It must have been with a certain amount of trepidation that that adventure specialist Telltale Games picked up the Monkey Island flame from where LucasArts discarded it way back in 2000.
No audience is more intimately attuned to the cadences of a series, more fluent in the language of comedy names and canonical in-jokes, than Monkey Island's cult fan base.
Big relief - Monkey Island Tales 1 (full name: Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal) is good. The first in a five-parter, it charts a steady course through 90 or so minutes of play.
It's not the best game in the series and it may even be the worst, but Telltale has crafted a serviceable adventure that, crucially, feels like a Monkey Island game.
Fan service is rubber, innovation is glue
The story begins with Guybrush attempting to rescue his wife Elaine from nemesis LeChuck. He inevitably screws it up and contracts a voodoo pox. The pox causes an explosion, destroying Elaine's ship and throwing Guybrush into the sea.
He wakes up on Flotsam, an island from which it's impossible to escape by boat because the winds are always blowing into shore. The mission is to escape the island and sail to the Rock of Gelato, where Guybrush last saw Elaine.
There are flashes of fan service running through this story. For instance, in one early exchange LeChuck threatens Guybrush with his "ravenous piranha poodles." The leading characters are all present, but Stan, Wally, Murray, and the other popular recurring characters are locked away for this first chapter at least, leaving space for a new cast of characters.
Unfortunately, none of these is as memorable as Murray et al, and the fact that some of them share the same models occasionally gives the cast a Mr Potato-like quality.
Most of the puzzles in Tales 1 are pitched at just the right level: not obvious, but not so difficult that you need to keep a second window open with a walkthrough.
It's a small game, which partly keeps the difficulty in check. Neither your inventory nor the list of places to visit and people to see ever becomes overwhelming. The hint system, which lets you decide how soon Guybrush starts to think out loud, also prevents the game from getting you in a headlock.
So far so good. Tales 1 has solid dialogue, mostly solid voice acting (okay, the Voodoo Lady doesn't sound very Caribbean), and solid puzzles. What does that leave? Controls.
Tales 1 is a descendent of a game that pioneered the point-and-click adventure game genre, and the version being reviewed today is running on the most point-and-click-friendly device known to man. So Telltale gives you a virtual joystick.
The opening level, set on vigorously rocking boat, is a particularly unfortunate place to try and acquire your sea legs.
The joystick is contextual, so every time the camera changes you need to adjust the direction in which you push the stick. During the opening sequence these camera changes take place in a claustrophobic space in which the camera keeps dipping and climbing.
Once you hit dry land the virtual stick becomes usable, but never to the point where it's comfortable. 90 minutes in and you still find yourself getting wedged behind in the fence outside Gaffer Crimpdigit's glass-blowing studio. The joystick doesn't ruin the whole show, but Tales 1 cries out for a simple point-and-click interface.
The surprise is that it doesn't cry out for much else. If you haven't stepped into the magical world of Monkey Island start with LucasArts's own modernised versions of the first two games, The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, not only because they come first in the story but because they're better games.
Once those are out of the way, Tales 1 is a worthy next chapter.
Read our review of Monkey Island Tales 2 HD - The Siege of Spinner Cay. [Buy it.]
Read our review of Monkey Island Tales 3 HD - Lair of the Leviathan. [Buy it.]
Read our review of Monkey Island Tales 4 HD - The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood. [Buy it.]
Read our review of Monkey Island Tales 5 HD - The Rise of the Pirate God. [Buy it.]
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