You know, I’d better come clean about this before I get any further. I hate monkeys. Gorillas I’m fine with. Lemurs – no problem. I can even laugh at the occasional baboon butt joke. But monkeys… eesh, they’re just so dirty and screechy, and you KNOW that they were the ones secretly behind that revolution in Planet of the Apes. Anyway, Escape From Monkey Island contained a higher monkey-to-person ratio than any other game in the series, but even that factor didn’t change my opinion of Guybrush’s jump to 3D. Here’s my review.
The saga of Guybrush Threepwood seemed to have come to a close. After years of constant competition with the Demon Zombie Ghost Pirate LeChuck, our hero had finally buried the fiendish phantasm beneath a mountain of ice and married the love of his life, Melee Island Governor Elaine Marley. The only things that seemed to be in Guybrush’s future were a romantic 6-month cruise on his wife’s luxury yacht and a life of wealth and grog and all the other benefits that accompanied being husband to a beautiful pirate governess. Not half bad, considering Mr. Threepwood’s humble beginnings…
The honeymoon went pretty well. There was a bit too much shopping for our hero’s tastes, and that nasty incident involving an angry rival pirate ship nearly ruined the wax job on the poop deck, but all in all, it was a wonderful getaway. Of course, all vacations must come to an end in time, and this one was no different. Guybrush and Elaine stepped off their ship and onto the dock expecting to see a crowd of cheerful drunkards and celebrating serial killers, only to be greeted by…
…A monkey. While the raven is the traditional harbinger of misfortune, Elaine’s pet chimp Timmy performed the task nicely with his Lassie-esque sign language. First off, the town had decided that Elaine was dead and that her manor should be demolished! Secondly, a fearsome Australian businessman was mocking his way towards a real estate empire in the tri-island area, quickly becoming a menace to traditional pirate-run industries everywhere! Third, a mysterious, overweight character named Charles L. Charles showed up one day and decided to run for the position of Governor, challenging the Marley dynasty! Gadzooks! What else could possibly go wrong in the life of Guybrush Threepwood? (Don’t answer that, rhetorical question.)
Escape from Monkey Island is the fourth in the legendary Monkey Island series, and like its predecessors, is an adventure game filled with pirates, wenches, grog, various sword-related injuries, general mayhem, and, you guessed it, maybe a monkey or two. You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a plucky young pirate wannabe who managed to make a name for himself amidst the cutthroats and lowlifes of the Caribbean. Clearly a fine setting for a game, but how does it play out, you ask? Allow me to explain.
Like all of the other Monkey Island games, your goal is to get past the myriad puzzles that get in your way, ranging from the humdrum (breaking through a thick wall to reach a treasure chest) to the slightly odd (stealing an accordion from a musically-gifted monkey) to the downright freaky (getting a pair of Russian chess players to start fighting in order to distract them so you can grab their clock and use it for maintaining position in a land where the threads of time and space get more tangled than a week-old Slinky). Fortunately, Guybrush is a resourceful little bugger and can get past any of these issues with only the items at hand.
Along the course of your adventures, you must pick up pretty much every item that isn’t nailed down, no matter how meaningless or insignificant they may seem. Most of these items are used later in the game to bypass something that gets in your way. For instance, let’s say you find a one-legged pirate clown who won’t let you cross his bridge into Mongolia. If you find bag of termites at the local Insects ‘R’ Us, you could then use the termites on the clown’s peg leg and send him plummeting into the river of molten lava below, granting you access to the next section of the game. And yes, nearly all of the puzzles are a bit on the wacky side.
While it might seem that the gameplay is exactly as it always was, I’m afraid that there have been more than a few changes added, all of which are for the worst. First off, you now control Guybrush with only the keyboard, and the mouse is now useless. You move around with the directional keys and use L to look at an item you’re facing, U to use or talk to said item, and P to pick it up. Next up, you have to walk right up to an item to be able to interact with it, making it much harder to find the many interactive thingamabobs that populate the various islands you visit. These two aspects were probably necessary in a 3D game, but that just doesn’t make up for the loss in playability.
Next up, the number of minigames has been drastically cut down. There is an extremely short, fat-free variant of insult sword fighting to be found, known as insult arm wrestling, which hardly qualifies as a minigame, and then there’s one other that will haunt my dreams forever: MONKEY KOMBAT!!! Speaking in the ancient language of the monkeys, you must use various base insults such as “ook” and “chee” to choose your battle stance while your opponent is doing the same thing. Each stance beats two others, and only by learning the correct insults required to change stance will you manage to defeat your foes. Here’s an example. (Don’t worry; it shouldn’t spoil too much for you, especially since I’m making it up)
Say the battle begins with both you and your opponent in the Drunken Monkey stance. Your opponent yells out “ook, chee, eek” and switches to Bobbing Baboon stance. This beats Drunken Monkey stance and hurts you. In retaliation, you could say “chee, eek, eek” and respond by switching to Gaping Gibbon, which defeats Bobbing Baboon. When both characters are in the same stance, the last person to attack gets some health back and a random stance is chosen for both characters. Oh, and remember: going from Bobbing Baboon to Drunken Monkey is the same as going from Drunken Monkey to Bobbing Baboon, and to hold your stance, just repeat the same word three times. That description of the game probably leaves something to be desired, but don’t worry. You’ll figure it out without too much trouble.
