The Curse of Monkey Island


Review by · October 14, 2001

Trilogies tend to get a bad rap, but I don’t know quite why. When Super Mario Bros. became a trilogy, we were given an entertaining Italian in a flying raccoon suit. When Star Wars became a trilogy, we were given the Saarlak Pit, one of the most memorable sci-fi beasties in cinematic history. When Revenge of the Nerds became a trilogy, we were given… well, okay, that was just a whole heap of bad memories. However, the Monkey Island series outdid every trilogy ever with their third title, a game that was finally technologically advanced enough to let the writers release their full storage of funny. Here’s my review.

Lost at sea, Guybrush Threepwood struggled to resist madness and starvation. Having escaped from the zombie pirate LeChuck’s Carnival of the Damned through methods currently unknown, he now found himself drifting along in an escaped bumper car. Without food or water, he knew he would soon die, and desperately he thought of his beloved Elaine Marley, as well as his undead foe. It’s surprising how often dreams come true…

Over the horizon, a sea battle soon came into Guybrush’s view. A large pirate ship was assaulting a fortified structure, and over the boom of cannons, he heard the voices of Elaine and LeChuck, screaming war cries at each other as the battle raged. It was not long before both sides spotted him, and much to Elaine’s horror, Guybrush was dragged into the hold of the ship…

…only to blow it to kingdom come and destroy LeChuck with his own secret weapon. Not only that, but he smuggled out a wedding ring the size of a raccoon’s brain. He soon floated to shore by Elaine’s feet, and there he proposed. Truly in love, she accepted, and the ring was placed on her finger. Of course, Guybrush hadn’t realized that the ring was horribly, horribly cursed. Now, with Elaine petrified, our hero lost, and a giant chicken on the fowl, er, prowl, Guybrush must perform the impossible yet again, using only a bag of wooden nickels, a helium balloon, and the skeletal arm of some guy. Hey, if McGuiver could do it, so can he.

The Curse of Monkey Island is the third part in the famous Monkey Island saga, and like its predecessors, it’s a point ‘n’ click adventure game set in the Caribbean. However, much new ground is covered this time around, and while the gameplay mechanics are still recognizable, many new concepts are employed.

For starters, you still go around, collecting various objects that seem utterly worthless, and use them to get past the maddening puzzles that get in your way. You also still use various verbs on objects in your surroundings to interact with them, but here is where the biggest gameplay change is. Gone are the good old days when you would have separate choices for Push, Pull, Pick Up, Open, etc. Instead, they now give you three verb choices for every object: one being the Hand, one being the Eyes, and one being the Mouth. Each choice has different meanings for different objects. For instance, using the Hand on a gold coin would make you pick it up, while using it on an annoying guy might make you punch him in the face. Of course, while some choices are real, others are just for laughs. “Eat Paste” in particular comes to mind.

This new setup may seem to take a lot of the creativity out of the game, but it’s actually a much better system. Not only does it leave much to the imagination when it comes to getting by obstacles, it also makes it much easier to get out of a puzzle when you’re stuck. When there were twelve separate options, it took four times as long to randomly guess everything. Now it’s so quick that you’ll find yourself doing everything to everything, just to hear Guybrush’s responses.

In fact, the only real problem with gameplay would be that they got a little out of hand when it came to making up insane puzzles. At one point, faced with a duel that I could not win against a nasty pirate, I thought up the clever idea of putting chewed gum down his pistol’s muzzle, thus preventing him from firing and letting me win. However, this is not the correct solution. What was annoying though was that the real solution was no more sensible than the one I came up with, and you often wind up imagining so many outrageous answers to a problem that you wind up hopelessly lost and overwhelmed. Seriously, what use could you find for a 60-pound block of tofu?

Although overly ridiculous, it’s still a lot of fun. The sword fighting mini-game of yore has returned, in which you counter your opponents’ insults with zingers of your own in a contest of wits, and even though the come-backs aren’t half as good as last time, they still manage to get you chuckling and also rhyme (much like that last line). There is also a ship-to-ship cannon battle segment, some target practice against a horde of vicious sea thugs, and a banjo contest involving more firepower than is normally deemed necessary.

Also, if you feel like a challenge, you can set the game for Mega Monkey mode! Here, there are more puzzles, more hilarious cut scenes, more red herrings, and a bunch of items that get removed, making your job just that much more difficult. If you want the full experience of the game (which you do), play it on Mega Monkey.

