I Wonder What Happened In MonkeyThon09: Part Five

We’ve uncovered the secret, been the victims of revenge, undone a curse, and (eventually) somehow managed to escape. And now, we get to hear Telltale tell THEIR tales!

Part Five: Tales of Monkey Island

I still remember how excited I was the day I discovered that Monkey Island was back. Both the Special Edition and Telltale’s new game were announced at the same time. I loved Telltale’s work with Sam and Max and Strong Bad, and I knew that there were few hands better to return the Monkey franchise to than Dave Grossman’s. The fact that Ron Gilbert was brought on as a consultant was icing on the cake. And while some fans were weary of Mike Stemmle’s involvement after “Escape”, I trusted him this time. After all, he’s worked on more good games than bad.

One of the best features of “Tales” is that for the first time in the entire franchise, the characters have expressive faces during gameplay, not just during cutscenes. The emotions in Guybrush and Elaine’s faces go a long way to contributing to the feel of the game. Sure, far too many of the supporting characters share one of two models, but their distinct voices and personalities ALMOST distract from that. Finally, “Tales” has 3D motion and arrow key movement in a way that actually WORKS–the camera follows Guybrush and never shifts too drastically, so you can hold down on a direction without fear of suddenly running in circles.

December 6th, 2009. 5:41 PM.

Things I loved about this opening: the fact that the boats are actually rocking on the waves, Guybrush’s heroic stance and the sting of the theme music as he enters, the fact that he follows up his own badassery with an awkward, uncertain “You fight like a…”, and the Chuck the Plant cameo.

Things I didn’t mind but everyone else seemed to hate: Adam Harrington’s LeChuck voice, although I’ll admit his “Har, har, har” does sound pretty forced.

Things I didn’t like: using click and drag. Despite my ranting against having to use them in “Escape”, I had a very close relationship with the arrow keys in “Tales”.

6:00 PM. “ELAAAAAAAAAINE!”

Not gonna lie: First time I played Chapter One of “Tales”, I got tremendous chills once the classic theme music started. Chills of the “holy crap I’m playing a new Monkey Island game!” variety.

6:37 PM. “Bwaack! It’s me! Guybrush Threepwood! Mighty Pirate!”

Oh, pyrite parrot, you show us the ugly, annoying, repetitive sides of ourselves we’re just not ready to see.

As a side note, Deep Gut’s identity was completely obvious from the start, but I don’t think they were trying very hard to make it a surprise.

6:57 PM.

Say what you will, but De Singe is a FAR more interesting and entertaining villain than Mandrill. The fact that he didn’t turn LeChuck into a whimpering fool also makes him less annoying. I’m sure some people find his accent more annoying, but I think he’s funny. Jared Emerson-Johnson is not only a great composer, but a great voice actor.

7:04 PM.

I think it’s disgusting how many young monkeys are into electrocution these days. I blame bad monkey parenting.

7:15 PM. “This looks promising…so far, so good…so far, so good…this looks promising…”

The audio-based treasure map IS a neat original system, but yeah…gets tedious. Funny, until I replay this franchise, I forget how much tedium there is amongst the delight.

7:24 PM. “And then some sort of rudimentary lathe…”

Gotta love “Galaxy Quest” references. “Get off the line, Guybrush!”

7:28 PM. “I know what would cheer up these gruesome carvings…cheese!”

What stretch of logic do adventure games keep following to use cheese as puzzle solutions? Admittedly, “King’s Quest V” was a MUCH farther stretch of logic, but still, “use cheese on eyes”? Weird.

7:34 PM. “Rue? I don’t know the meaning of the word!”

The winds have changed, the ship is mine…it’s time to set sail to the final puzzle.

7:37 PM. “Can’t…reach…tar…sticking…pronouns…failing…”

Telltale Games tend to follow this basic formula: separated introductory puzzle, a bunch of plot and intertwining puzzles, and separated final puzzle, often involving things you learned in previous puzzles. This formula works well enough for an episodic format, although it’s extremely noticeable when each episode is a chapter in one story instead of being a standalone game.

7:41 PM.

After two hours, the Screaming Narwhal has launched. Time to Siege Spinner Cay! And Meet Morgan LeFlay!

I think Morgan’s a fine character, but I don’t quite grasp the horny fanboy movement that was so predominant in the forums, wanting Guybrush to leave Elaine for her. And Nicki Rapp is very talented and seems like a sweet person, but Morgan’s childish squeak has nothing on Alexandra Boyd’s sexy accent. Morgan’s voice works quite well for the character, but Elaine’s is the one I’d want whispering in my ear.

Not that I’m one of those guys who goes around marrying videogame characters. The point is, I’m on Team Elaine. How can you NOT be after watching her adorably try to convince you to help LeChuck? “I’ll be your best friend…”

7:47 PM. “How appropriate! You fight like a…hey!”

The opening swordfight scene in “Siege” was the most epic, cinematic thing in the history of the franchise to that point. Little did I know how they’d outdo themselves in coming chapters!

