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Tales of Monkey Island archived preview

Tales of Monkey Island
Tales of Monkey Island

On the top floor of a hotel in the heart of L.A.’s Little Tokyo, I just finished witnessing something many adventure game fans had long given up on ever seeing in their lifetimes: a brand spanking new Monkey Island game. As you’ve no doubt heard by now, LucasArts and Telltale Games are collaborating on a new five-part series entitled Tales of Monkey Island. The folks at Telltale, including one of the fathers of the original Secret of Monkey Island, Dave Grossman, were nice enough to invite me over the night before E3 officially begins to have an early peek at the first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, due out July 7th, 2009 for PC (and “soon” afterwards through WiiWare). If there are any fans out there worried that Monkey Island’s ship has sailed, it certainly looks like Telltale may be just the captain to pull it back around to where it belongs.


Our story begins right about where Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™, was hoping it would finally end. Some years have passed since we last saw Guybrush at the end of Escape from Monkey Island, but he hasn’t been resting on his laurels, and neither has—unfortunately for him—the evil Ghost Pirate LeChuck. LeChuck has once again kidnapped Guybrush’s wife, the lovely Elaine Marley, and is keeping her prisoner on his ship, while in his spare time he experiments on captive monkeys to learn their “secrets.” Guybrush has finally gathered all the ingredients necessary to create the Cursed Cutlass of Kaflu, which, according to his old friend the Voodoo Lady, can put an end to LeChuck once and for all. That is, until Guybrush accidentally breaks it. The first major puzzle players will attempt is to find some “reasonable substitutions” for the ingredients. Once the stand-in Cutlass is ready to go, Guybrush thrusts it into LeChuck’s sternum, though the results are not quite what he’d hoped.

Instead of being banished forever, LeChuck changes from Ghost Pirate to Human Pirate, with a not-insignificant amount of evil mojo (aka “The Pox of LeChuck”) transferred to Guybrush’s hand, which was touching LeChuck during the transformation. Guybrush’s newly evil appendage refuses to stab the suddenly vulnerable LeChuck, instead inadvertently setting off a chain reaction that blows a massive hole in the ship and sends Guybrush flying into the ocean, helpless to stop Elaine from sinking to the watery deep. Guybrush washes up on the shore of Flotsam Island, where he’s discovered by a pirate passerby whom he promptly punches in the face with his Pox-fueled hand (“My nose!” the pirate cries, “My beautiful pirate nose!”). All this sounds like a whole adventure in its own right, but this is really just the beginning, and first thing’s first: Guybrush is gonna need a new ship.

If you’ve played some of Telltale’s other episodic adventures, whether Sam & Max Seasons 1 and 2, Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, or Wallace & Gromit’s Grand Adventures, you may think you know what to expect from Tales of Monkey Island, but there are a few major differences that make this a very exciting project. One is that the episodes are not standalone “tales”, as the title might seem to imply, but actually “chapters” in a greater story. “Epic” was definitely the word of the day throughout our conversation. The team’s goal is to create an adventure so compelling, you won’t be able to wait until the whole thing is released before you play. Each chapter will have some sort of resolution of whatever sub-quest Guybrush is attempting to complete, but will also have a cliffhanger they’re hoping will keep fans excitedly speculating about until the next month’s release.

Another big change is how few assets will be reused from episode to episode. There was some disagreement between Kevin Bruner (Chief Technology Officer of Telltale) and Dave Grossman about whether Tales features “zero” reused locations, or simply “very few.” In either case, as the series progresses, players will travel to several different islands, without a Sam & Max or Wallace & Gromit-style hub for a comfort zone. New characters will also continue to be introduced. In the scenes I saw, almost every character was completely original to the franchise (wait until you see the mad scientist who thinks Guybrush’s hand is the key to everlasting life!).

The third big difference is the way players will use their inventory. In previous Telltale games, inventory was handled very simply, with only a limited amount of interaction possible once you picked something up. In Tales, you’re finally able to combine inventory items to create new ones, and if the first few puzzles are any indication, this is something you’ll be doing often. You’re also now able to examine inventory items, and while it’s not clear if that will be integral to puzzle-solving, it provides another potential avenue for hints as well as humor.

