I Wonder What Happened In MonkeyThon09: Part Four

We’ve recapped “Secret”, “Revenge”, and “Curse”. Each one of these games has a huge faction which claims it as their favorite in the series. However, the faction which claims this next game as their favorite is…minuscule at best.

Part Four: Escape From Monkey Island

Okay. “Escape” DOES have a lot to enjoy. There are some funny jokes, a few entertaining characters (though none as memorable as the previous games), and one brilliant puzzle. However, there are some things I just can’t get past, like the godawful control interface.

I’ve ranted about this elsewhere, but the fact is, the three-dimensional arrow key controls are incompatible with the two-dimensional locked down camera views. While the camera angle changes usually don’t break the 180 degree rule, a lot of them come close, which is troubling when you’re running with camera-relative motion and find yourself jogging in circles flashing quickly between the two screens. And some of the angles are so wide it’s impossible to see where Guybrush is facing, making the character-relative controls virtually worthless. The only way to successfully play the game is to constantly go back and forth between control schemes, which is just tedious. (Also, this is unrelated to arrow keys, but throughout the whole game I keep typing “o” expecting it to open doors, but instead it transports me outside from wherever I am.)

To make arrow-key-based motion work in a 3D game, either the camera angles should always have stayed the same, or the camera should have followed more closely. Or the game should have retained point-and-click properties, although that may have made the PS2 port difficult. Fortunately, “Tales” would offer all THREE of these solutions, but more on that later.

Another problem with “Escape” is the humor style. Its funniest jokes are the meta, self-parody ones, but the game relies way too heavily on them, undercutting any impact the story might have compared to previous games. A little fourth-wall-breaking is fun, but “Escape” completely stops pretending to live in any sort of reality.

On the plus side, there are a lot of locations to explore. The islands in general feel larger in scope than those in previous games. But exploring them would be a lot more fun if the controls weren’t so suicide-inducing.

Let me say, however, that my issues with “Escape” are not meant to be attacks against its designers, Sean Clark and Mike Stemmle, who have made some excellent games and are more than entitled to a few miscalculations. Hell, “Sam and Max Hit the Road” alone more than absolves them for any sins they may have committed.

To play “Escape”, I had to pull out my old Dell craptop, because I never bothered to install the game in CrossOver. (I doubt it would work very well, since my Macbook has no page up/down keys.) Since I’ve only completed the game once, and it was a long time ago, I couldn’t rely on my memory to solve most of these puzzles. Oh, boy.

December 5th, 2009. 4:06 PM.

Right off the bat, the no-apparent-effort PowerPoint-style opening credits is a start on the wrong foot.

4:23 PM.

The pirates who attack the ship are all identical. And people complain that “Tales” reuses character models?

4:45 PM.

One advantage to the locked-down camera: when talking to the darts players in the Scumm Bar, the “hit that guy over there” gag is cute. But what happened to “Secret”‘s claim that “darts and alcohol don’t mix”?

Also, they mention “insult darts”. Pirates playing a bunch of self-aware “insult” games was one of the first hints that the franchise is falling into self-parody.

4:53 PM.

You may recall that when playing “Secret”, I saved Carla, Otis, and Meathook instead of sinking the ship, thus rounding us up to just about the maximum number of plot holes in “Escape”.

5:08 PM. “To Kill a Mockingbird…And Get It Reduced To Manslaughter”.

At least book publishers in the Monkey Island universe are still funny!

5:18 PM.

We all know video games turn kids evil. I can’t even count how many teens broke into bank vaults using sponges and blamed their imaginary no-nosed bandit friends after “Escape” came out.

5:22 PM.

Pegnose Pete keeps shouting “I’m Guybrush Threepwood” like he’s an impersonator in a Seltzer-Friedberg movie.

The sad thing is, I think part of the reason he enjoys pretending to be Guybrush is he has so few interesting traits of his own. His whole gimmick is that he’s a thief without a nose. The only slightly interesting aspect of his personality is his fear of ducks, and even that feels forced compared to most of the quirks characters in the other games had.

6:28 PM.

The Swamps of Time, like any mini-game, has a touch of the tedious about it, but it’s the most brilliant sequence in the whole game. The “Bill and Ted” bit is a stroke of genius.

8:10 PM.

At this point, I took a break from the MonkeyThon to watch That Guy with the Glasses’ live charity drive. I resumed at…

10:15 PM.
…with the charity drive still playing in the background on the other computer. Yay, multimedia sensory overload!

10:24 PM.

Wait, I don’t need to get Otis out of jail? He’s just released when I clear MY name? What was the bloody point of him getting arrested?!

10:31 PM.

I think the question everybody has about “Escape”: What’s the deal with LeChuck’s new transformation powers? Seriously, what’s the deal?

10:38 PM.

Why Meathook, instead of an original painter character? And why not have him do something INTERESTING?

10:43 PM.

Funny, the way Guybrush feels explaining how great the SCUMM Bar was to the LUA Bar customers is the way I feel talking to people who’ve only played “Curse” and “Escape”.

10:51 PM.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from “Escape”, it’s that if you destroy a painting in a restaurant, they might as well let you keep it.

11:00 PM. “Oh, how sweet. You remind me of the daughter your parents never had.”

The Dainty Lady figurehead is by FAR the most interesting and amusing new character, and a far deal more entertaining than the use of most of the old characters. It’s a shame her role is so brief, although if it was much larger she would likely get quite annoying.

11:09 PM.

Jambalaya Island is the source of most of this game’s tourism jokes. Tourism jokes, I should add, that were done more subtly and efficiently back on Melee Island in “Secret” (ie, the plaque at the treasure hunt). While there is some funny stuff on Jambalaya, my main beef with it is that it mocks Style-Over-Substance tourist traps…and then gives us genuinely Style-Over-Substance cameos of Murray and Stan.

