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Escape from Monkey Island

In contrast to most LucasArts adventures, the Monkey Island games have always been really over the top. Whereas games like Full Throttle and Grim Fandango emphasized character and story, the Monkey Island games have increasingly leaned toward trying to make you laugh by means of an endless barrage of puns and pop-culture references. This is true of Escape from Monkey Island, the fourth game in the series. Much of it is funny, although a lot of it isn't. This inconsistency winds through the whole game, from the puzzles to the interface. When it's good, Escape from Monkey Island is very, very good. But the game's missteps do detract from the overall experience.

In this chapter of Guybrush Threepwood's adventures, the self-proclaimed mighty pirate and his new bride, Governor Elaine Marley, have returned from their honeymoon only to find that Elaine has been declared dead. This incorrect declaration has ended her lifetime term as governor, so she must now run against Charles L. Charles, a foppish glad-hander with a dark secret. What adds to the political intrigue is that the pirate hangouts in the Tri-Island area are being bought up and made into tourist-friendly venues like StarBuccaneer's and Planet Threepwood, thanks to an Australian land developer named Ozzie Mandrill. To top it all off, everyone seems to be looking for a voodoo artifact called the Ultimate Insult. These events aren't as unrelated as they may seem, and Guybrush must help Elaine stop the gentrification of his stomping grounds and find the Ultimate Insult before it falls into the wrong hands.

click to enlargeTo reach these ends, Guybrush must once again explore the strange Caribbean Islands that surround his home, Melee Island. He'll visit Jambalaya Island (the island most affected by Mandrill's takeover) and Lucre Island and once again return to the titular Monkey Island itself. Many of the locales will be familiar to longtime fans of the series, as will a number of the characters. LeChuck, Murray the skull, Herman Toothrot, Otis, Carla, Meathook, and many, many others make guest appearances. In fact, there may even be too many cameos by old favorites.

There's an old joke. A guy walks into a bar and notices people keep yelling out numbers, and everyone in the bar busts up laughing. He asks the bartender what's going on. The bartender tells him that the regulars have told the same jokes for so long that now they just refer to them by number. Much of the humor in Escape from Monkey Island is like this. Many jokes allude to earlier events in the series, and they're only funny if you're familiar with the references. For instance, the fact that Otis the pirate likes flowers is a gag from the first game, and here it seems like the designers are simply pointing it out, hoping you'll remember how funny it was the first time around.

click to enlargeIt's true that Escape from Monkey Island does have plenty of new gags and characters, and many of them are really funny. The talking figurehead on Guybrush's new ship is particularly amusing, as are characters like Pegnose Pete; Marco de Pollo, the world's greatest cliff diver; and Miss Rivers, the teacher at the pirate reformation academy. The humor is enhanced by the universally excellent voice work. But some of the new characters aren't quite as interesting. Ozzie Mandrill, the evil real estate developer, is only funny if you think simply being Australian is funny - although his particular way of talking does lend itself to a very surreal match of Insult Sword Fighting, one of the more humorous sequences in the game.

The bout with Ozzie is the only appearance of the preferred dueling technique in the Tri-Island area. This time, you'll learn Insult Arm Wrestling and Monkey Kombat, a variation on the Insult competition and a parody of the fighting game Mortal Kombat. The concept is funny, but unfortunately Monkey Kombat may be the single biggest problem with Escape from Monkey Island. You must learn to trade barbs in the monkey language, and it all builds up to a really funny parody of Mortal Kombat's famous opening. But the art of Monkey Kombat itself is a frustrating one.

 

 

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