Tales of Monkey Island: Chapter 4 - The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood review

Tales of Monkey Island 4
Tales of Monkey Island 4
The Good:
  • Definitely advances the story, for better or worse
  • The return of Stan is awesome
  • Well-written
  • Will certainly please those who wanted a challenge
The Bad:
  • Some puzzles sure to drive you nuts
  • very inconsistent flow
  • If the story developments miss their mark for you, you will probably dislike the game
Our Verdict: The fourth chapter is an episode you’re sure to have an opinion about—and equally sure to spend some time stumped in—but it’s ultimately no more than a good, not great, adventure game with a bang-up cliffhanger.

After playing it relatively safe for a couple episodes, and then blowing the roof off with a fantastic middle installment, the Tales of Monkey Island series takes quite a turn with the fourth episode, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood, sure to be one of the most debated and controversial games that Telltale has ever put out. A game like this will be judged primarily on the gut reaction that it elicits in the player, which is going to vary so widely among its audience that all I can do as a reviewer is explain my reaction—which, for the most part, is one of relative discontent and disappointment—then do my best to fairly evaluate the game as a return to the earlier series standard of being a good, but not great, adventure game.

Individual response to Chapter 4 is largely going to depend on something that has not really been a major point of contention, or even emphasis, in Telltale’s history: the plot development. After some steady and measured story progression through the first three episodes, the plot here completely treads water for the first half—then explodes with a major twist and an emotionally resonant incident—then runs in place with an extremely lengthy and excruciating series of puzzles—and then really unloads with an action-packed and explosive climax that completely turns the series on its head with a final cliffhanger that I can almost guarantee you won’t see coming.

That description should certainly not be seen as an outright endorsement of the plot surprises—in fact, I am rather opposed to them and the way they were carried out, as they could easily be characterized as a bit gratuitous in the context of the story. But the nature of cliffhangers and major story twists is that you really can’t judge them midstream. This story clearly has a lot of playing out to do in next month’s finale, and I may look back favorably on this episode’s developments once I’ve seen what they truly meant. And despite the negativity of my feelings, they certainly were real feelings—not something that is commonly evoked by adventure games these days.

I am obviously rather handcuffed by some of the plot secrets from describing the story in detail, but the entirety of the game takes place on Flotsam Island, the site of the first episode, though some previously-inaccessible locations are finally open and the backdrop is now dark skies and rough weather, so you won’t experience complete déjà vu. Almost all of the characters are brought back from previous episodes, as the titular trial brings a parade of Guybrush accusers, both false and legitimate (you knew you’d have to pay for that fake Ninja Dave eventually), all of whom must be systematically outwitted or otherwise exposed before the story begins to turn. Your nemesis in this early stage is the game’s brightest surprise: the return of Stan and his gloriously tacky blue jacket. Just as Murray’s return felt so right last time, Stan's presence is a delightful reward for long-time fans of the series. Of course, there’s another part to the game’s subtitle, and I must leave it for you to discover those related events.

The writing duties, so expertly handled by Sean Vanaman last time around, return to the capable hands of Mike Stemmle for this episode, and there is a noticeable shift in the overall tone back to the more lighthearted, occasionally more obvious “charm” of the early season and away from the dark and biting wit of the last episode. Interestingly enough, Stemmle’s best writing comes during the scenes that call for sincere drama, which he handles with the right seriousness and does not resort to cheap laughs.

Other than all this talk about the story, there is another major component to the game that certainly goes in a different direction than previous episodes. After I insinuated last month that the ease of the puzzles was all that kept Lair of the Leviathan from a perfect score, Telltale has thrown the puzzling into overdrive with some rather challenging and outside-the-box obstacles this time. The puzzles involve extrapolating from thin clues in tricky locations, bizarre inventory combinations, and a whole lot of repetitive travel. These elements result in some challenging and creative puzzles, but there are some definite misfires. The clues can be too abstract, the object combinations sometimes make sense only in retrospect, and all the travel emphasizes the weakness of the walking interface. There is one particular puzzle near the end that involves repeatedly walking a specific pattern, which really indicts the mouse-controlled movement as inadequate.

Still, those who love a good challenge will find much more to like here than previous episodes. On the other hand, those who were happy with the relative ease of the last game will be advised to find their favorite walkthrough site and bookmark it very early in the game. There is a hint system, as usual, but even on the highest slider setting the hints take a while to come, and the game really wants to make sure you still have some of your own thinking (or blind experimenting) behind every solution. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this game takes some players upwards of four hours to complete with all the puzzle-solving that takes place.

