Tales of Monkey Island doesn’t exactly start off spectacularly, to be honest. The opening moments of the game, obviously intended to introduce newcomers to the core cast, feels loose, obvious and just a little bit shallow. While it’s understandable that the initial moments of the adventure are set so gently, the fact that there’s only Guybrush, Elaine and Lechuck around makes the first scenes feel oddly forced and at-odds with what the characters have been like in previous games.
Elaine, who has been previously cast as the truly capable one is tied up and is actually helpless rather than just apparently helpless. Lechuck, the zombie pirate villain who is in love with Elaine, actually has her but doesn’t seem to care, while Guybrush is no longer the hilariously inept protagonist and bursts into the scene with all the right weapons and quips. To hardcore fans it’s a truly horrible shift for the series and an awful indicator that Telltale doesn’t know what it’s doing with the series.
I'm Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™!
Then seconds later it all collapses; the humour and relief rushing in and casting our worries away like flotsam caught in a jetstream. The cast reverts to their expected roles; Elaine scolding, Guybrush fumbling and Lechuck diabolising and Telltale is revealed to have cleverly hoodwinked Monkey Island fanatics into needless worry. If you’re not an acolyte of the series then this is the best intro there is to the world of Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate™ - taking him from hero with a magic sword to being as fearsome as a flooring inspector in mere seconds.
As the story opens, Guybrush is once more rescuing his pirate love, Governor Elaine Marley and foiling the plots of his nemesis, zombie pirate Lechuck – but his plan quickly falls apart. Guybrush may have arrived on the scene with the situation well in hand, but when he’s forced to create a replacement enchanted cutlass on the fly he ends up sinking his ship, losing Elaine, restoring Lechuck's humanity and unleashing a deadly zombie contagion on the Caribbean. Mighty pirate, indeed.
Clinging to a masthead and utterly adrift in the ocean for the entirety of the opening credits, Guybrush eventually washes ashore on Flotsam Island which, true to the name, is the eventual resting place of all seaborne junk – a definition which apparently includes him. Though desperate to escape and once more rescue his damsel-not-in-distress, Guybrush is unable to leave Flotsam thanks to mystical winds which always blow inland.
All the main characters make an appearance
Oh, and his hand is cursed too. The Pox of Lechuck has made it go green and start doing all the rude things you’d expect to see in a rated E-for-Everyone title – which is to say that it doesn’t do a lot for most of the game except periodically punch people without cause.
Despite the change in setting and style, the opening to Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is actually remarkably similar to the opening of the original Monkey Island. Trapped on an island he doesn’t want to be on, Guybrush needs to prove himself a pirate in three different ways (though for different reasons than before), find a ship, crew and map and then find some anti-voodoo device to save the day with. The actual puzzles, dialogue and characters are all very different, but viewed from far enough away there are some startling similarities.
What that shows though is that Telltale Games is a developer who understands the Monkey Island series completely, as Screaming Narwhal is different enough to justify a look from even the most hardcore of Monkey Island fans and similar enough not to draw direct comparisons too regularly. Like your favourite underwear, Tales of Monkey Island’s first episode is both familiar and (hopefully) fresh. Either way it’s a game with plenty of spunk, that’s for sure.