Some things will be familiar, of course, particularly in terms of the voice acting. Returning from Curse of Monkey Island are Dominic Armato (voice of Guybrush Threepwood) and Alexandra Boyd (voice of Elaine Marley). While I didn’t get the chance to hear Boyd—her voice work wasn’t yet in the build I saw—hearing Armato as Guybrush brought back a lot of pleasant memories, and he still has a great way with words. I laughed many times during the demo, and while the jokes are very well-written, at least half the credit belongs to Armato’s acting. To help the actors along, Telltale created a new lip sync system for Tales, which allows a greater range of expressions on characters’ faces while they’re talking, and it seems to work well from what I saw.

It’s not just the principle voice cast who’ve returned to the franchise. The credits for this series reads like a veritable Monkey Island All-Star Team. For the full list you can go to the official website, but I’ll remind you that Dave Grossman, one of the original designers of Monkey Island, is overseeing the whole project as Design Director. Mike Stemmle, designer of Escape from Monkey Island and Sam & Max Hit the Road, is on board as well, and is lead designer of the first episode. Several artists with Monkey Island experience are also working on Tales, as is Michael Land, the composer of all four previous MI games (though his new compositions weren’t in the build I saw). Telltale even brought Ron Gilbert himself into the office for a few days to help brainstorm, and the team claims “his thumbprints are all over” the series. Alas, with Gilbert working full-time at Hothead Games (particularly on his new game DeathSpank), Telltale has confirmed that Tales will not be the game that finally reveals the legendary “Secret” of Monkey Island.

What else can you expect? Dialogue trees are here, and they’re hilarious (when asked why you need a ship, your choices are something like “to search for my wife Elaine,” “to hunt down LeChuck,” or “to rescue those poor monkeys.”) Likely to be a point of concern among some fans, Telltale was unable to confirm what the controls will be in the final version, as they’re still being refined for best results at this point, but they will be some form of “direct control” on both platforms. More characters from Monkey Island’s past may make an appearance, but probably not “your favorite character” (sorry friend!). And while there will be swordfighting, and there will be insults, there will be no insult swordfighting—not this season, anyway.

Though I only saw a fraction of the first episode, I can confirm without hesitation that this is a Monkey Island game. The jokes are Monkey Island jokes. The situations are Monkey Island situations. I laughed more during this demo than I have in any single adventure game (or episode) I’ve played in the last few years. Only time will tell if the full Tales of Monkey Island will live up to its potential and join its older siblings in the hallowed halls of eternal gamer nostalgia, but from what I’ve seen so far, I only have one thing left to add: My name is Dante Kleinberg, and I want to be a pirate.


Community Comments

Latest comments (33 total)

Hey, guys, here’s a news flash for people who don’t like the Guybrush design: this is what he’s supposed to look like!

More pressing news: CMI was not the first Monkey Island game, and it’s Guybrush design made no sense within the plot or aesthetics of the two real MI games that preceded it.  It’s not that this Guybrush ‘doesn’t look like the Guybrush we all know and love’ it’s that he FINALLY LOOKS LIKE GUYBRUSH SHOULD LOOK IN A GAME SET AFTER MI2, after 2 games of daft character design that was just inexplicably aping the first game’s.

I’m not wild about 3D, but this game looks worlds better than SMI:SE’s awful, awful artwork, and while it may not be as beautiful as CMI, it at least has the benefit of getting the freaking protagonist’s look right!

Jun 17, 2009

Ive loved every Monkey Island game (didnt think anything was wrong with any of them) but the preview to this is a bit disturbing! Graphics are ok (its kind of in line with the previous ones) but Guybrush looks retarded. He has a banana head. Why does he have a massive goatee? and such long fringe? He looks like a try hard! We just want our normal cool Guybrush back!!!!


Jun 17, 2009

I love the character designs.
Kinda wish the graphics had a larger budget though.

Jun 11, 2009

I really don’t know why have some people problem with the look of Threepwood. Guybrush has not changed to much, he look the same as in Monkey Island 2,with the same beard the exactly same coat and even the same boots.

Jun 11, 2009

Well, I think it looks pretty good, and the trailer is quite amusing. It astounds me that so many people are being negative.

Jun 8, 2009

The graphics are so horrible. This looks like MI4 all over again. Full-3D in adventure games is horrid. I had really hoped for this to be 2.5D. I doubt I’ll waste any money on this.

Jun 7, 2009

Monkey Island LIVES!

I never thought it would happen!
I love this day.

