05 August 2011

The Monkey Island series

Speaking of Pirate games, it is a no brainer to mention the greatest point-and-click adventure series ”Monkey Island”. When I was a kid, growing up in the 90’s lots of games were ”point and click” adventures.  And no one did them better than Lucasarts. It was truly a golden age of adventure gaming that spawned superb Lucasarts titles like Indiana Jones the last crusade, Monkey Island 1-3,  Sam & Max hit the road, Grim Fandango, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle as well as Simon the Sorcerer and the Kings Quest franchise to mention a few non Lucasarts titles.

Before computer graphics became the main focus of the audience and producers of games, you had these adventures that told a quirky and well written story, solved puzzles by searching each location for items and combining them with other objects or people to move on. You had memorable characters, great interaction with numerous dialogue choices and you literally spent dozens of hours with each game.

Monkey Island was and probably still is, the most appealing game out of the Lucasarts collection of adventure games. And the series stand the test of time rather well, you don’t have to look at these games through the nostalgia goggles to appreciate them.  Furthermore, Lucasarts made a fantastic fan service by re-releasing Monkey Island 1 and 2 as a ”special edition” with vastly improved graphics, adding voice acting and better sounds but doing it in a way so that the old pixel graphics and the new graphics still convey the same exact feeling and with locations look identical.
You can swap between the old school and the new graphics by pressing F1 midgame and see for youself, truly a work of art.

Monkey Island, being the first game, had you take up the role of Guybrush Threepwood. A beardless pirate wannabe with a hard pronounced name that none of the characters could get right. He just happens to be on a Caribbean island called ”Melee Island” and soon seeks out the local pirate tavern where after having confronted the 3 pirate captains he is given 3 quests that he has to complete before he can become a pirate. Little does he know that the whole thing is a fool’s errand and it was just given to him to make him go away. Thus begins the comedic gold of the Monkey Island series. Guysbrush walking around on Melee island, interacting with oddball characters about his moronic quests using dialogue options that were full of wit, tongue in cheek and brilliance. Among other things he had to find a treasure using a map that is in fact some sort of dance lesson, learns to “insult swordfight” and has to bypass deadly piranha poodles in order to break into the governor’s mansion and steal a valuable object.

The insult sword fighting would become a  trademark of these games, and revolved around challenging foes and then use your wit to insult them to submission by using great attacks like “My handkerchief will wipe up your blood!” which had to be parried by saying ” So you got that job as janitor, after all” and ” I got this scar on my face during a mighty struggle! with I hope now you've learned to stop picking your nose”.´

After finishing the pirate quests against all odds the island is attacked by the weirdo ghost pirate LeChuck who steals the female governor and Guybrush’s love interest Elaine and triggers the second half of the game, where Guybrush sets out to find and rescue her.  In order to follow her we are introduced to the “used boat salesman” Stan who sells crappy second hand ships and will become one of the recurring characters in the series.
This takes us to the title island of ”Monkey Island” where a paranoid and creepy old fart named ”Herman Toothrot” does bureaucratic battle with the local cannibal tribe by leaving notes of complaint about their activities and vice versa.   I won’t give away the ending but it involves walking around in hell following the directions of a smiling severed navigators head in order to find LeChucks hideout.

Monkey Island 2: LeChucks revenge, is arguably the best game in the series. First of all it had improved graphics and a greater color palette. It was also at least 3x bigger, included lots of new locations and made the adventure even more challenging and even more fun.  The game starts on Scabb Island where Gubrush tells about his latest exploits of how he defeated the ghost pirate LeChuck to some rather unimpressed fellow pirates. This second game oozed of atmosphere and includes several Islands. From the swampy dark Scabb Island to the colorful and bright Phatt Island and Booty Island. By boasting about his deeds and showing of LeChucks pirate beard Guybrush unwittingly pave the way for the ghost pirates return – this time resurrected as a spitting zombie – and even more pissed off at Guybrush. We again meet Elaine, and Stan is now selling used coffins haha. We are also introduced to the young cartographer Wally who will become the punching bag of Guybrush’s exploits.

The puzzles of these games were fantastic and so quirky it always makes you laugh at the stupidity of Guybrush, the plot and the characters you interact with. The main plot is about finding a famous pirate treasure called “Big Whoop” but LeChucks reappearance is brooding in the background and offers a superb finale with a hilarious pop culture reference. In the final cutscene Guybrush is led to believe that the whole first and second game was just a dream and a Tivoli attraction. Little does he know that the whole image is created by LeChuck to trap Guybrush in some sort of Voodoo cursed mental prison.
Monkey Island 3: The Curse of Monkey Island, continues the tale of Guybrush Threepwood. The original creator of the series Ron Gilbert was no longer on good terms with Lucasarts thus the future games in the series would be made by different people. Monkey Island 3 was surprisingly good and truly felt like a good continuation of the series on par with the second game. The humor was very similar, and it included some familiar faces from the previous titles and even brought “Insult Sword fighting” back.  The biggest change however was the art direction – which is hands down the best out of all games in the series to date. The graphics look like a cartoon, characters move around very fluidly and it all looks damn good. The game also has superb atmosphere and really blends spooky, weird, hilarious and goofy stuff really well. The puzzles are slightly easier to figure out in this game compared to the second one. This was also the first game in the series that features voice acting, as the previous ones only had music and text.

