Monkey Island Retrospecticus
Part III
The Curse of Monkey Island

Written By: Jeff, Gringo, Joe

CLICK HERE TO READ ABOUT THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND!

AND HERE FOR MONKEY ISLAND 2!


 GRINGO SAYS: The real curse here is that Ron Gilbert wasn't around at LucasArts to helm the third game in the series.

The developers of this game tried to do the best they could picking up someone else's series, but something about this game just doesn't work for me. The humor seems all that more sanitized than the first two games, like it's trying to appeal to the broadest possible audience.

I also don't like the way that the two lead characters are suddenly in love, and everything just seems...off. It's not like Day of the Tentacle, which worked as a great sequel to Maniac Mansion because it veered off in a whole weird new direction with several new characters. This game feels like the creators had a generic “comedy” pirate game they wanted to make, realized the company they worked for owned a swashbuckling character, and went from there.

Part of the charm of the first two games for me is the nostalgia -- I can remember playing the games as a fat-faced little kid, and it evokes a lot of associated memories. But even without the nostalgia, the first two games are just effortlessly entertaining. I just never felt that way about the third game. It's lacking in charm.

CURSES!

Ha.


 JEFF SAYS: What can I say about Curse of Monkey Island that Joe won't? Well, probably not much but it's still one of the best adventure games out there. Yeah, it didn't have the original creators involved as they'd long left LucasArts at the time it was made but it doesn't mean the new team did a terrible job. If you take into account that they had to work with one hell of a WTF ending and form a new plot from it, I'd say they managed just fine.

I really liked CMI, still do and probably will forever. I liked the new art style, the character designs, music, locations, voice acting and, yes, I even enjoyed the story. Even though some of the existing stuff was changed (mainly Guybrush) it's pretty obvious that it was done so it could work within Jonathan Ackley and Larry Ahern's version of the Monkey Island universe. With MI2, the series took a darker turn and probably would've kept going that way had if Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer or Dave Grossman were still calling the shots. But for CMI, the two men at the helm steered it toward brighter, more comedic shores.

One of the first things you hear upon starting the game is Guybrush's voice, provided by Dominic Armato. Now usually hearing a once silent character speak for the first time comes with a sense of "He doesn't sound anything like that in my head" but not with Guybrush. Dom's voice actually fit the character pretty well and added the right blend of pathetic and oblivious that makes up Guybrush's personality. Then there's LeChuck, now voiced by veteran actor, Earl Boen, who brings the perfect blend of evil and comical to the character. The entire cast is great; even if the quality of their games has diminished over the years, you can't deny that LucasArts has some amazing casting directors.

While the voice acting is top-notch, it's easily the graphics that made CMI memorable; it's just a beautiful game to look at. The highly detailed backgrounds and character animations brought the whole thing together. The story could've been about standing in line at the DMV and it wouldn't have mattered with these visuals. Really a shame LucasArts went all 3D after its release as it would've been interesting to see how Grim Fandango or Escape from Monkey Island might have looked with hand-drawn 2D graphics. Of course, with the latter, it would've been a vast improvement.

Of course, it does have its share of problems. I didn't really care for Insult Sword Fighting in the first game; yeah, it was funny and all that the first time but it brought the game to a halt which is why I also didn't care for the Sword Fighting here since it's more or less the same thing. There's also having to repeat the "Map, Ship and Crew" portion that makes up the first act. We already had to do that in the first two games so having to do it again is a bit much, tradition be damned. Then there was Guybrush changing from the idiot pseudo-pirate he'd become in MI2 into a more competent version of his MI1 self.

There are a few more little problems here and there but nothing that really drags the game down. It's still one of my favorites and has a good deal of jokes and new characters, like Captain Blondebeard, that I wouldn't mind seeing again in future installments. Unfortunately, it can be a bit of a pain in the ass to get running on today's machines, but if you can manage to get it going, give it a try. If anything, it's a reminder of a time when adventure games walked the earth before they came crashing down in a hail of plasma rifle rounds.