Jun 7, 2009

Complaining that Guybrush’s appearance has changed from game to game is kerazy. Of course he has! He’s gone from having five pixels for a face to being a detailed hand-drawn 2D cartoon, before morphing for the fourth game into an insipid dead-eyed 3D model which, let’s be honest, SUCKED. There’s no WAY you could get away with not changing him again.

Jun 7, 2009

I almost pi**ed my pants when I heard of the new MI games and the remake. However I can agree with Patrik3D’s rant. Some of it at least. The animation of the remake is bad at best - terrible if you are an*l. Then again, maybe they were emulating the 1fps style of the original - don’t see the point though in 2009.  The background art is IMHO a mixed bag, some of it is good, some not. In a perfect world they should have hired Bill Tiller Smile Regarding the new games, Guybrush looks strange ( that is of course a matter of taste, but I miss the nerdy Guybrush from CMI), the 3D is like from 2001 (maybe that’s because they’re wii screenshots though). However I never thought I’ld see another MI so I’m mostly just thankful!

Jun 6, 2009

I too was excited about the news, but not so much anymore.

This will once again be game from Telltale, where I can’t just SIT BACK and relax and enjoy playing this game.
Once again they go with the stupid direct/keyboard control…

I too are not overly happy with the graphics, but hey… I can live with that.
I loved the MI 1+2 with it’s poor graphic and still do, so it doesn’t mean that much to me - but not being able to play with just one hand is.

I sort of forgave them with Wallace & Gromit, because I really didn’t know much about them - but I can’t with this epic story.
To be honest, I still have episode 2 of W&G just sitting there, haven’t even begun playing it yet, because of the direct control.
Oh well, it’s just W&G, right? Smile

Anyway - I haven’t decided if I should buy this one yet - have to say the Remake from LucasArts now looks better and better… Sigh.

Jun 5, 2009

Sorry, I pushed the wrong button, thought it meant “reply”.

I agree with guybrushgurl that Guybrush just does not look like Guybrush. I haven’t decided whether I will be able to go along with the new artwork or not. Maybe it will grow on me with time.

Jun 5, 2009

Wow. Tough crowd. Wink

Jun 5, 2009

Guys… the graphic is very very important, its the second thing after story, because you look at all the environments, characters and animations whole game. And its adventure game, and they must have great art!! It must be excellently join together. I know, Telltale makes new episodes…more like MI5, but If you noticed, since MI3 the design of Guybrush was changed three times. The real Guybrush, who everybody knows is only in MI1 and 2. Thats the real Guybrush! The other guys are more like his cartoon comic cousins :o/ Its like, nobody knows, how he supposed to look like, all the designers are running in circle as confused mouse. I know, its low poly and poor looking graphic, because its made for Wiiware (40mb), but then the PC version should look different. If I jump back to Lucasarts new version of MI, that one is really bad. Compare Telltale, they made hand painted backgrounds, but they look WORSE than original game in 1990. So poor, undetailed, smudgy brushy, looking kids kind of drawings. Guys, its year 2009, millions of fans is looking foward to see great remake, with new coat, new animations, very impressive art directions, but what we got? just old scanned images, without any real artist touches, animations arent fluent, Guybrush’s hair looks totally weird, he is so skinny, that you cant even see his face, his walking reminds me skiing, all those pirates designs looks like characters from Starwars TV show and I could continue like that ... forever. Thanks god, they havent changed the story! What they improved is couple features in gameplay, then music and voices, but the art is crap! PERIOD George Lucas kick 200 people out, because of the economy crisis…and here is the result. Probably, he though, he will save his company by making legendary game, but they failed even its not finished yet. And look at the Indiana Jones, how long they have been doing that game? Longer than Gears of war 2 :o) ...  ok, I dont wanna go to far, but ...for me, they failed.

Jun 4, 2009

I don’t care if tha graphics are 3D… Monkey Island games are NOT graphics! Monkey Island games are humor and interesting story!
So, I will be very happy if “Tales of MI” will be a funny and interesting game!!

Jun 4, 2009

It’s quite a shock, Guybrush stopped aging backwards! ;-)

Since, according to Dave Grossman, this new series is set after an imaginary Monkey Island 5, it makes sense that Guybrush looks a bit older now!
The graphics are a mixed bag. At times the style looks wonderfully weird while poor on details at other moments and not that interesting. The character art is generaly well done, though.

Jun 4, 2009

Hmmm, I’d like to know what telltales idea of “epic” is to me that’s at least 40 hours of gameplay across the 5 episodes.