Before they even notice any of the gameplay, however, anyone who’s played the first two will be stunned to see that Guybrush is now a cartoon. Taking a huge graphical step forward, TCoMI features a highly animated graphical setup in every single area you’ll visit. Chances are that you won’t even recognize our facial-hair-challenged friend, but the new level of detail not only gives the whole cast a lot more personality, but it also allows them to have so many more visual gags. Just try to imagine yourself caring for Haggis McMutton even half as much if he were a pixilated generic character and not the Scottish behemoth he is here.

Also, if you’re a lucky pirate indeed, you just MIGHT be able to activate the game’s Super Special 3D SCUMM Accelerated Environment, a graphical option so amazingly advanced that no words could ever describe it. Even the most up-to-date gaming systems are pitifully ugly in comparison, and you will never be able to play another game again without shaking your head in disgust. If you are one of the few chosen capable of witnessing this awe-inspiring event, consider yourself blessed; few mortals ever see it, and even fewer don’t die of sheer bliss upon witnessing its wonder.

The only real weaknesses I could think of visually would be a low frame rate for certain characters and the fact that their mouths don’t quite match up with what they say, but everything else is just peachy. Even the cut scenes have been brought back, and no longer are they embarrassingly primitive. These short cartoon snippets are probably some of the best segments of the game, and while everything is a little dated, they still put on a great show.

The Caribbean-themed soundtrack also remains, though it’s now been fully redone in a non-MIDI form. There are several remakes of old tunes, not to mention a few new ones here and there, but without question, the singing is the most important point for me to mention.

You see, there is now voice acting in the game for every single spoken line of dialogue. This can be turned off or on, and subtitles are also optional, but you really don’t want to miss Guybrush singing. There are at least five little musical numbers scattered about, ranging from the popular children’s song, “Oh There’s A Monkey in My Pocket,” to that classic commercial jingle for Silver’s Long Johns. If you don’t instinctively make a separate save file right before these scenes, you’ve got issues.

The sound effects and normal voice acting are also pretty nice. Explosions, thuds, and monkey screeches all sound very unique and are easily identified, something that the last two Monkey Island games failed to do. As for the VA, it’s flawless. Every character fits his voice perfectly and the sheer quantity of dialogue is enormous, plus the star power involved is astonishing. Get this – they managed to sign up Gary Coleman to play this one guy. GA-RY COLE-MAN. If he can’t make a game sell, nothing can.

The additions of detailed graphics and actual spoken dialogue managed to take the already hilarious story to a whole new level. The entire tale is roughly summed up as, “Guybrush must break the voodoo curse on his fiancé Elaine before all is lost,” but anyone who played the series knows that you hardly ever wind up focusing on the actual story.

While the tale itself is probably one of the most comprehensive in the series thus far, and while there is a large chunk of back story revealed here for the first time, it’s honestly just one silly scenario after the other, each scarcely connected and each containing some of the greatest humor LucasArts has ever produced. Normally I would offer you a few sample gags found in the game, but I can’t now without feeling like I left out so much. There’s simply not enough space to list it all. So instead, I’m just going to say it’s very, very funny, leave the rest to your imagination, and get on with my review.

Even the controls improve upon the old formula. Instead of having to go all the way over to the side of the screen, clicking on an action to take, and then going all the way over to the object you want to manipulate, you can now simply click on an object, hold down the button, and drag a little to make your whole set of options appear. The fact that they’re simplified to three easy choices also makes it much less frustrating when you accidentally end up picking the wrong option, but there is one minor irritation in the game I should bring up. Guybrush is as slow as dirt. Fortunately, you can often just double click on where you want to go and they’ll skip the animation of him plodding along.

Do yourself a favor and find this game. It’s one of the greatest titles ever produced on this side of the Pacific, and to miss it would be a true loss. In fact, missing any games in the series would be. Go. Go now and buy them all. You can thank me later, especially if you happen to have a fear of porcelain. Not only will the game entertain you, but you’ll know that you aren’t alone. Guybrush feels your pain.

Overall Score 95
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Andrew DeMario

Andrew DeMario

Andrew went by several names here, starting as a reader reviewer under the name Dancin' Homer. Later known as Slime until we switched to real names, Andrew officially joined RPGFan as a staff reviewer in 2001 and wrote reviews until 2009. Andrew's focus on retro RPGs and games most others were unwilling to subject themselves to were his specialty.