It’s been a good 15 years since adventure gaming’s heyday, before it spiraled into a procession of games riddled with puzzles so illogical, players have to buy strategy guides to navigate them. But Monkey Island—a keynote franchise synonymous with the genre—has survived outside its competitors’ evolutionary scale.
Self-proclaimed “mighty pirate” Guybrush Threepwood returns after a nine-year absence from store shelves and computer screens, and if this installment in a planned monthly five-episode arc is any indication, the wannabe buccaneer is no worse for wear. Tales Of Monkey Island’s debut kicks off with Threepwood trying to rescue his wife by storming the ship of undead pirate LeChuck, armed only with a cutlass that could permanently vanquish his longstanding enemy. But after accidentally breaking the sword, you’re forced to use makeshift root beer to quickly improvise another enchanted blade, bringing unintended consequences. When you wash ashore at Flotsam Island from the resulting explosion, you find your hand cursed with LeChuck’s zombie pox. Getting off the island, like anything else in a puzzle/adventure game, isn’t as straightforward as it seems: Flotsam is afflicted with winds that perpetually blow in toward the island.
But now, 19 years after Threepwood first nerdily proclaimed, “I want to be a pirate!”, his clever questing has been reduced to a familiar procedure found in rival titles: Mindlessly talk to every character you see and hazard every available dialog option, try to obtain every item that isn’t nailed down, then try to combine your items, sometimes before a relevant puzzle even arises.
However, that formula takes a substantial backseat to Narwhal’s great writing and excellent pacing in this first too-short chapter. True to any Monkey Island game, you’ll be offered funny, ballsy dialog options that Threepwood is too gutless to speak aloud, and absurd ones he’s too earnest not to—like when you can ask your wife how her day was, instead of rushing to her rescue. Narwhal might only last a couple of hours, but they’re certainly hilarious, enjoyable ones.
Beyond the game: Series creator Ron Gilbert helped brainstorm for Tales, ensuring it bursts with that familiar, goofy Monkey Island flavor.
Worth playing for: The invigoration of solving puzzles with just the right amount of frustration-inducing logic.
Frustration sets in when: A treasure-hunting puzzle repeats, reducing the first one’s “Eureka!” moment to irritating busywork.
Final judgment: A well-deserved fresh of breath air puts more wind in the sales of a beloved franchise.