Also, I have to agree with the comments about the graphics, I mean it’s been 5 years (right?) since EMI and I cant honestly see the difference. The word i’m looking for is bland… Everything looks bland even though it is exceptionally colourful. Looking at pirates of vujoo (sp?) island makes me sad because that’s what I wanted Tales to look like… Anyway, at least Armato is voiceing Guybrush and as long as the laughs, the story and the puzzles are there then I will be happy.

I also dont like the sound of “direct control”... They havent learned from EMI at all, 2.5D is where it is at.

Finally, I hope it supports lots of resolutions (I cant remember if Telltale’s Sam n Max did) because as far as I’m concerned a new game like this needs be as immersive as possible - unlike Vampyre story which looked awful on my widescreen monitor, with a game unable to support a resolution higher than what my desktop was set to in 1999…

Rant over…

Jun 4, 2009

Despite the absence of a Mac version, and thus a manner in which to play it, I can only be left highly excited. Perhaps it helps that in comparison to Escape from Monkey Island this game can only succeed. I won’t be using any perfume on any alligators, no sir.

Jun 4, 2009

And here I was thinking looks isn’t all that important to adventure game players. Silly me.

Plus something tells me video will feel quite a bit different from stills.

Jun 3, 2009

Well I’m feeling a lot more relieved now! So thanks for taking that off my chest. I was worried this might be too short or too easy or too whatever else. I played the first season of Sam & Max before I had to cancel my GameTap subscription, and I remember it being - although hilarious and awesome - far too small, easy, mindless, and segmented (not the right word for it, probably - each episode was too individual from the others). And it really had me nervous. But if this is at the very least large and connected, I’ll be content.

Jun 3, 2009

Ow my god. I wish they didn’t do this. Guybrush Threepwood has changed in some low poly older guy. Looks awful, including the animations.
Backgrounds look dull and uninspired (I didn’t like MI4 but those did look better).

Really, really awful. They should have left the series alone (or release a kick ass looking MI5).


Jun 3, 2009

Its not Guybrush anymore….its different guy with different look. He also shouldnt look that old, he doesnt look like the original one at all. I also hate 3D backgrounds, which are very low poly and reminds Monkey Island 4. But its still better looking than Lucasarts version of MI 1-special edition, which is terrible totally. Sorry guys, but remakes supposed to look better, NOT WORSE.

Jun 2, 2009

Guybrush is looking a bit dodgy I agree but who cares as long as he sounds the way he should I don’t care that he’s got a chin that would make Jay Leno envious.
My dreams have finally come true!!! I just pray to god they don’t beep it up like Silver Style did with Simon the Sorcerer.

Jun 2, 2009

Is “your favourite character” Murray? Say it ain’t so. Murray needs to be in this game. Someone call up Denny Delk.

Jun 2, 2009

I think I just had a gamegasm Tongue

Jun 2, 2009

I am so excited about this game that I squealed when I saw it! I cannot wait until it comes out!! (Although I do agree the art is kinda of… not what I expected… Is it just me or does Guybrush not look like the Guybrush we all know and love?)

But I’m also ecstatic that Dominic is back! I LOVE him!!!!

Jun 2, 2009

PC gaming is dead you say ? Guybrush Threepwood I respond you fool !

Jun 2, 2009

This news is very exciting, I hope the game sells like hot cakes. But some things worry me like: the look of the game seems a little bland and uninspired, the voice acting(especially Lechuck) seems off, and the little tid bits of humor seem more in line with Escape from Monkey Island instead of with the first three games. I’ll wait to play it before I make a judgment though.

Jun 2, 2009

re: Spoilers.  This was already addressed by Jake and Marek, but I thought I’d chime in anyway.  The amount of plot I described comprises what’s essentially the game’s tutorial.  There’s lots of plot left undescribed to Episode 1, so don’t worry.

Jun 2, 2009

Excited about the release OH YES..Not so sure about the overall art look it has gone for though .. It has that generic console naffness about it..

Jun 2, 2009

Yeah, this preview is basically describing what happens up to the giant rolling ball in Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Jun 2, 2009

This makes me so happy! Will this be the event when adventure gaming will enter its second golden age?

Jun 2, 2009

Man, I didn’t think I could be more excited about this. I was wrong. I can’t freakin’ wait. Thanks for the preview.

Jun 2, 2009

Now I regret reading this. Too many spoilers. (Why do I never learn?)

Jun 2, 2009
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