In December, I embarked on a particularly geeky pirate adventure: playing through Guybrush Threepwood’s adventures. Yes, all of them. This was MonkeyThon09, and while it reminded me why I’m not THAT much of a gamer (seriously, after several hours in a row I’m almost wishing I still have homework I could do instead), it was a delightful experiment.
While I already posted my thoughts during this quest live on Twitter, I have decided to expound upon some of these thoughts for my LiveJournal audience, who no doubt were wondering just how they’d be able to go on without reading this.
Part One: The Secret of Monkey Island
(Insert Michael Land’s Chapter Start music here. Doo doo, doo doo-doo-doo, doo-doo-doo, doo doo-doo doo-doo doo dooooooooooo…)
December 4th, 2009. 5:33 PM. “Deep in the Caribbean…The Island of Melee…”
I had been planning on doing this since the moment I finished playing chapter four of Tales. I wanted to go into the Tales finale with the entire series fresh on my mind, remembering every detail that led these characters to where they are now. Like every other decision I’ve made in the past nine months, I immediately rushed to tell Twitter the good news. I received an encouraging Tweet of Support from Telltale, and, after watching the final installment in MajusArts’ “I Wonder What Happens” series, I was ready to go. I decided not to play the Special Edition, because I wanted to use ScummVM instead of CrossOver when possible.
Now, I did enjoy the Special Edition a lot. Sure, some of the voices and designs seemed a bit off, and I wish the animation was smoother, but it had the feel of one of Berke Breathed’s storybooks, and I really dug that. Still, it was ScummVM for me this time.
While I enjoy the puzzles, for me the Monkey Island franchise’s main draw for me has always been the story, and specifically, the character of Guybrush Threepwood. Guybrush has a blend of innocent naivete and surefire cockiness the likes of which hasn’t been seen since Don Adams as Maxwell Smart. (No wonder he borrows the “That’s the second biggest…” catchphrase!) His blind ambition is both his greatest asset and his greatest downfall. He’s basically a guy who dreams of growing up to become a pirate, and by golly, he does whatever it takes to become a pirate!
Basically, he’s the ultimate geek.
I think that’s part of the reason the series has had such lasting appeal for twenty years. Adventure gamers laugh at Guybrush, but we also identify with him. We live vicariously through his pirate adventures, but not in the way you live vicariously through an invincible action hero–we live through Guybrush because we feel we’d act pretty much the same way if we were in his position. He’s a pirate who realizes just how cool it is that he gets to be a pirate, and he’d totally play Monkey Island if he wasn’t living it.
5:43 PM. “THE THREE TRIALS!”
Every form of art seems to have its own rule of threes. Comedy has a rule of threes, there’s three acts in a screenplay, and there’s frequently three things to collect in the first stage of an adventure game. What is it about three that makes it the perfect number for a writer?
5:46 PM. “She told him to drop dead. So he did. Then things really got ugly.”
The legend of LeChuck may be the most frequently retconned element of the Monkey Island franchise, but that’s partially because it’s shrouded in mystery. All we really know about LeChuck when he was alive is that he was a vicious pirate who visited Elaine for dinner and never wanted to leave. We don’t know how old he is, or how long he’s been a pirate. We just know that he wants Elaine, and later, wants Threepwood dead. He makes an effective villain this way, but it’d be interesting to explore more of his backstory from his pre-death days.
5:56 PM. “I’m Bobbin. Are you my mother?”
Do the Fettucini Brothers give boatloads of money to ANY schmuck who walks in and offers to test their cannon? How do they stay in business? Actually, how do they stay in business on a pirate island anyway? Most of the Scumm Bar patrons didn’t seem like the circus-visiting type.
6:05 PM. “Lucky guess. Half the people I know are named Guybrush.”
This is the only game where talking to the Voodoo Lady isn’t necessary to win. But in addition to exposition, she adds a lot to the mood of the story, so I always like to talk to her anyway. Besides, she becomes important in later games, and I’m all about laying the groundwork where continuity is concerned. Except I usually save the crew instead of Herman, but it’s not like anything else in “Escape” pays attention to continuity.