7:59 PM.

It may be kinda small and empty, but I love the atmosphere of Spinner Cay. The colors, the music, the feel…if it was real, I’d take many a daily stroll around the docks. As long as the merfolk aren’t too handsy (but you must admit, they’re far funnier than “traditional” mermaids would have been).

8:16 PM.

Some people on the Telltale forums were complaining about puzzles where you don’t find what you need until you need it, and they cited the bucket in “Siege” as an example. Uh, what? You don’t need the bucket until the siege starts, and yet it’s the very first thing I picked up in the game.

8:30 PM.

Human “Good Guy” LeChuck was my absolute favorite thing to happen to the series since Stan’s surprise return in “Curse”. The help-LeChuck-solve-the-puzzle bit was clearly designed by someone who once tried helping their sister with an adventure game.

8:44 PM. “101 Fish Jokes.” “I hope it doesn’t keep me in stitches or I might need a…sturgeon!” “…I hate you now.”

9:18 PM.

The titular “Siege” of Spinner Cay. Not to be confused with the “Leech”, no matter what confusion Majus spreads.

9:30 PM. “Rue? Ha! I REALLY gotta look up that word!” “Good show, sir! I knew you’d make a good captain from the moment I saw your beard!”

9:46 PM. “MANATEEEEEEEEEEEE!”

After another two hours, it’s time to visit the Leviathan’s lair!

9:57 PM.

I really like the Voodoo Lady opening sequences for the Tales chapters. Especially “Lair”‘s, with the split cards.

10:01 PM. “Please, I implore you, do not mention me, do not mention La Esponja, and whatever you do, do not tell him where you acquired his locket!”

Wait, earlier Voodoo Lady said to tell De Cava she vouches for you. Man, she’s fickle.

10:08 PM.

Since you’ll soon go down the throat anyway, would losing De Cava’s Newlywed Game really be that bad?

10:13 PM. “Manatees are gentle giants!”

Well, except for the mechanical one at the Micro-Groggery, which is neither giant nor gentle.

10:18 PM. “Santino’s the coolest cat I’ve ever known?”

No, Moose, Santino is the coolest cat ANYONE’S ever known.

10:23 PM. “SCIENCE! I have science here!”

I presume this and Winslow’s “Clever boy” in Chapter One are “Jurassic Park” references.

10:29 PM. “I SHALL REWRITE YOUR DEFINITION OF MISERY!” “You’re literate now, too?” [sadly] “Not completely.”

Murray cameos are better when he DOES something, instead of just sitting on a stool shouting. Telltale used him well.

10:35 PM.

The scene where a disillusioned Morgan throws away her Guybrush picture is surprisingly poignant, considering the context. The game’s treading some emotional ground.

10:43 PM.

Between Wally and De Cava, Guybrush’s kleptomania is apparently strongest around monocles.

10:53 PM.

The Face-Off is another “insult swordfighting without the quotability”-type puzzle, but unlike Monkey Kombat, it’s ALSO without the tedium. I never thought it possible!

10:59 PM.

I may be Team Elaine, but I enjoy this chapter’s budding friendship between Guybrush and Morgan. It makes her “sudden but inevitable betrayal” all the more heartbreaking.

11:10 PM. “CURSE YOU, GUYBRUSH THREEPWOOD!”

Possessing the Voodoo Lady is up there with the best of the series’ “hilariously creepy” bits, and the Tarot Card puzzle is great fun.

11:22 PM. “SOMEONE here will never need a milliner again!” “A milliner?” “A hatter. Hatmaker. I’m cutting off somebody’s head!”

11:28 PM.

The Cyrano De Manatee bit HAS quotability without tedium, and the fun of matching phrases up. Between this and Face-Off, they nailed everything that made Insult Swordfighting fun, and nothing that made it annoying. And we didn’t think it was possible!

11:45 PM.

Murray’s credits commentary is amazing. Denny Delk needs to guest star on RiffTrax ASAP!

11:48 PM.

Another two hours, and it’s time now for a little Trial and Execution!

11:51 PM.

To anyone who says that there’s no benefit in a Monkey Island game with newer graphics, I respectfully point you to the phenomenal opening of “Trial”. Silent, but so powerfully emotive. Just TRY and pull that off in a Scumm game!

11:56 PM. “Funny, I thought there’d be three.”

Somebody in this courtroom is familiar with adventure game cliches!

For whatever reason, Stan is the character that’s been hardest for the games with voice acting to get right. As far as I’m concerned, Telltale was the first to really succeed. The voice and hyperactivity are far more perfect than “Curse” or “Escape”, and the jacket looks great.

11:59 PM. “Verrrry interesting. I don’t even remember saying ‘exsanguinate’!”

This chapter had some of the most serious dramatic moments in the series, but that didn’t stop it from being one of the funniest, if you knew where to find the quotes!

December 7th, 2009. 12:03 AM. “The whole idea os so preposterous that it’s practically postposterous!”

12:08 AM.