Despite popular opinion, I like Stan’s portrayal in “Escape” much better than in “Curse”. He may not look great, but his expression is closer to the first two games, he’s more hyperactive, and his voice reminds me of Phil Hartman. But while his portrayal may be better here, his role in the story is MUCH better in “Curse”. As in, he actually has one. And why is his theme still based on Funeral March when there’s no death involved in his current business?

Jambalaya Island also features the infamous Planet Threepwood, which is another of those ideas that’s really, really funny in a self-parody way, but feels wrong in an actual game. For instance, the idea of so many people having heard of Guybrush (Morgan LaFlay excluded) is annoying. Even when he spreads stories about himself in “Revenge”, nobody really quite believes them.

The bulk of Jambalaya is spent on the diving competition, which isn’t a BAD puzzle, but it really feels like padding. (Says the guy who embellished his twitter feed and blog with this MonkeyThon nonsense.)

But I do have a genuine, complaint-free compliment: I REALLY dig the swinging LeChuck’s Theme mix that plays in the Micro-Groggery.

December 6th, 2009. 12:22 AM. “Your heart’s in the right place, dear, but your brain is somewhere cold and dark and covered with spiders.”

The piracy reform school is hilarious, but it’s a long process just to get a dunce cap to appease ONE judge in the diving competition. Padding, I tell you.

1:09 AM. At this point, I had the statue and the hat, and decided to call it a night. I resumed at…

December 6th, 2009. 12:25 PM.

I knew I needed the mug, but I had already used one coupon unsuccessfully. I knew I needed to glue Guybrush to the bucking manatee ride for another coupon, but I couldn’t remember where to find glue. Eventually I found it at Stan’s, just sitting outside the building. I figured this was the point where the designers were just as tired as I was and gave up trying to think of creative sources of items.

12:52 PM.

Ozzie just isn’t an interesting enough character for LeChuck to be serving him, dammit!

Don’t get me wrong, the idea of a new villain who hates all forms of piracy had a lot of potential. But while his motivations were promising, Ozzie wasn’t particularly funny or intimidating. He CERTAINLY wasn’t worthy to be LeChuck’s boss. If anything, the story should have taken a “Super Mario RPG” turn, where Guybrush and LeChuck have to put aside their differences and join forces to stop the Australian’s pirate genocide.

But, no. The once-awesome LeChuck is a mere puppet to a boring bureaucrat. A shapeshifting puppet. Seriously, what?

12:56 PM.

Oh, look, Guybrush is stranded on Monkey Island. What a fresh plot twist.

I understand the desire to have a game with Monkey Island in the title feature Monkey Island, but who would have really complained if we had skipped it this time? (Actually, judging from the reaction on the Telltale Forums to “Tales”, I guess a good handful.)

1:04 PM.

Here we have the “Hollywood Amnesia” portion of the game, where we throw a coconut at Herman Toothrot (which is indeed therapeutic) and he starts to remember things. We then have to collect his other items and throw them at him, which makes very little sense even in cartoon amnesia terms–why doesn’t throwing the same coconut over and over help? (Answer: because they couldn’t even pretend that’s really a puzzle.)

1:13 PM.

Okay, the rocks-in-canals-on-the-cliffside puzzle is more padding, yes, but I think it’s a lot of fun.

1:36 PM.

The log-ride-through-lava puzzle wasn’t a bad idea, but like so many things in this series, the execution is more than a bit tedious. Still less tedious than rowing-around-the-island-to-visiit-the-cannibal side in “Secret”, but even the simpler crossing-the-bridge in this game is annoying due to the camera angles and arrow controls.

1:48 PM.

Guybrush being responsible for the monkey’s death in “Secret” is pretty clever. Hilariously cruel, as Bender would say.

1:58 PM.

Sigh…here it is, folks. No turning back now. This is…Monkey Kombat.

I don’t hate Monkey Kombat nearly as much as some do. I applaud them for attempting a new game mechanic, and I can see where they felt the idea had potential. But the end result is clearly lackluster. Aside from barely even making sense in-story, the sequence combines rock-paper-scissors with everything that’s tedious about Insult Swordfighting (seeking out new opponents, looking for responses), without any of the awesome quotability.

I finally got past it at 3:15 PM. Dear Lord.

4:27 PM.

Much like MarzGurl and Linkara discovered about the end of “Cool World”, the end of “Escape” is one big game of “Sure, Why Not?”

4:33 PM.

Poor Herman. The bump I gave him deluded him into thinking he’s Grandpa Marley, directly contradicting his backstory in “Secret”.

4:39 PM.

The Ultimate Insult is now a giant robot controlled by the Monkey Head. SURE, WHY NOT. (Yes, I know this was an idea developed and dropped from “Secret”…some ideas are rejected for a reason.)

The most annoying thing about controlling the robot? It walks so damn slowly. I guess that’s so we don’t ruin the realism. Of a FREAKING GIANT MONKEY ROBOT.

4:52 PM.

LeChuck is now possessing a giant statue of himself. SURE. WHY. NOT.

4:54 PM. “You triple timing bastich!”

If that was a “Johnny Dangerously” reference, my respect for “Escape” just went up a lot.

5:00 PM.

You don’t really beat “Escape” so much as stall until the villains defeat each other. Ignore your problems and two wrongs will make a right!

Okay, despite all my complaints, I actually enjoyed “Escape” a lot more this time than the first time I played it. Still the weakest in the series, but there’s a lot that’s fun about it.

At this point, I took a dinner break, before deciding to finish off strong with “Tales of Monkey Island”, which we’ll look at tomorrow!

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