6:11 PM. “Did you hear something back in here, too?”
I gave a brief analysis of Guybrush’s character earlier, but one of the nice things about multiple choice dialogue is that some aspects of his character are still up for interpretation–specifically, certain aspects of his attitude. Me, I always have him say the most innocent/naive option available. As established, I like the idea of him being basically a big kid (but not literally. That’s not my interpretation of “Revenge”‘s ending).
6:30 PM. “I found the Treasure of Melee Island and all I got was this stupid T-shirt!”
I’m still happy to say I actually own that shirt, thanks to my impulse decision to drive to E3 and hang around outside when I was in LA this summer. I wore it on the set of “The Guild” during one of the GameStop days, and got a fair amount of attention for it.
6:42 PM. “Hypnotize quarrelsome rhinoceros. Use staple remover on tremendous dangerous-looking yak. Give stylish confetti to heavily-armed clown. Use file on rhinoceros toenails.”
I don’t have much to say here, except that this is one of the greatest gags in gaming history.
6:48 PM. “It belongs in a museum!”
When all of the dialogue options are equally innocent, I go with the Indy or Star Wars reference. Needless to say, my Guybrush says “I’m selling these fine leather jackets” a lot.
6:52 PM. “Hmm. This may turn out to be a pretty good day!
The attempted drowning scene is a classic Monkey Island puzzle fakeout. Numerous red herring solutions, with the real solution being so obvious that a first-timer wouldn’t think of it. This tradition is continued all the way through “Tales”, with Chapter Four’s “Admit it, you’re lying!” puzzle.
6:55 PM. “Love muffin!” “Sugar boots!” “Honey pumpkin!” “Plunder bunny!”
One thing about Elaine; she certainly doesn’t waste time in relationships. One wonders if she may have led LeChuck on just a bit before telling him to drop dead.
7:03 PM. “None shall pass!”
If I ever meet George Lucas, I’m offering him a raw herring. It’d be the polite thing to do, since apparently he loves them so much.
7:08 PM. “You must be thinking of someone else, I am not a farmer.”
I reiterate, Naive Guybrush is the funniest Guybrush, especially during a tutorial sequence.
Thus begins the Insult Swordfighting portion of the game. While it is the most quotable portion of the game (thanks to Orson Scott Card), it’s also one of the most tedious, particularly on replays. I loved this puzzle the first time I played the game, and can’t deny its innovation, but the actual collecting of the insults and comebacks can be extremely slow.
Also, a lot of them aren’t really insults and comebacks so much as setups and punchlines. Bragging about your scar isn’t an insult. And I still have no idea WHAT the hell “This is the END for you, you gutter-crawling cur!”/”And I’ve got a little TIP for you, get the POINT?” is supposed to be, other than a really stupid pun. This should really be called Unfriendly Banter Swordfighting.
Fortunately, this time I was able to gather all the insults and defeat the swordmaster in less than a half-hour.
7:42 PM. “Good luck! Be sure to wear your mittens! And don’t forget to write!”
When Elaine is kidnapped, everyone in town knows she can take care of herself…except for the Cook and Lookout. I wonder why they doubt her self-reliance? Granted, the lookout is blind, and the cook is paranoid about health codes…
7:46 PM. “We’re a wandering circus troupe.” “But this rat scared away the elephant.”
The Men of Low Moral Fiber are my favorite minor recurring characters. I always thought in a movie they should be played by Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, and Harry Shearer. It’s a shame they were dropped after MI2, although it’s not like they do that much in either of their appearances. In fact, like the Voodoo Lady, you can play the entire first game without ever interacting with them.
7:56 PM. “Say hello, Roger!” “Hello, Roger!”
It’s interesting that Meathook is the only member of your crew that you have to go out of your way to find. Reportedly there were originally going to be more puzzles before he agreed to join your crew (hence the caverns in the back of his house, which I really want to explore every time I play this game), but they were cut for length, leading to the (probably much funnier) “touch the parrot and he joins you” bit.
8:09 PM. “Did I tell you about the velour sail covers?”