At around this point, Telltale replied to an earlier tweet of mine with the following: “I think we need to expand our fandom to Team Elaine and Team Morgan. How has this not come up before?”

I reminded them that “teams” generally only form around underage guys who call themselves vampires despite having little in common with vampiric lore. Hurt, Telltale asked, “Are you saying our Monkey Island femmes don’t sparkle?”

12:21 AM. “Oh, there’s a monkey in my pocket, he’s attracting all my change…”

Sadly, that’s the biggest musical number “Tales” gets. And after the “Sam and Max” games had so many nice singalongs…

12:23 AM. “Your fancy cryptozoology tricks won’t work on me, laddie!”

There’s nothing more disappointing than realizing somebody’s caught on to your best trick.

12:30 AM. “I was on a date…WITH YOUR WIFE!”

Every single moment of Guybrush “conferring with his lawyer” were among the funniest things in the history of Monkey Island. No, in the history of ANYTHING.

12:31 AM. “THE DEFENDANT WILL STOP PRETENDING THAT HE KNOWS HOW TO SPEAK LATIN!”

In fact, ALL of the ways of pissing off Judge Grindstump are hilarious!

12:37 AM.

For all our talk of Team Morgan vs. Team Elaine, I wonder where the Team Bosun Krebbs folks are?

12:46 AM.

Like many things in these games, Poxed Elaine is quite hilarious, and a wee bit intimidating.

12:56 AM.

I’ve never been to a bar on “ladies night”. Do they all involve intense swordfights? Because that’d be cool.

Also, I want Poxed Elaine’s exclamation of “Arrr! LIbations!” as a text notification sound.

1:13 AM.

Guybrush is free, thanks to the generous help of his old enemy LeChuck, but his old mentor The Voodoo Lady is apparently evil. Yep, one of those days.

1:23 AM.

In what is undoubtedly the grimmest moment in the franchise to date, Guybrush has entered DeSinge’s office to find Morgan in her tragic state. The moment when an angry Guybrush looks up out the window gave me very different chills than hearing the theme music did.

1:44 AM.

I think the map in this chapter was the coolest we’ve seen in the series yet. I wish folding the edges of a map ACTUALLY caused the fabric of reality to fold. It would make visiting far-off friends a lot easier.

1:46 AM. “No, it couldn’t be THAT easy…”

Guybrush, at this point, you have no right to be surprised that you can pick locks with your hook.

1:58 AM.

The Fugu Jolokia portion frustrated me a bit this time. I decided, as a shortcut, to numb my tongue first and just get the pepper on my first try. However, clicking the pepper made Guybrush speak and un-numb his tongue, so I guessed you had to get the puzzle wrong once before it would work. (In retrospect, it may just be that I had to use hook on pepper instead of clicking the pepper directly). So I ran all the way back to DeSinge’s lab, numbed my tongue again, and ran back…to discover the pepper was covered again, and I had to un-numb the tongue, talk to Grindstump again, have him remove the covering, and run back to DeSinge’s lab AGAIN.

2:05 AM.

La Esponja has been fed…except for the noise. Now onto the epic chapter finale…

2:17 AM.

No comical villain should die without their own Wilhelm Scream! It’s actually funny how natural it sounds coming from someone who had a high-pitched faux-French accent.

And, BAM comes the surprise ending!

2:19 AM. “Unholy THIS!”

Ironic echo. You’re a cruel man, Chuckie.

2:19 AM. “Go to hell, LeChuck!”

Even when traumatized, Elaine Marley is a BADASS.

2:20 AM. “From Melee to Monkey and all the islands in between, my love!”

And THAT is why I’m Team Elaine! And then, as if this ending couldn’t get any more epic…Earl Boen’s back!

2:21 AM. “How appropriate. You fight like a pox infected undead cow!”

And thus, MonkeyThon09 is brought to a cliff-hanging close. I took a day off and then played “Rise of the Pirate God” once it was released.

Final MonkeyThon Tally:

Spent four hours on “Secret”
Spent four hours and twenty minutes on “Escape”
Spent five hours and thirty-seven minutes (non-consecutive) on “Curse”
Spent a whopping ELEVEN HOURS AND THIRTY-THREE MINUTES (thankfully non-consecutive) on freaking “Escape”
Spent eight hours and forty minutes on what was released so far of “Tales”

After I started the MonkeyThon, some other brave members of the Telltale forums decided to hold a Monkey Race, to see who would get through the games fastest. As you can see, I abstained from a speed competition, because I wanted to take my time with each game, soak in the atmosphere, revisit my favorite dialogues, etc. (Plus, in the case of “Escape”, I got stuck because I kept forgetting puzzle solutions.)

Tomorrow: my review of the “Tales” finale.

In the meantime, here’s a non-Monkey link: our dear friend Adam Bertocci wrote this brilliant work that has been spreading all over certain corners of the internet like wildfire: “Two Gentlemen of Lebowski”, a brilliant homage to Shakespeare and the Coen Brothers.

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