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by LucasArts

12-01.jpg (6398 bytes)The four stars above are grudging. It is a rare thing when I leave a video game feeling so schizophrenic. I had spent hour upon hour alternately laughing my posterior off and ripping my hair out. By the end of my sojourn through the latest offering from LucasArts, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be charitable to a game that had wreaked so much havoc on my game playing composure. Many of my reviewing comrades will laud Escape From Monkey Island because of its beautiful graphics and extreme wit, but, in the end, my escaping from Monkey Island was a time of relief mixed with regret. How could such a great idea end up leaving me feeling so conflicted?

21-01.jpg (6945 bytes)Monkey Island is a console port of the popular PC game in which pirate Guybrush Threepwood takes on a land pirate (ur…developer) to try and save his new wife and her governorship of Melee Island. This game is a one-player RPG/adventure style game which attempts to bring out the best elements of the genre while not falling into some of the stereotypes that turn of gamers who don’t consider themselves RPGers. As Guybrush wanders through a series of islands and adventures, options appear at the bottom of the screen which let you know what actions are possible in that environment. The game relies most heavily on dialogue and puzzle solving to move the plot along, and has some really great moments. However, this game relies way too heavily on its witty elements and could really have done with some help on the gameplay level.

20-01.jpg (7062 bytes)As our hero moves from one island to another, he must do everything from saving the love of his life’s mansion to learning the rules of Monkey Kombat. The RPG elements of dialogue have the obvious bonuses of providing information and hints on what to do next, as well as providing most of the humor in the game. As Guybrush approaches another person and selects the talk option that appears at the bottom of the screen, he is either given a list of possible responses to choose from or is launched into a cinematic cut-moment. It is often necessary to choose all of the options during a conversation (sometimes twice!) to get all the necessary information from an individual, and one visit is often not enough as well. Leaving any element of dialogue unexplored can leave you missing key elements, even if, at first glance, the only purpose of that dialogue branch seems to be humor. I guess it was one of the ways that the writers insured you wouldn’t miss any of their jokes.

24-01.jpg (7093 bytes)I know that "getting there is half the fun," but as I was giggling at the dialogue and jokes, I was wondering if I was actually getting anywhere. Yet these were the moments that convinced most everyone that this game was a stellar installation in gaming history. And I admit, this game is definitely geared to the more adult and savvy (at least in regard to gaming, the sci-fi, and film industries) audience, though a slightly younger audience might appreciate a large portion of the jokes as well. However, the younger the audience, the more jokes they won’t get, and the more frustrated they’ll be with the gameplay (as we will get to later in this review).

6-01.jpg (7533 bytes)Each island consists of an overview map that allows you to move quickly to the three or four sites on the island that are able to be explored, and once you have chosen one of those, you enter a quasi 3-D environment that allows you to move through one screen at a time (Resident Evil style, without the glitches). Guybrush moves quickly and smoothly through each environment, and I must say that the scenery and buildings, though cartoonlike, are detailed and without reproach. There is no pesky fry or draw in. Just well done, if occasionally silly, settings.

8-01.jpg (7664 bytes)The music is rousing and piratical (think less Pirates of Penzance, and more Batman for the high seas) with a more lackadaisical strolling soundtrack for town exploration, and is extremely impressive. Yet there isn’t enough variation for the amount of time you spend with the game, and after awhile, I wished they would have included more musical selections for each environment. The voices are fabulous and props must definitely be given to the vocal acting done in this game. The sound effects are a lot of fun, and provide another element of humor to round out the comic punch of the game. This, together with the dialogue and some of the "unusual" situations I found myself in, had my face and stomach cramping with laughter.

23-01.jpg (8394 bytes)So what is so wrong with this game that I wouldn’t give it a five-star salute, or at least the rousing send-off that other reviewers have? The main sticking point with this game is the nature of the puzzle solving that is so integral to gameplay. Even with the hints that the game itself gives, I was at first surprised that a walkthrough guide was standard with the game. What could be so hard that an experienced gamer like me would need a cheat book enough that it would be mandatory with purchase? Turns out, plenty. There is generally only one solution to a given problem in the game, even though logically there are many options that would work.

2-01.jpg (9214 bytes)Take for instance the necessity to sneak in a bank through the side window. Although there is a barrel that could be commandeered, a bucket that could be used to stand on, sticks that could be used to vault through it on, none of those (along with a myriad of other options too numerous to mention) is the correct one. Instead, you must recover a piece of "skin" from the prosthetic shop, use it to cover an open manhole, and bounce on it like a trampoline to propel yourself through the window. Think that this is a little non-intuitive? You should see the steps you have to take to get the skin in the first place. And what is more important, how do you know that you need to do all this to succeed? You either spend fourteen hours with trial and error or you slit open the little book (sealed, as though you might have a choice about whether or not to use it), and find out that yes, the manhole-covered-in-skin-trampoline is indeed the right solution to the problem.

13-01.jpg (9535 bytes)Young children trying to play this game will be so frustrated that no fun could possibly come of it unless they are content to read the book and follow all the instructions to the letter. Yet this becomes problematic in the places that the booklet doesn’t happen to cover! So how about hardened gamers like myself? I tried to play without the booklet as much as possible. But what I found out was that some of the puzzles were so unintuitive that I couldn’t have figured them out, no matter how long I played. This does not make the game challenging, as many would say the harder the game the better, but it makes it nearly unplayable without directions. I was mad when I got done because I felt that not only did the makers of this game want to make sure I appreciated their wit and creativity, but they wanted to make sure I was totally dependent on them and their little book for my gaming success and enjoyment. I could hear the voice of the Emperor in the background--"Look at what an amusing and hard game we’ve created. Those pitiful gamers. Give into the dark side…open the little booklet."

5-01.jpg (9547 bytes)I admit, I laughed right along with everyone else during this game and was duly impressed by the graphics, voices, dialogue and set-up of this game. Yet I feel I must express my opinion, however unpopular, about the gameplay in Escape From Monkey Island. Yes, you should all run right out and rent it, enjoy the in-jokes from LucasArts, and "ooh and ahh" over all the pretty features. But whatever you do, make sure that the video store includes the walkthrough with their rental!

Monica Hafer   (07/20/2001)

Snapshot

Ups: Great graphics; hilarious writing; good music; original and fun.

Downs: Puzzles are so illogical that they cause lots of frustration.

Platform:
Sony PlayStation 2

 


1995-2001
GamesFirst! Magazine