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Escape From Monkey Island
Monkey Kombat..Nuff said
Few lead game characters are more charmingly inept than the one and only Guybrush Threepwood. Whether he's waving his sword around like a feather duster or boasting about his ability to hold his breath for "Ten whole minutes!," this swashbuckler is one of the most personable characters to ever come along in the world of PC gaming.

Escape From Monkey Island is the fourth game in the wonderful Monkey Island series of traditional adventure games from LucasArts. You play as the aforementioned Guybrush Threepwood, a shrimp of a pirate who's about as harmful as the plastic swords that come in those fruity tropical drinks. Guybrush started off as a youthful pirate-wannabe in the original Monkey Island, searched for legendary treasure called "Big Whoop" in Lechuck's Revenge, and traipsed around the Caribbean trying to return his girlfriend to girl form after she was cursed and became a gold statue in the third installment. That game ended with Guybrush saving the day, and winning Elaine Marley's hand in marriage.

Escape From Monkey Island starts off just as Guybrush and Elaine Marley-Threepwood return to Melee Island from their honeymoon. It appears that some evil powers have been at work during their absence -- evil Australian powers. A wealthy businessman named Ozzie Mandrill has been buying up land all over the Caribbean and setting up re-education centers to turn dangerous, blood-thirsty pirates into harmless, productive members of society. Even pirates who don't want to sell their establishments have to give in to Ozzie eventually because he challenges them to a duel of insult-swordfighting and never loses. At the same time, a stuffy new politician named Charles L. Charles is trying to take over Elaine's position as Governor of Melee Island by having her declared dead.

Guybrush and Elaine set out to get things straight. While Elaine goes off to campaign against Charles L. Charles, Guybrush has to clear up Elaine's death declaration. To do that, he has to travel to Lucre Island to meet with the family lawyers, which means assembling a crew and finding a ship. As fate would have it, things are never as simple as they should be, and Guybrush soon finds himself in the midst of a huge conspiracy involving pirates, monkeys, no-nosed bank robbers, the Church of LeChuck, and LeChuck himself. Eventually, he'll have to uncover the secret of the "Ultimate Insult," an insult so devastating that it will turn even the most hardened pirate into a quivering, pathetic, soulless mess. Yes, folks, it all rings of good 'ol Monkey Island-style/Monty Python-inspired gaming goodness.

While the LucasArts team stuck with the general look and feel of the series, there are notable differences. Perhaps it's because Tim Schafer isn't piloting this particular ship, but Escape just doesn't seem to be as funny as the previous games. I'm not saying that the game isn't funny at all -- there are some truly brilliant gags (such as the visit to Starbuccaneers), but that certain something, that hallmark of classic status is missing. Many of the series' characters are back, including the Voodoo Lady, Stan the Salesman, Herman Toothrot, your original crew from the first game, and even Murray, the evil talking skull (I like to call him Bob). You'll also get to revisit some classic locations from the previous games.

Escape uses the 3D Grim Fandango engine, but 2D adventure purists shouldn't be too concerned, as the engine looks pretty damn good. Another big change that comes with the engine is the new interface. No longer will you have to use the mouse to move around and interact with objects; now everything is done through the keyboard. While at first this may seem a little cumbersome, I was able to adapt quickly. Whether or not this new system is an improvement is another story. There are some frustratingly odd collision detection glitches. Sometimes Guybrush will just get stuck in an odd-shaped corner, and other times he'll automatically turn around and start walking the opposite direction. This can be especially frustrating for puzzles that require you to walk in certain directions in a certain order, because you'll find yourself accidentally going the wrong way after walking into an obstacle and being automatically steered in the opposite direction.

But the main reason why this game isn't getting an Editors' Choice Award is the puzzles themselves. You'll come across a few that are just plain unintuitive and groan-inducing. My biggest gripe is with the entire Monkey Kombat portion of the game that needs to be mastered if you ever hope to finish Escape. So what is it? It's the most basic form of combat and consists of five stances -- each stance defeats two other stances, and each stance is accompanied by a monkey insult. These insults are made up of combinations of four monkey words: Ooop, Eek, Ack, and Chee. Each combination lets you transition from one stance to another. So if you were using the Drunken Monkey stance, you'd need to use the right combination of monkey words to transition into the Anxious Ape stance. Bored yet?