Of course, I’d be willing to forgive those fine Lucas Arts employees if there was still a heaping helping of one-liners, puns, and slapstick jokes to be found, but this time something just seemed… off. The story focused more on making fun of making fun of pirates than actually making fun of pirates, and while it’s a new theme for the game, it just wasn’t as interesting. Don’t get me wrong though; I caught myself giggling like a marmoset more than once, but I wanted orangutan-sized laughter! Fortunately the game picked up in the second half, and while the comedy might not have been exactly what I was hoping for, the storyline alone makes the game worth playing.
The Monkey Island series always reveled in making its plot as convoluted and random as possible, but it finally managed to pull itself together into one sensible lump this time around. Escape From Monkey Island contains all the plot twists, revelations, and other story elements necessary to give a silly story an interesting plot. If you’ve kept up with the series until know, you owe it to yourself to get this game if only to clear up all those questions you never knew you had.
The characters also managed to be acted out remarkably well, only strengthening the bizarre, powerful, and moving storyline. The voice acting is every bit as good as it was in the last game, with Dominic Armato continuing his performance as Guybrush from the last game (as well as the voices of Monkey #4 and The Duck). Other performances are almost as lovable, ranging from deranged high dive champion Marco de Polo, the ever-present voodoo lady at the local IHOV (International House of Voodoo), and the long awaited return of Carla and Otis from the first game. They’re witty, they’re insaney, they might just be zany, but in the end the only issue that bugged me would be the loss of the voice actor for Elaine. Overall it was an excellent performance, and they even managed to snag the voice of “King of the Hill” star Bobby Hill to play a large, abusive woman! How sweet is that?
Of course all that would go to waste if the graphics weren’t up to par, and fortunately that’s not the case. I admit I wasn’t pleased when I saw that the game was entering the third dimension, but it was handled admirably well. The cartoony backgrounds and areas have been transported perfectly into prerendered areas located around the Caribbean, and while it wasn’t ever jaw-droppingly stunning, it wasn’t half bad.
The characters wound up with a similar level of detail: they’re all polygonal and up to par with the competition of the time as far as detail goes. There was a noticeable amount of detail spent on mastering lip-synching and more than a few impressive character motions (ie: MONKEY KOMBAT!!!), so I guess that counts for something, and the in game movie sequences do have an ugly little charm to them. It might not be the best-looking thing ever (did you really expect a game about pirates to have visually-pleasing character models?), but it’s a far cry from the “scurvy-inducing 3D” advertised on the box.
Next up is the soundtrack. There’s really nothing too surprising here this time: they put together a whole bunch of remakes from older games in the series, threw in a few random tunes they came up with at the last minute, and hoped it would work. I can’t say that it bothered me much, but I’m getting a teensy bit sick of that theme song.
Anyway, the REAL issue in the music department is not what IS there, but what is NOT; namely, Guybrush singing. In the second game in the series, we caught our first glimpse of a musical interlude in the form of some dancing skeletons. In the third game, we had more than a few all-out pirate singalongs starring various cast members. If Lucas Arts had any sense of decency, Escape From Monkey Island would have been a 20 hour long Broadway performance with the occasional grog joke, monkey appearance, and the line “You fight like a cow!” thrown in at some point. For shame!!!
Sound effects ALMOST made up for that particular blunder though, with more realistic banana-harvester, voodoo explosion, and little monkey cymbal noises than I’d ever heard before. It might be a minor issue, but it’s comforting to know that they paid attention to their little monkey cymbal noises.
Last and least, we have controls. The keyboard isn’t nearly as enjoyable, playable, or clickable as the mouse was, and this basically ruins the control score. I could possibly mention that the save function takes a little longer than usual, or that the menus have too many options, or whatever, but that’s all small stuff when the actual in-game controls went from being really good to really bad. When Monkey Island 5 comes out, I’d better see a mouse in use or George Lucas will pay dearly…
By the way, quick history fact – the evil Aussie Ozzy Mandrill is based on Percy Bysshe Shelley’s poem “Ozymandias,” a short writing on the topic of how even the greatest of tyrants are eventually forgotten in the sands of time no matter how proud or powerful they may be. I’m still trying to figure out why they turned an Egyptian monarch into an Australian capitalist, but I should probably be more worried about how much time these people are spending turning Romantic-era poetry into adventure games about monkeys. Something just seems wrong with that concept.
In any case, it’s time to sum up Escape From Monkey Island. Despite all the changes in graphical format, control scheme, and the number of monkeys to be found, this is definitely a proud member of the Monkey Island family. Is it a must-own game? I wouldn’t say so, unless you enjoy a good laugh now and then and have already played Curse of Monkey Island. There are better ways to kill some cash, but the worse ways outnumber them by quite a bit. I suppose the best way to put my opinion would be that if you liked all the other Guybrush adventures, you’ll like this one too.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the word monkey(s) showed up exactly thirty times in this review. That’s gotta be some kind of a record.