In anticipation of the release of the fourth Monkey Island game this fall, I've been playing through the first three games in the series. And while I've not become the rabid fan of the games that many are, there's plenty about them I admire.
The Curse of Monkey Island is the third in the series, and the first one to appear in the Windows era. Therefore, it's technically light years ahead of the first two games, The Secret of Monkey Island andMonkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. The characters speak for the first time, and the graphics are even nicer than they were in the first two games. In fact, the animation is practically cinema-quality.
This is indeed a great game to look at, with rich colors and appealingly zany characters. My interest in third-person cartoon adventures is limited, but if I have to play one, please let it be a Monkey Island game.
The story of COMI begins very soon after the puzzling shaggy-dog ending of the second game. You may recall that at the end of LeChuck's Revenge, it turns out that the entirety of the first two games were simply a fantasy in a young boy's head as he's exploring an amusement park with his brother and his parents.
Or was it? In order to make a third game possible, the masterminds at LucasArts have pulled a 180 worthy of Bobby in the Shower on Dallas--it turns out that LeChuck merely made our hero Guybrush think it was all a dream. Oh, well.
The game begins with hapless Guybrush (much taller and lankier than in the first two games) floating in the sea in what looks alarmingly like ... a bumper car? A quick flashback later, and we join our hero being held prisoner on a pirate ship, and the adventure is on its way. The remainder of the story is a bunch of silly (but fun) nonsense about a curse being placed on Guybrush's beloved Elaine, and Guybrush's subsequent attempts to lift the curse.
One of the things I most admire about the Monkey Island series is that all three of them manage to pack a tremendous amount of humor and high spirits into the proceedings while at the same time not sacrificing heavy-duty gameplay. Some humor-based games drown in the jokes (hello, Callahan's Crosstime Saloon?), but not these games.
Helping the humor along is some of the best voice acting in adventure games, led by a splendid performance by Dominic Armato as Guybrush. The whole cast is terrific, however. I was pleased to learn that Armato is returning as Guybrush in Escape from Monkey Island.
There's another Big Thing that COMI gets right, and I dearly wish other adventure designers would take note. The game includes a mild arcade sequence--and the player can choose whether or not to play it. It's a sea battle, and it's quite fun. But if you're a pure adventurist, or just don't feel like doing the arcade stuff, you can have the game run the battle for you. How many adventure games that included nonadventure elements would have benefitted from this technique?
Following the sea battle is a wonderful swordfighting sequence in which insults, not swordplay, are the essential ingredient to winning. This is a welcome return of this feature from the first game, and it's even more fun here.
You can play the game on two skill levels, Regular or Mega-Monkey. Like the first two games, the puzzles come hard and fast in COMI, and in Mega-Monkey mode, the puzzles are not for the faint of heart. Though there was nothing as obtuse as the monkey wrench puzzle in LeChuck's Revenge, I was still plenty challenged. If third-person inventory fests are your forte, you'll be in heaven in COMI.
There are return appearances by some of the characters from the earlier games, including, of course, Elaine, Wally the Cartographer, Stan the Salesman, and the vegetarian cannibals (a personal favorite of mine). The story puts Guybrush in an entertaining variety of locations, including crypts, a beachside country club, the cannibals' lair, and many others.
The music is terrific throughout, which is something we've all come to expect from LucasArts (I think the score to Sam and Max Hit the Road is the best I've ever heard in a game).
Many have complained that this game is too short. And it is shorter than its two predecessors (I imagine because of production costs). But as the saying goes, "what's there is cherce." I don't mind a short game as long as it's good.
The endgame, which takes place back at the strange amusement park, is a bit odd and irritating. And the ending is a bit abrupt and stingy. It feels like it's missing one final grand cutscene that you're really earned.
Still, while you're waiting for Escape from Monkey Island to arrive in your mailbox, you could do much worse than to revisit Guybrush and pals as he attempts to lift The Curse of Monkey Island.
Final Grade: B+
If you liked The Curse of Monkey Island:
Watch: Blackbeard's Ghost
Read: Treasure Island, of course
Pentium-90 or equivalent
16 MB RAM
SVGA, 0 requirement VRAM
1 MB free disk space
This review is copyright Ray Ivey and Just Adventure and may not be republished elsewhere without the express written consent of the author. Republication of said review must also contain a link back to Just Adventure.