How do you find out which stances beat what? You'll have to pick fights with other monkeys and lose, all while taking notes of which combinations make which transitions, and which stances are stronger than others. In all, it took me an entire night of tedious note-taking before I mastered Monkey Kombat. And forget about going on the Internet to look for all the combinations -- they're randomized with each new game you play.

Initially, it's a blast to watch Monkey Kombat. Few things are more hilarious than seeing Guybrush square off with a monkey half his size. They'll pull off classic Street Fighter moves, hurl fireballs at each other, and even pull off a few crane kicks. Then the realization of what you need to do settles in. Note-taking? With a pencil and paper? In the year 2000? Maybe I'm weird, maybe I'm just a lazy bum [no comment-- Ed], but I just don't want to have to take long, tedious notes to beat an adventure game. Some may disagree, but personally, I could easily have done with out any of it.

Still, despite some annoyingly make-work puzzles, Escape From Monkey Island is a really terrific game. It's fun, funny (if not at the level of the earlier games), and full of memorable, likable characters. The majority of the puzzles are entertaining, the story moves along at a good clip, and you always have something to do. It's a blast to see some classic Monkey Island characters again, and tons of secrets from the past games are let out of the bag.

But most of all, it's been a while since we've been able to relish a great adventure game, and Escape From Monkey Island is solid proof that the genre hasn't seen its last day yet.

Li C. Kuo

 FINAL VERDICT
HIGHS: It's a new Monkey Island game; lots of laughs; engaging storyline.

LOWS: Monkey Kombat sucks; some other unintuitive puzzles; not quite as funny as its forebears.

BOTTOM LINE: Definitely not the best of the bunch, but still a welcome return to a classic series.
PC Gamer 85%

   

100% - 90%
EDITORS' CHOICE - We're battening down the hatches and limiting our coveted Editors' Choice award to games that score a 90% or higher. It's not easy to get here, and darn near impossible to get near 100%. Games in this range come with our unqualified recommendation, an unreserved must-buy score.

89% - 80%
EXCELLENT - These are excellent games. Anything that scores in this range is well worth your purchase, and is likely a great example of its genre. This is also a scoring range where we might reward specialist/niche games that are a real breakthrough in their own way.

79% - 70%
GOOD - These are pretty good games that we recommend to fans of the particular genre, though it's a safe bet you can probably find better options.

69% - 60%
ABOVE AVERAGE - Reasonable, above-average games. They might be worth buying, but they probably have a few significant flaws that limit their appeal.

59% - 50%
MERELY OKAY - Very ordinary games. They're not completely worthless, but there are likely numerous better places to spend your gaming dollar.

49% - 40%
TOLERABLE - Poor quality. Only a few slightly redeeming features keep these games from falling into the abyss of the next category.

39% - 0%
DON'T BOTHER - Just terrible. And the lower you go, the more worthless you get. Avoid these titles like the plague, and don't say we didn't warn you!


Rainbow Six 3: Athena Sword 80%
Battlefield: Vietnam 90%
CSI: Dark Motives 62%
Saturday Night Speedway 59%
Desert Rats vs. Afrika Korps 74%
Far Cry 95%
Gangland 68%
IL-2: Forgotten Battles Ace Expansion Pack 90%
MVP Baseball 2004 78%
Nemesis of the Roman Empire 68%
North German Plain ’85 87%
Naval Campaigns 3: Guadalcanal 75%
Splinter Cell: Pandora Tomorrow 90%
Sacred 82%
Unreal Tournament 2004 92%
Dark Age of Camelot: Trials of Atlantis 80%
Baseball Mogul 2004 67%
Crusader Kings 69%
Dead Man’s Hand 75%