As you’d expect, The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood does do a lot of things well. The mechanics of the trial sequence that makes up the first half of the game, once you understand what you’re supposed to do, are very clever. Telltale knows how to use their remarkable production system for maximum comic effect (the trial audience comments are constantly hilarious, and the animation during a key swordfight midgame is strikingly impressive). The music and voice acting is once again excellent throughout. But the game’s biggest fault is that these strengths are completely undermined by the wildly inconsistent flow of the game—lengthy ambling puzzle sequence, surprising cutscene plot twist, lengthy boring puzzle sequence, shocking conclusion and cliffhanger. It’s not really a sum of many strong parts, as the last episode was; it’s just two major parts and a whole lot of minor strengths that probably won’t affect your judgment of the puzzles and the plot twists.

Ultimately, my score reflects—to the best of my ability—the quality of the game and its production, rather than my purely emotional reaction to the story and my frustration with the erratic puzzle difficulty. Telltale’s production quality is remarkable, and they must be commended for at least pushing the series violently towards what is sure to be a fascinating climax. However, the game must also be criticized for the inconsistency of its flow and the near-complete lack of original locations and characters (Stan’s delightful return notwithstanding).

I won’t be surprised to see some players describe this, based on their reactions to the twisting story, as the best game in the series. Personally I feel quite the opposite and ended the game feeling deflated and disheartened, but I suppose that’s a measure of success for Telltale in that I really did have a reaction to the events that took place. I’m on the edge of my seat for next month’s conclusion, but am definitely hoping for a much more consistent and original episode when that time comes.


review

Adventure games by Telltale Games

Walking Dead (Series)

Walking Dead (Series) 2019

Clementine, now a fierce and capable survivor, has reached the final chapter in her journey.

» View all games in this series
Batman (Series)

Batman (Series) 2018

What would you choose: a friend whose unhinged approach to justice turns your allies against you, or a sworn enemy who will stop at nothing to see you suffer as your city burns? Based on the relationship you’ve built with John Doe, you’ll see one of two very different stories play out.

» View all games in this series
Minecraft (Series)

Minecraft (Series) 2017

The home Jesse left so long ago, Beacontown, has succumbed to the iron rule of the Admin.

» View all games in this series
Guardians of the Galaxy (Series)

Guardians of the Galaxy (Series) 2017

As the galaxy is threatened once again and the stakes grow ever more personal, Peter must rally the Guardians against their greatest challenge yet: themselves.

» View all games in this series
Tales from the Borderlands (Series)

Tales from the Borderlands (Series) 2015

Rhys, a Hyperion ‘suit’ with dreams of being the next Handsome Jack, and Fiona, a Pandoran con artist looking to score her biggest ever swindle, are thrown together as unwilling partners in an adventure to recover cash they both think is theirs.

» View all games in this series
Game of Thrones (Series)

Game of Thrones (Series) 2015

Based on the acclaimed television drama, the six-part episodic series from Telltale Games tells the story of House Forrester.

» View all games in this series
The Wolf Among Us (Series)

The Wolf Among Us (Series) 2014

Bigby Wolf, a man once more infamously known as The Big Bad Wolf, is now the sheriff of a hidden community in New York City.

» View all games in this series
Law & Order (Series)

Law & Order (Series) 2011

Starring a cross-series dream team of Law & Order characters past and present, players will take on the roles of both investigator and district attorney as they hit the streets to gather evidence and then enter the court room to prosecute the case.

» View all games in this series
Puzzle Agent (Series)

Puzzle Agent (Series) 2011

Continuing the story begun with the mysterious closure of an eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota, ace puzzle investigators return once again to the snowy midwest to help Nelson Tethers finally solve the mystery haunting the realm.

» View all games in this series
Back to the Future (Series)

Back to the Future (Series) 2011

Picking up a few months after the third movie left off, Marty learns that Doc is in trouble and only he can save him, with a little help from the time-travelling DeLorean.

» View all games in this series
Jurassic Park (Series)

Jurassic Park (Series) 2011

The game returns to Isla Nublar during the events of the first movie, with familiar locations and creatures to encounter, plus new areas to explore and new prehistoric beasts to survive in a game that combines fast-paced action, exploration and puzzle-solving.

» View all games in this series
CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Series)

CSI: Crime Scene Investigation (Series) 2010

In five connected cases, team up with the cast of CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, along with help from FBI agent Gene Huntby, not only to solve some of the most gruesome crimes of Sin City, but also to take down a dangerous drug cartel.

» View all games in this series
Sam & Max (Series)

Sam & Max (Series) 2010

In the finale episode of the season, an enormous, scaly, floppy-eared creature has put the city on high alert, and Sam assembles a crack team to stop him.

» View all games in this series
Monkey Island (Series)

Monkey Island (Series) 2009

The saga begins with a heated battle involving the brave but often bumbling Mighty Pirate Guybrush, his beloved wife Elaine, and their nemesis, the demon pirate LeChuck.

» View all games in this series