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Appletell reviews Tales of Monkey Island for Mac OS X

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Tales of Monkey IslandGenre: Adventure game
Format: Download or DVD
Developers: Telltale Games
Mac Publisher: Telltale Games
System Requirements: Mac OS X v10.5, Intel Core 2 Duo processor (not recommended for Macs with integrated graphics)
Network Feature: No
Processor Compatibility: Intel only
Price: $34.95 (+ shipping for DVD version)
ESRB Rating: E 10+ (alcohol reference, comic mischief, mild language, suggestive themes, cartoon violence)
Availability: Out now
Demo: 225MB .dmg

At Macworld Expo 2010, Telltale games officially announced their foray into Mac gaming with Tales of Monkey Island. Likely, it couldn’t have been a better choice of games; it’s a franchise familiar to Mac gamers, it harkens back to a time when Mac ports were commonplace, and it’s a comic adventure that appeals to both casual and serious gamers. Two of us here at Appletell have played through the game, so we decided to have a quick chat about how this new episodic adventure turned out.

Kirk: Tales of Monkey Island isn’t the first Monkey Island game we’ve seen on the Mac. I played Escape from Monkey Island back in the day. You?

Bill: Somehow I missed the entire series. I was a big fan of the LucasArts games, though, especially Full Throttle, so it’s odd that I never picked this one up. Tales, though, does a great job of giving you a sense that these characters have history without leaving you completely baffled at references or characters that turn up.

Kirk: Yeah, which is good, considering most of us haven’t visited the islands in nearly 10 years. I recall a similar whimsical look to it, although that was likely easier to pull off in 2D.

Tales of Monkey Island

Bill: Tales definitely has kept its sense of humor intact; characters are comically proportioned, pirate ships are made out of driftwood and bowling pins, and one of the puzzles involves counterfeiting a collectable action figure that was banned by concerned parents. Design-wise it all has a feel of a house of mirrors, or a comical haunted house.

Kirk: That’s actually something we should talk about early—the game is actually funny. Very funny. I laughed out loud many times at both the written jokes and well-executed physical gags, and that’s something I haven’t done since…cripes, I think Redjack: Revenge of the Brethren. What is it with computer pirates and comedy?

Bill: Well, when you’re trying to harness the power of voodoo by collecting monkeys, it’s easier to sell that as a comedy, I suppose, than with Mad World playing in the background. There’s not a lot of slapstick in Tales (though when it does, it’s mostly in the middle of a swashbuckling sword fight); more sly commentary on the inherent weirdness of the situations Guybrush find himself in, time and again, usually in relation to the old school puzzles (and their nutty “logic”).

Tales of Monkey Island

Kirk: I recall specifically a bit early on when Guybrush Threepwood (the story’s hero) fires a canonball out to sea, but it’s caught by the wind and blown back into the shop of an islander who makes glass unicorns. The bit with Guybrush following the canonball, then reacting as it hits offscreen was wonderfully done…more like good comedic directing in a movie than a bit in a computer game. Tales of Monkey Island is full of moments like that. I think there are too many easy self-referential jokes, but the good generally outweighed the bad.

Bill: Moving into the actual gameplay, Tales is based around the classic problem-solution adventure game, where you’re apparently given the object or task you need to complete to move on in the game, but you almost inevitably have to achieve it in a roundabout and convoluted way. Now, Tales managed to avoid some of the insane logic of the hardcore adventure games of old—given enough time, you can probably work out what you need to do—;but there were a few instances where I was completely baffled, checked a walkthrough, and wondered how the hell I was supposed to have figured that out.

Tales of Monkey Island

Kirk: Same here. This isn’t so much an issue in these days of free online walkthroughs as it was back in Monkey Island’s infancy when you had to call (900) numbers to get your hints, and as you mentioned, Tales of Monkey Island often makes jokes about the absurdity of the puzzles. I did like, though, that most of the timed sequence-of-events puzzles are quite forgiving. The latter, for example, will loop, so if you miss what you’re supposed to do, you just get another go. Screw something up, and you don’t die, you’re just tossed back at the puzzle so you can get it right this time. No need to “save early, save often,” as we used to say.

Bill: Speaking of saving, did you have any trouble quitting the game? Each of the Tales episodes comes in a “wrapper” application that has ads for other Telltale games, or their store, I was able to quit the Tales episodes no problem, but had to force quit to get out of the wrapper.

Kirk: I did get that, yes. Every single time. Not a big fan of the wrapper, regardless, as I don’t want to get hit with ads every time I play a game no moreso than I want to be forced to skip past previews before watching a Blu-ray movie. I’ll be curious to learn if you have to deal with those if you elect to get the DVD of the game, which you can purchase for an additional $9.95 beyond the price of the download version. This isn’t Telltale Games hitting you for more money, mind you. It’s just a convenience. Their games are released in episodic format, so you can download them as they come rather than waiting for the DVD comp of all the episodes. Of course, the point is moot with Tales of Monkey Island, since the full game is already available.

Tales of Monkey Island

Bill: What did you think of having the game broken down into episodes?

Kirk: I think it would work better if you’re ahead of the release schedule. Finishing one early can lead to some fun anticipation for the next episode. If you’ve got them all on your hard drive already, though, I’d rather just be able to play through it without interruption; like watching a TV series on DVD without end credits and theme songs between episodes.

Bill: What I liked about the episode format was the sense of containment it gave the puzzles. There was never a sense that you were going to be given a problem at the start of the game that wouldn’t be solved until the end, which gave the whole thing focus. You have the over-arcing story, some items carried over from episode to episode, but this felt like a much tighter game than the adventures of old. Plus the added bonus that you couldn’t wreck the game by destroying an object you needed later.

Kirk: Very true. And just as important, the writers understood how to use the format. The episodes start and end big; hooking you from the opening and leaving you hanging at the end. This isn’t just a game hacked into five pieces, it’s five distinct, self-contained chapters that, as you said, all serve the story arc to great effect. So, your overall impression?

Bill: I enjoyed Tales of Monkey Island as both a nostalgic throwback to the adventures of the ’80s, and as a sly, comical game on its own. Telltale manages to blend the two tones well, while also making a really good game in its own right. Whether you’re invested in these characters or not before you play it, you’ll find a lot of sly humor and great puzzles.

Appletell Rating:

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