Every time Telltale releases a new game on the iPad, it feels something like an experiment. A little Sam & Max here, a little Wallace & Gromit there. These games are part of a series, but they have each only received a single iPad episode. Tales of Monkey Island is yet another series based on a classic franchise brought back from the dead, but is it good enough to warrant a second episode down the line?
The Monkey Island series went into decline at the turn of the century. The series made the bold leap from traditional 2-D animation to full-blown 3-D with Escape from Monkey Island, a leap perhaps it was not ready to make: The last of the Monkey Islands created by LucasArts didn’t fare nearly as well as its predecessors.
Violence on the open sea.
Like Sam & Max before it, the reigns were picked up again by Telltale as they sought to bring the misadventures of Guybrush Threepwood (mighty pirate) to a new generation. And they succeeded. Much of the original voice cast (beginning with the third entry in the series, Curse of Monkey Island, and returning for the LucasArts remakes) is back, and fresh character models really bring the characters to life. And although Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer no longer have ties to the project, their sense of humor, which made Monkey Island so famous, is still there.
This iPad version of the first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, is among the best out there. While it doesn’t best the Mac or PC editions, it is much better than, say, the Wii version, most notably because of the audio quality. The voice acting comes through loud and clear, with nary a hint of compression (unlike on the Wii). The visuals hold up well too, with minimal aliasing, showcasing the iPad’s potential as a high resolution display. The game does suffer at times from slowdown, but not to the point that it becomes cumbersome. In fact, Monkey Island Tales 1 HD is Telltale’s best work on the iPad thus far.
The controls are similarly up to the task. The on-screen analog stick is easy to use and efficiently gets Guybrush around Flotsam Island– dare we say better than using the WASD keys on a keyboard, and tapping is responsive for item selection. The inventory menu is particularly easier to use with the touch interface. Combining items to create something new, which you have to do fairly often, is effortless.
Is that a gun or a horn?
In fact, the only thing that holds this game back is that it’s such an introductory chapter in the saga. As Guybrush Threepwood, you’re thrown right into the action: Saving your wife Elaine, battling the Ghost Pirate LeChuck, and other typical staples of the series. Unfortunately, Elaine and LeChuck are absent from the game after the intro sequence. In a voodoo spell gone awry, your arm becomes possessed by LeChuck, and you spend the whole episode stuck on a single island trying to find the cure. Thus, you’re stuck interacting with (mostly) unfamiliar characters, which hurts the game’s nostalgia factor.
Still, except for a complicated jungle puzzle relying on aural cues, the puzzles are innovate, clever, and fun, and the humor and dialogue is fantastic. You should rarely have to turn to a walkthrough to solve a tricky puzzle, but the game is also not overly easy. For adventure games, it’s a good blend.
Quite frankly, it would be criminal for Telltale to not continue the series on the iPad. More than any of their other series, Tales of Monkey Island demands a follow-up, and with such a cliffhanger ending and the lack of many important supporting roles, the first episode feels incomplete. Play it and enjoy it; then, once done, start your letting-writing campaign to the developers. Trust us, you’ll be left wanting more.