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PC / Review / Escape from Monkey Island
Escape from Monkey Island
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Publisher: Lucasarts
Developer: LucasArts
Release Date: Available Now
ESRB Rating: Teen
Graphics: 4.5
Control: 4.5
Click here to view Escape from Monkey Island screens!
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Review by: Sean Molloy
Posted: 11/13/00 [view screens]

"Sometimes... when it's quiet... I can still hear the monkeys."

Those are the first words you hear uttered from the mouth of Guybrush Threepwood, the mighty pirate protagonist of Escape From Monkey Island, the fourth and latest installment in the long-running LucasArts graphic adventure series. Despite the fact that Guybrush and the crew have been 3D accelerated and given one hell of a mighty facelift, you know right off the bat you're sailing in familiar waters thanks to those chilling words.

As Escape From Monkey Island opens, Guybrush Threepwood (Mighty Pirate) and his lovely new wife (and, incidentally, Governor of Melee Island?) Elaine Marley are just returning home after their three-month honeymoon on the high seas. Almost immediately after setting foot on shore, the two lovebirds are accosted by Timmy the Monkey, and the delightful simian flails his arms and makes monkey noises to point out that the Governor's Mansion is under siege by catapult. As it turns out, as a result of her prolonged absence, Elaine has been declared dead, and her house has been marked for a court-ordered posthumous demolition. What's worse, an exquisitely dressed and well-spoken fellow named Charles L. Charles is primed to take her place as governor in the next election... even if Guybrush and Elaine can save their house, it may not be theirs for long. This, of course, sets the intrepid Threepwood on the course for another island-hopping adventure, as he seeks out family lawyers, family heirlooms, and ultimately, the secret to the all-powerful voodoo doodad known as the Ultimate Insult in an attempt to save his house, marriage, and reputation.

Anyone who's played a previous Monkey Island game knows exactly what to expect from this latest installment - lots of extremely challenging puzzles and a whole lot of hilarious pirate-based humor. Admittedly, I was a little worried about the new streamlined 3D style. Guybrush's previous adventure, Curse of Monkey Island was done entirely with hand-drawn 2D animation that made for some great physical gags (watching Guybrush stuff impossibly huge things down his pants still makes me chuckle) that couldn't possibly translate into the new Grim Fandango look. Thankfully, LucasArts has a firm grip on their material, and the 3D style works beautifully. They know that pirates, like primates, are inherently funny - just say "Arrrrrrr, matey," in a funny voice, and easily amused people like myself fall on the floor laughing. A lot of the best comedy this time comes from Guybrush's criticism of the crass commercialization of the pirate lifestyle (trendy establishments like Starbuccaneer's Coffee and Planet Threepwood play major roles in the plot), as well as the trademark wry self-awareness ("It seems like my life is just and endless string of puzzles," says Guybrush. "Nice use of the trademark," he says later when someone cleverly slips Melee Island? into a conversation). And video game casting directors take note - this is how you line up voice actors for your games.

Just a warning, though, to Monkey Island newcomers... A huge amount of humor in this Monkey Island adventure relies on knowledge of Guybrush's previous exploits, and Escape from Monkey Island is more of a reunion tour than even Curse of Monkey Island was. LucasArts graphic adventure veterans are going to be in heaven, but if you've never heard of Meathook, Murray, the Swordmaster of Melee Island?, or Big Whoop, you may wind up feeling pretty alienated.

Of course, no trip to the Caribbean would be complete without a whole lot of puzzles, and it's here that Escape From Monkey Island truly shines. LucasArts has been honing their graphic adventure craft for nearly two decades now, and it shows... 90% of MI4's puzzles are perfect - difficult head-scratchers, but completely logical in their own Monkey Island sort of way, and totally satisfying once you figure them out. A handful of them (most notably, the space-time-paradox in the Mystes of Tyme Marsh) are absolutely brilliant. Only once on Lucre Island (your second destination in the game) was I completely stumped, having to resort to the old "wander around aimlessly trying to use every item in my inventory on everything I walked by" method of puzzle solving. And even after I randomly stumbled upon the solution (you have to do what to the platypus?), it still didn't make any sense.

The control in EFMI is a tweaked balance of the classic SCUMM point-and-click interface blended seamlessly with Grim Fandango's streamlined approach. You don't use the mouse - instead, you keep one hand on the numpad, with easy access to your inventory and all of your "examine, talk, and pick up" options within one-hand access, leaving you free to hold a Diet Squirt or a banana or whatever else you see fit in your other appendage. The designers have made it so that Guybrush will automatically turn and continue walking if he hits a wall... it's a nice idea, but it sometimes makes guiding him where you want difficult in tight corners. The game is also remarkably stable - running on my outdated and overclocked Celeron 300 / Diamond Viper 550 TNT combo, the 3D animation was super-smooth, and didn't even crash once over my several day Monkey Island marathon. At one point during the cliff diving competition, however, a puzzle just stopped working (an announcer was supposed to give audio clues as to what to do next... he didn't). But after I left the offending scene and walked back in, everything was fine.

Anyone who's been following the adventures of Guybrush since his glorious 16-color EGA days knows exactly what they'll find upon their fourth visit to Monkey Island. Fledgling pirates, however, may need to down a few pints of the vintage grog before they set sail (at least play the equally brilliant Curse of Monkey Island) just so they don't miss out on the overabundance of in-jokes. The graphic adventure may be a dead genre - but LucasArts can keep on reanimating the corpse as often as they like.

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