10 Mar

A Mighty Pirate

Let’s go back in time a bit. Let’s walk down memory lane, hand in hand with Telltale Games, to a time when they made point-and-click adventure games for the adventure game crowd. Before the Walking Dead became a storytelling hit that would forever seed the path of all their future games, before every game that came out of that studio was a fictional tour de force with heart-wrenching player choices with little of the adventure game puzzle-solving that their early work was known for.

A SwordfightPerhaps it was fate that I rolled Chapter 2 of Tales of Monkey Island (The Siege of Spinner Cay). I had finished Chapter 1 eons ago and enjoyed it, but had never ventured further down the Tales of Monkey Island path. Other shiny baubles had distracted me and I had never come back. So when Guybrush Threepwood’s exaggerated features and shiny face peered out at me once more, I was curious what I’d find when I returned to this past life, both for me and Telltale Games.

Tales of Monkey Island is an old school point-and-click adventure through and through. It’s clearly lovingly fashioned after the old LucasArts titles, but because of this, it also comes burdened with a bit of  frustrating adventure game baggage I’ve always secretly disdained. But first, let’s talk about what’s different.

Eep.Perhaps the strangest choice is that Telltale chose to make a new movement system for Tales of Monkey Island. They did away with classic click-to-move (though clicking on a point of interest still will automatically move Guybrush there) and they hadn’t quite gotten to the point where they decided to fall back on the PC classic WASD keyboard style movement. Instead, moving around requires left-clicking-and-dragging in a direction. It’s awkward and I never quite got used to it, especially because it could sometimes get Guybrush temporarily stuck on a bit of invisible terrain or an odd corner of collision. It feels weird and it permeates the whole game with a bit of awkwardness, and that’s a shame.

Talking with ElaineBesides that, a player coming from classic Monkey Island would feel right at home. There are characters to talk to, objects to pick up, inventory-combination puzzles, use object with environment puzzles, and give object to character puzzles – the whole gamut of classic point and click excitement!

And it all still works, though there are a few quirks that stand out as annoyances for me. The first is something that consistently bugs me about point and click adventure games, and maybe has no good solution, but boy is there a lot of just moving around from place to place. For the first main section of puzzle-solving (after what feels like the Chapter 2 prologue), there is a raft that takes Guybrush between 3 islands, along with his ship, which can sail between a collection of 5 or so islands. Traversing between these locations means physically walking Guybrush to the appropriate water vessel, often sustaining the same line of dialog from another character, and on-screen animation of the vessel traveling to the new location. Add to that the walking that Guybrush does from screen to screen, all at the same leisurely pace, and I feel like most of the game is just me moving Guybrush around. As I said, this happens in all adventure games, but there’s been some experimentation (double-clicking making the character move faster or even teleport) that is just completely missing here.

LeChuck!The second is a specific inventory interface choice that I found bothersome. In most adventure games, I can combine items by simply clicking one item and then the other. In Tales of Monkey Island, there is a specific “combiner” portion of the inventory, which requires me to place an item into one slot, place a second item into the other slot, and then hit a combine button. It turns a two-click interaction into a five-click one.

It feels to me that the design reason behind this may be to discourage the pattern of the brute force combine – taking a single item and clicking on every other item with it – but it’s not bad enough that it makes it impossible. It makes combining the right items take longer for no good reason and the wrong items frustrating but not frustrating enough that I won’t do it if I don’t know what else to do.

It falls into the trap of making an undesirable behavior frustrating and then blaming the player when they do it anyway. It’s hard to discourage a behavior through mere annoyance without providing a clearly better method. It makes me wish combining items was easier or massively harder, in a way that actively punished me for experimenting with wrong items – if that indeed was the intent of this design.

Landing at Spinner CayAll that grumbling aside, this is still very much your father’s Monkey Island. The characters are eccentric, the writing sarcastic and funny, and the story holds together despite its ridiculousness. The puzzles can sometimes feel a bit challenging, but there’s nothing I ran into that was inexplicable or that felt random; if anything, it feels a bit easier than the classic Monkey Island.

If point and click adventures remind you of going to friends’ houses and grilled cheese sandwiches (or whatever your friend’s mom used to make), Tales of Monkey Island will rekindle those memories. In a day and age where gamers sometimes bemoan that no old-school adventure games are made anymore, one need only look back to the Telltale back catalog, past the Wolf Among Us, past their deals with Borderlands and Game of Thrones, and there’s a heaping pile of point and click nostalgia to be found.