Stan is Zap Brannigan? It all makes sense now!
Oh, Stan. You’re an obnoxious twat, but you always make me smile. I’m glad you’re in every game in this franchise, even if I’m not thrilled with some of your portrayals.
8:16 PM. “Part Two: The Journey”
This is a short chapter, but I love exploring the ship, especially reading the previous captain’s log. These entries are a delight, which is probably why the Herman Toothrot retcons in “Escape from Monkey Island” bug me so much. This backstory for Herman is funny; “Escape”‘s is just cliche.
8:22 PM. “I loved this stuff when I was a kid. I liked the way it chewed up the roof of your mouth.”
Another staple of the Monkey Island franchise: the recipe with pun ingredients. This time, it only appears once, but in future installments, it becomes commonplace for a “straightforward” recipe, followed by a hastily-recreated “substitute” recipe later in the game.
This marks the first time in the series Guybrush carries FIRE in his pants. Just an open flame, sitting in his pants. No wonder he and Elaine don’t have kids.
8:27 PM. “Part Three: Under Monkey Island”
They CALL it “under”, but I’m pretty sure the majority of this chapter takes place above ground.
Now, the puzzles on the titular island are a wee bit tedious. However, the memos throughout the Island between LeChuck, Herman, and the cannibals still make me giggle. Plus, this island has the Sierra death gag, which I love, although it scared the CRAP out of me the first time I ever played (having not saved my game yet at that point).
8:43 PM. “Is that a banana in your pocket, or are you just glad to see us?”
Some folks have complained about the amount of sexual humor in “Tales”, but innuendo was clearly a staple since the beginning of the series. Of course, it’s a cliche bit of innuendo, so maybe it’s really mocking the idea of innuendo as humor. This is the trouble with games that get all meta.
Long before they got their own game, among the idols outside of the Giant Monkey Head is the franchise’s first cameo of our favorite Freelance Police, Sam and Max! Interestingly, “Tales” lacks a blatant in-universe cameo from the duo, despite Telltale now holding the license.
I believe the Monkey Head also features the franchise’s first quoting of Maxwell Smart’s “second-biggest” catchphrase.
8:53 PM. “How to Get Ahead in Navigating”
Not since the works of Jay Ward have cheesy puns been used as plot points so efficiently!
Proving that having beaten a game before doesn’t guarantee that things won’t slip your mind, I navigated the caverns, explored LeChuck’s ship, opened the crate with the root, and left the ship and the caverns. Only problem: I forgot to PICK UP the root. So I had to navigate the caverns AGAIN. That was a joy, let me tell you.
9:18 PM. “I give up. I’m tired of chasing them around everywhere.”
One of the biggest critiques of the adventure game genre is that they lack replayability. Because it’s just a straightforward story with puzzles, once you know the solution, there’s no incentive to try again, unlike a game based more on hand-eye coordination.
To people who make this criticism, I always say: would you rewatch a movie you’ve seen before? If not, fair enough, but if so, how is that different?
Additionally, a game like Monkey Island is replayable simply because you want to see what happens if you try other options. For example, this scene with Guybrush and Bob. You can choose to kill him or spare him, and depending on if you sank the ship earlier, either Herman will have a conversation with him or your crew will. Four alternate versions of the scene, and that’s not counting individual dialogue options, each of which leads to amusing conversations.
9:20 PM. “Last Part: Guybrush Kicks Butt”
This, too, is a rather short segment, but of the original four games, it’s the only remotely satisfying conclusion. Now, I love the ending to Monkey Island 2, but it’s a cliffhanger, which is unsatisfying by definition. In “Curse” and “Escape”, LeChuck meets an incredibly rushed end, followed by a hasty cutscene that gives no real sense of closure. In “Secret”, the actual killing of LeChuck may be brief, but it’s far more conclusive, especially when followed by Guybrush and Elaine’s multiple choice conversation.
9:33 PM. “Turn off your computer and go to sleep!”
Sorry, but no. Rather than going to sleep, I plowed ahead to “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge”!
To be continued tomorrow…