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 wasnt 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
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 dont 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.
As our hero
moves from one island to another, he must do everything from saving the love of his
lifes 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 wouldnt miss any of their jokes.
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 wont get, and the more frustrated theyll be with the
gameplay (as we will get to later in this review).
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.
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 isnt 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.
So what is
so wrong with this game that I wouldnt 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.
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
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 doesnt 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
couldnt 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 weve created. Those pitiful gamers. Give into the
open the little booklet."
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!