PSN Review: Tales of Monkey Island

July 11, 2010Written by Corey Schwanz

After the April release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Sam and Max: The Devil’s Playhouse on the PlayStation Network, the obvious next step was for Telltale Games to bring their critically acclaimed Tales of Monkey Island to the PS3. Although LucasArts oversaw the project, can Telltale match their predecessor’s mastery of mental merriment?

Since 1990, Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™, and piratey cohorts have been pointing and clicking their way through all sorts of mischief across the seas. Created by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman, the Monkey Island series has been considered the benchmark of puzzle and adventure gameplay. Tales takes away from the antiquated point-and-click control system and puts you in control of Guybrush himself. Similar to the console controls of Sam and Max, objects that you can examine are easily selected by facing the general direction of the item and cycling with L1 and R1 until you get what you want. Without having a mouse and keyboard to peruse the environment, this is quite possibly the most efficient way of exploration on a console.

Tales of Monkey Island is split into five episodes, each with their own individual story elements but connecting to an overall narrative arc. Although the game was originally released in these monthly episodes, the PS3 version of the game is all 5 adventures in one package. Not only is it a great value for your money at a mere $20, compared to the PC’s $34.95, but you have all five episodes at your finger tips and you will never have to wait a month for your next Monkey fix. Good thing too, because once you start, you won’t want to put it down.

Tales of Monkey Island takes place in indeterminate amount of time after Escape from Monkey Island, with Guybrush Threepwood encountering his long time nemesis, the evil ghost pirate LeChuck. After incorrectly enchanting with the the Enchanted Cutlass of Kaflu without the sacred Voodoo Root Beer (really), Guybrush accidentally turns LeChuck human and unleashes a voodoo curse upon himself and the entire Caribbean. This disease, known as the Pox of LeChuck, takes over all pirates and gives them undead-like qualities as well as controlling their thoughts and actions. You break it, you fix it, and off starts a grand adventure filled with giant sponges, mammoth manatees, a mad frenchman, and some of the funniest dialogue you’ll ever encounter.

In old graphical adventure fashion, Tales is filled with tons mind-wrenching puzzles. There is no item in the game that you pick up that doesn’t have a use. Items that you pick up can sometimes be combined with one another, in obvious or unusual ways, to create new ways to advance. Some of the puzzles in the game are simple to complete, while others are down right frustrating. Thanks to the game’s robust hint system however, if you get stuck there is always another character that you can talk for ideas on what to or where to go next. When you get the hint and finally discover what to do, you’ll most likely hit yourself in the head as NOW it seems so obvious. It’s also a good idea to play the game with someone else in the room. Not only is it funnier when you laugh with someone else, but it’s helpful to have someone else’s view on a particular problem.

The graphics of Tales of Monkey don’t match up to some of the more in-depth games on the PSN, but it’s nothing to distract you from the game itself. That said, the graphics still are very nice. Character models are reused more than once, which is a little sad, but no real problems. Remember, even from the beginning, Monkey Island has prided itself most on the content of the game, as opposed to the graphical representation.

What really makes Tales shine however, is the dialogue. Some of the greatest voice acting I’ve ever heard, the game literally had me laughing out loud all the time. Dialogue options are similar to something like Dragon Age: Origins or Fallout 3, but the lovable Guybrush Threepwood speaks each chosen line, sometimes with some improvisation. Sometimes it’s more fun to choose every single line just to see the next gut-wrenching response.

I’m going to be frank: before this review, I have never played a Monkey Island game. I have no previous attachment to Guybrush Threepwood and his friends, and unfortunately, none of the previous references. While the game is enjoyable in its own right, I feel that there would have been a lot MORE to get out of it if I had understood all of the witty remarks, funny one-liners and hilarious homages. Hearing from other people who played through the game, Tales is RIFE with references to past games, almost sickeningly so. Being made by fans and not the original creators of Monkey Island at LucasArts, the folks at Telltale stay true to the formula and respect what made the franchise great, but they don’t actually evolve the game or characters. So if you’re a fan of Monkey Island, don’t expect this to be a fifth game, but just a remake with a new story.

Overall, Tales of Monkey Island brings classic graphical adventure action to a new generation,  along with a grand story, funny characters, and great acting to boot. Even with established intellectual properties, Telltale knows how to make a game and make it good. For those who don’t get all the references, fret not, you still won’t be disappointed. And at $20 for all five episodes, Tales of Monkey Island rivals some retail games for its value, let alone some PSN released titles. Hopefully this will bring more forth adventure games, in a market over-saturated with everything else.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score

Great puzzles that keep you coming for more

Honest-to-goodness laugh-out-loud moments for fans and those new to the franchise

Value that’s hard to beat

9 out of 10