It opens up with Guybrush writing in his captains log, stuck in a bumper car in the middle of the ocean. As he writes he drifts towards the shore of Plunder Island where LeChucks pirate ship is laying siege to a fort defended by Elaine. Our little cartographer friend Wally has been brainwashed to join the ghost pirate crew and will be found on the cannon deck sporting a plastic hook, fake beard and fake eyepatch. Once you get ashore Guybrush stupidity first has Elaine turned to gold by giving her a cursed engagement ring, then leaves her to be stolen by one of the most hilarious villains in the series. I laughed out loud the first time I found the pirates. The adventure does not only include a cameo from Wally the cartographer, we once again meet with Stan – this time he is selling used crypts. We also meet the cannibals from Monkey Island 1, they are now vegetarians and worship a lactose intolerant volcano God.

This third game keeps the LeChuck + secondary villain theme from the previous title and the sequel would use the same formula. Guybrush spends one section of the game sailing around on the sea, boarding ships and having swordfighting with insults that, as a twist, have to rhyme.  The game also included one of the funnies characters in the series, “Murray”, the severed skull of a ghost pirate that has delusions of grandeur and constantly talks about conquering the world and enslaving all mortals despite not being able to move around on his own. The finale ties in the ending of the second game, and is good but not as good as the previous one.  Still, this would mark the start of the decline of the series.

The following games are not something I would recommend you playing unless you are really curious about the evolution of the Monkey Island story and the characters after the ending of the 3rd game.

Monkey Island 4: Escape from Monkey Island, would have the worst graphics  in the series. Using the abysmal looking “shit-3D” as I like to call it, the blocky style 3D of late 90’s games. It ruined the visual appeal of the game completely. Not only that, the controls were changed as the game was no longer a 2D adventure but used 3D environments. SO you navigated with your keyboard and clunky controls which was tedious and frustrating. All characters looked God-awful, Guybrush arguably the worst but it could have to do with you being forced to watch him for the entire game. The story was also a bit contrived, it offered about 50% great stuff and mixed it with 50% boring / bad content. Included Stan and Elaine, but also your first pirate crew from Monkey Island 1, and a brief cameo of Murrey the demonic pirate skull. The inventory system was also messed up in this game, and finishing the game left you with a sense of disappointment.


Tales of Monkey Island was released many years after Monkey Island 4. Made by the same studio that tried to revive the Sam & Max game by releasing episodic gameplay.  A form of games that I strongly dislike. Fortunately enough, the graphics had been somewhat improved and did not offer a distracting “ugly as hell” quality but it retained the 3D art direction which was a shame. The good thing about this episodic Monkey Island adventure is that at least TellTaleGames did not recycle the locations as hard as they did in Sam & Max episodes. The bad thing is that while the game tries to live up to the tone of its predecessors it only succeeds in coming off as a fan-project. The puzzles are boring the story is very uninteresting. There are a few good characters but you honestly don’t give a shit. It’s not even an interesting game of its own, and I doubt people would even care about it if it had not “Monkey Island” in the title. The best thing about is that they kept the voice actor for Guybrush, Dominic Armato, as he makes a great job to make Guybrush come off as the goofy, whiny and delusional nerd that he actually is.

Son in conclusion, I highly recommend playing through Monkey Island 1 & 2 “special edition” and Monkey Island 3. It makes a great pirate themed adventure trilogy that will make you laugh out loud. Skip the sequels.

4 comments:

  1. (I seize shamelessly the excuse 'Pirate')
    Lacepunk skyships
    (The Three Musketeers - 2011).

    One of the multiple facets of 'weirdness in the Tricornes era'

    'Pirates' are certainly the most popular of 'swashbuckling' games, and it's not uncommon for Pirates to encounter undeads of various types, King Kong-sized Godzilla type monsters...
    So it's only a matter of 'taking the plunge' and having the same 'liberty' on dry (main)land.

    Then, by the mid 18th C. vast parts of the Pacific Ocean were still to be explored, thus odd human races and cultures can be waiting for your daring adventurers in tricornes on a 'New Continent'. Or, alternatively, in an underground 'Lost Wold at the Earth Core', Pellucidar -fashion...

    Developed in a TMP post..

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  2. A few days ago, I finished the SE version on the Xbox 360. The dialog was a hoot. The updated graphics were great as well. Was neat to switch back and forth between classic graphics and new graphics. It's normally $10 to download, but Xbox Live ran a sale a while back for $5. I also got the sequel for $5 as well and have started that. A great game series! It will probably go on sale again soon--they tend to cycle their sales like this.

    Now all we need is an SE version of Full Metal Throttle, Grim Fandango, and Day of the Tentacle! I can only hope! BTW I own all these original games for the PC--they go for quite a bit on the collector's market.

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  3. Nice Trip down memory lane.

    Classic era of Gaming. I still have all my Baldur's gate, Fallout RPGs from then.

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  4. CPBelt I hope they do. I cn't get Grim Fandango to work no matter how hard I try :-(

    Brummie, yeah I got those as well. Surprisingly good and hold up well even today. I've probably played Fallout 1 and 2 more times than any other game.

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