[ThrowbackThursday is a series where we look back on games from the past in reviews, retrospectives, and more. We will have something every week for your retro enjoyment. You may even discover something new to love!]
Since I have been reviewing a couple of very popular adventure games that are known by a lot of older gamers, I decided to tackle a franchise that is one of the most popular and iconic adventure game series of all time, Monkey Island! Originally created by LucasArts with a design team consisting of Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Tim Schafer, this was and still is one of the most if not, most popular adventure game series ever. It was filled with creative puzzles, memorable characters, great jokes, fantastic music, and the overall experience is satisfying for any gamer looking for a good adventure game. Well, except for the first 3D game in the franchise. Moving on, I decided to review my favorite entry of the series. It should be no shock or surprise when the title of this review shows which game I am reviewing, The Curse of Monkey Island. This was the last of the LucasArts adventure games to use the popular ScummVM game engine, which the company used for a majority of their games. It’s easily one of the top five LucasArts games, and that is saying something since a majority of the adventure games made by them are fantastic. Grab your peg leg, eye patch, and a bottle of grog, and let us continue with the master piece of adventure gaming, The Curse of Monkey Island.
The story stars our main hero Guybrush Threepwood, voiced by Dominic Armato. He is stranded in the ocean after the events of the second game and is writing in his journal about the previous events. As he floats along the ocean waves, he comes across an epic battle is happening between a seaside castle and a ghost ship filled with undead pirates! The pirate captain leading this fight is the antagonist of the series, LeChuck, voiced by Earl Boen. LeChuck is attacking this seaside castle because that is where Guybrush’s love Elaine Marley, voiced by Alexandra Boyd, who Lechuck is in love with is located. With some puzzle solving and witty humor, Guybrush defeats LeChuck, and with a ring he found in LeChuck’s ship, asks Elaine to marry him. Unfortunately for the new couple, the ring is cursed and turns Elaine into a golden statue. Guybrush must travel across a couple of islands, fight pirates with insults, not tell you anything if you ask him about Grim Frandango, and save Elaine.
Of course, Guybrush will also have to deal with cannibals, obnoxious insurance men, devious pirates, a snooty cabana boy, a couple of barber pirates, and a newly revived LeChuck to save the life of his love. The story itself is the best part about this game. While Guybrush is more of a normal guy with some witty humor here and there, his best strength is when he works off the silly cast of characters that he encounters. LeChuck is, by far, the character with the best lines. There is just something both intimidating and absolutely hilarious about his lines and how he acts. For example, in one scene he will want to kill Guybrush, but in another, he complains about how they never give you enough coleslaw in value meals. Or in another scene he says he will show Elaine how much he loves her by blasting her with a voodoo cannonball. For the majority of the game, the story is entertaining from beginning to end.
The Curse of Monkey Island is obviously an adventure game. You will be wandering around a couple of different islands solving puzzles by finding items wherever you go. The way you pick up items, observe objects, or talk to people is done in a very similar fashion of games like Full Throttle. You will have a circular icon that will represent your command menu. You will also have a separate inventory screen where all the items you have accumulated throughout your adventure will be stored. Sometimes, to solve certain puzzles, you will need to combine items that you find, and the items that you need are not always obvious the first time around. This is definitely an adventure game where you need to stretch that thing you call a brain to really know how to solve the puzzles. Don’t worry, this game doesn’t have a lot of dead ends like in other adventure games. The other big mechanic in this game are the sword fighting bits called “insult sword fights”. During the mid-way point of the game, you will need to fight a couple of different pirates and will need to learn a huge assortment of insults. You win each fight by having an insult that rhymes with the insult thrown at you. You won’t win your first couple of fights, but once you get a laundry list of insults from some early insult sword fights, you will get through these fights later on easier. The game can range in difficulty, since the harder difficulty ramps up the puzzles and their solutions. I would say that you can beat this game in about 3 hours if you know what you are doing.
Graphically, this is one of the reasons why this game is my favorite game of the series, the art style. I love this Disney-look to the characters, and the cut scenes are well animated, detailed, and look really good for a PC game from 1997. Sure, some of the characters might not look as smooth as they did back in 1997, but this game’s engine really holds up compared to game engines of today. The voice work is phenomenal. The main cast does a great job with their roles, but the supporting cast is what holds it all together. You have actors like Gary Coleman, Alan Young, Neil Ross, Tom Kane, and Glenn Quinn. They bring with them great performances and execute the humor perfectly. The music is also extremely catchy as I found myself humming the main theme after I played the game. The composer was Michael Land, who I have said before in other reviews, worked on a huge number of LucasArts adventure games.
So, what complaints do I have with this game? Well, while the overall game is amazing, funny, and a worthwhile experience, you get the feeling that they rushed the ending. The ending of the game happened so quickly that I was disappointed. You take so much time in the beginning and middle part of the game solving these puzzles that will help you solve other puzzles, and yet, you just solve two puzzles at the end and then the game is over. The ending cut scene is nice and all, but I wish there was a bit more substance at the end of this game. I also thought some of the puzzle solutions on the harder difficulty, while challenging, could be very farfetched at times. For example, one of the puzzles in the later part of the game required dog hair, whipped cream, and shaved ice to make a potion that turns you into a man. I prefer it when inventory based puzzles have a great overall flow to them and don’t keep you from progressing. An example of this would be when you meet this fortune teller character and you have to get five cards of the same kind. You need to do this because it will help you solve another puzzle later on. I didn’t know about this until I found out I needed the cards for a poker game. I then went back to a previous island just to get the rest of the cards needed for the poker game.
Final Verdict: A treasure worth looking for!
What else can I say about this game that I already haven’t? This is my favorite game out of the franchise, and even though Ron Gilbert, the original creators of the franchise, had nothing to do with this entry in the franchise since he left LucasArts after the second game, the people behind the game showed that they knew how to make an overall high quality product. I got my copy for about $12, and I could easily recommend it at any price point you can get it for, complete in box or not. It’s a shame that the series went downhill after this game was released, as Escape from Monkey Island was not as well received as the previous games and halting the series for quite some time. Either way, you should really check this game out and have some grog. This is one treasure you will want to plunder.