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Critical Reception: Telltale Games'  Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1

Critical Reception: Telltale Games' Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1 Exclusive

July 8, 2009 | By Danny Cowan

This week's edition of Critical Reception examines online reaction to Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 1: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, which reviews describe as "a great opportunity to explore the reemerging world of adventure gaming." The game currently earns a score of 79 out of 100 at's Justin Hayward gives the first chapter of Tales of Monkey Island a grade of A.

"Telltale Games' spate of regularly updated, episodic games, like the Sam & Max revamp and the newer Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, has brought the seemingly outdated point-and-click adventure genre from fading obscurity back to... at least the modern consciousness, if not blockbuster success," he explains. "The company's latest adventurous outing revives the classic Monkey Island franchise with a fresh set of five episodes in Tales of Monkey Island."

Hayward believes that the first title in Telltale's new episodic series will impress Monkey Island fans. "Launch of the Screaming Narwhal keeps the same sporadic, pun-laden humor, and spot-on voice acting of the previous point-and-click adventures, but adds in improved mouse controls and updated graphics," he says. "For long-time Monkey Island fans, Narwhal is exactly what you've been waiting for."

Narwhal includes a number of convenient features that other adventure titles lack. "The developers added options that make getting around the game's Flotsam Island setting quick and painless," Hayward notes. "When you leave town, you can automatically warp to any point of interest in the surrounding jungle that you've previously visited."

"An adjustable hint system also keeps the game fast-paced," he continues. "If you want to go through the game completely on your own, you can turn it off, but if you'd like a little guidance when you get stuck, Tales throws in the occasional clue."

"Whether or not you've ever experienced Monkey Island's ridiculous puzzles and eccentric characters," Hayward concludes, "this is a great opportunity to explore the reemerging world of adventure gaming."

At Giant Bomb, Ryan Davis scores Narwhal at 4 out of 5 stars. "Considering the actual quality of the previous Monkey Island games, as well as the legend that people have built up in their minds during their eight-year absence, expectations are high," he notes. "Luckily, Telltale is staffed to the gills with folks who were key players in past Monkey Island games, and they don't seem to have lost their touch with Tales."

The new episode makes a good starting point for series newcomers. "This episode seems very deliberately designed to ease you back into the world of Monkey Island," Davis assures. "Elaine and LeChuck don't figure in too heavily just yet, allowing you to get familiar with the unique way in which Guybrush buckles swash, as well as the series' goofy, anachronistic, easy-going approach to the topics of piracy and island voodoo."

Davis finds that Narwhal lives up to the franchise's high standards for humor and puzzle complexity. "There's a good amount of funny, well-delivered dialog here," he writes, "and the story is propelled by puzzles that tend to focus on combining and using inventory items in unconventional ways, as well as the deciphering of treasure maps."

"I was really satisfied with the three or four hours it took me to get through Launch of the Narwhal," he continues, "and the episode ends on a delicious cliffhanger that has me eager to see what happens in next month's episode."

IGN's Jason Ocampo rates Narwhal at 7.9 out of 10, warning that the game has closer ties to its upcoming episodes than other Telltale franchises. "Previous Telltale series such as Wallace & Gromit featured what were essentially stand-alone episodes," he explains. "You'll need to play all five Tales of Monkey Island episodes to get the whole story. There's a risk with this, but also the promise of a greater narrative reward in the end."

"As you'd expect, Tales of Monkey Island comes off a bit tentative," he continues, "and it feels exactly like what it is: the opening chapter in a much longer saga."

Ocampo notes that many of Narwhal's puzzles rely on logic peculiar to the adventure genre. "Getting off the island is a process that lasts three to five hours, as there are a slew of puzzles to navigate through, many of which fall in the adventure genre's standard 'collect a bunch of things and then try using them on various objects until something clicks,'" he says. "While there's an imaginative use of a cheese wheel and a pirate's underwear, these types of puzzles are fairly standard for the genre."

The humor is similarly hit-and-miss. "While Telltale gets great marks for bringing back the original voice cast for the main characters," Ocampo praises, "the dialogue doesn't quite crackle as we remember it. That could be a result of some rust on the franchise as the writers learn to recapture the characters' voices again."

Ocampo also finds frustration with Narwhal's cliffhanger ending. "The finale lacks epic triumph and the denouement amounts to a cliffhanger, leaving more questions than answers," he says. "Episode 1 gets high notes for bringing us back into the Monkey Island universe, but at the same time, it looks like we'll have to wait for the rest of the episodes to roll out over the next four months or so to get all the answers."

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