding the pixel-hunting and try everything approaches that are still present in many adventure games and continue to scare folks away from the genre.

Technically the game is every bit as wonderful as everything else Telltale has done. The visuals are very nice, but the audio is fantastic. Between the environmental sounds, the voice acting, and the various effects, you will be charmed with everything and everyone you encounter.

Being a fan of Telltale from their earlier work, I wasn’t overly apprehensive of how this one would work. But to an extent I was, because a failure might have scared LucasArts away from continuing their re-entry into the PC gaming business. Fortunately this is an excellent first entry into what will surely become yet another modern reinvention of a classic!


+ Classic adventure game style
+ Applies everything Telltale has learned
+ Great jokes
+ Challenging puzzles, but not too hard
+ Great story and characters

– … can’t think of anything!

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PC, also available for Wii via WiiWare
Publisher: Telltale Games
Developer: Telltale Games
Release Date: 7/7/09
Genre: Adventure
ESRB Rating: E
Players: 1

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!