 JOE SAYS: So the thing is this. It doesn't feel like the previous Monkey Island games at all. For whatever reason, the gents who got a hold of the franchise this time round somehow interpreted the series as this family friendly cartoon goodtime fest. I'm not saying the old games were like Larry Clark-esque offenses on your senses. You could probably even play those with your kids just fine. But they had a few minor curses here and there and they weren't afraid to get a bit nasty (the severed navigator's head in the first game or LeChuck in all of the second), a bit dark (Guybrush's parents turning into skeletons), and a bit weird (everything). As I've said before, the latter aspect is admittedly much of what made those early games feel like a bunch of in-jokes to me, but, still, it was a part of the series' mood and it's something The Curse of Monkey Island really doesn't, and doesn't exactly seem to be trying to, capture. In fact, the most poorly executed moments are those in which the game tries to blatantly pay tribute to its predecessors (e.g., LeChuck's rambling, flimsy, and really quite unnecessary explanation that attempts to connect this game to the previous one and the Insult Sword Fighting Ship Combat nonsense).

Again, to be an uber-dork purist-tit about it, Monkey Island 2 is the last true Monkey Island game. So, yes, I would have far preferred, and still would prefer, to see a third game more in the vein of the second. However!!! If I choose to ignore that this game is making an attempt to add on to the series and simply accept it for what it is, it's an adventure game of stunningly high quality.

The art was, and still is, seriously gorgeous. It's all hand-drawn stuff that is always going to look just as it was drawn, so it holds up quite perfectly. Aside from my never cottoning to the voice given to Stan (I think he should sound more like the RV dealer in that old Simpsons episode), the voice acting is a decidedly professional affair. Dominic Armato is a great fit, at least for the Guybrush in this Monkey Island if not definitely for the previous iterations, Earl Boen is genuinely wonderful as LeChuck, Murray is pretty cool, and the guy who does Scrooge McDuck shows up. The humor doesn't suffer the same problems I had with it in the previous games. The issue now is that it's mostly too nice and feels kind of, well, family friendly. Sure, there are a few chuckles to be had, I suppose (I like Wally's seatbelt line), but this game didn't really break any traditions with me in the humor department. It's still not a big draw for me.

Something else that must be mentioned is the music. Done by Michael Land again, I believe I've decided now that it is easily his best work. It's actually got a full orchestra(!!!) behind it for Voodoo Lady's sake and it's like Land recognized what an amazing opportunity this was and stepped everything way the hell up. Sure, the music might not have the same vibe as it did in Monkey 2, but it certainly fits this game. The music in Puerto Pollo is beautiful and oddly melancholy. Blood Island and the Goodsoup Hotel -- combined with their background art -- creates this incredible, solemn mood. IMuse isn't in effect as it was last time, but variations on the tunes still show up and sound spectacular. Maybe Monkey Island had been made to look like some cartoon blockbuster, but at least that meant it got scored like one too.

On top of all this, the game is pretty damn long. It has the feel of an epic adventure with loads of different locations and two huge acts (plus two or three smaller ones). Probably the only thing that outright blows about the story is its disappointingly, clearly rushed ending. Aside from that, however, the ultimately quite simple storyline works superbly and is helped along by puzzles that, while maybe not as challenging as those of the previous games, are definitely not easy (especially if you play on Mega Monkey Mode) and are fun to solve, but, unlike the previous games did on occasion, don't fall into "that's insane and impossible for anybody but the developers to figure out" territory. Yeah, the ship combat stuff in the middle was probably not the best design decision, but at least it's still got an amazing score to accompany it! Overall, I think the puzzles in this game are top-notch and the sequence of getting Blondebeard's gold tooth ranks up there as one of my most favorite puzzle sequences of all time.

So, yes, to some degree this game has a vibe like it's what Monkey Island would feel like if Disney got a hold of it (ignoring the Pirates of the Caribbean movies and, uh, also that Monkey Island was inspired by that ride in the first place). And, yes, it had a huge and arguably not so good effect on the look and feel of everything Monkey Island to come after it (swirly clouds are canon now, apparently). Regardless, I can't deny that this is a fantastic game. It and Grim Fandango were the last two examples of LucasArts foolishly squandering piles of cash on adventure titles before realizing it was a lot easier and far more profitable to go the route of making a million crappy Star Wars games. The tragedy of it all is that I think that, at the time, we probably didn't even realize what a gem we were playing and that adventure games of this caliber created with such care, detail, and with such a high budget would never really be made again...ever!!! Ah, it is to weep.


ESCAPE FROM MONKEY ISLAND IS NEXT, LEAVING FAMINE AND MISFORTUNE IN ITS WAKE.


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