Written by: Rik

Date posted: August 1, 2001

Though criticised by some, the graphics are beautifully drawn. Here, Guybrush befriends a talking, demonic skull. Named Murray.

Most of us are unfortunate enough to know a film bore. Like their professional counterparts, they suffer from the misconception that cynicism is indicative of wit and intelligence, and as such, take great delight in finding different ways to say that lots of films aren’t very good. And don’t get them started on sequels, trilogies or sagas: inevitably, the original film was the best, and there’s always one sequel which can be labelled “a shite cash-in.” Above all, the series can never be enjoyed as a whole – one of its parts has to spoil it.

The sneering hostility with which critics have long greeted sequels to successful films is now ever present in the games industry. It’s an unwelcome crossover, and one that has seen The Curse of Monkey Island consigned to the same critical dustbin as the likes of Alien 3 and The Phantom Menace. The release of the fourth game in the series prompted remarks to the effect that it heralded a return to form for Monkey Island, after the disappointment of Curse. This came as news to me, along with all those others who had thoroughly enjoyed Curse when it was first released and thought it a worthy addition to the Monkey Island legacy.

Had we all been blind to a sub-standard product because of the established brand name on the box? I didn’t think so, but to find out I’d have to play the game again. Usually when reviewing something for the site I largely rely on past experience, with only a few hours’ play necessary to refresh my memory. For this game, my task was rather more hardcore: play through the whole thing from (gasp) start to finish to find out whether The Curse of Monkey Island really let the series down.

Edit: A quick note – when I originally wrote this I may have used the word ‘usually’ but in actual fact I’d only contributed a handful of reviews. Since then, I’ve always spend a significant amount of time playing games afresh – through to the end if possible – before reviewing them. And Stoo has finished every game he’s ever played.

The 'curse' of the title refers to the ring on Elaine's finger. Your future wife is soon about to become a solid-gold statue.

As ever, you play Guybrush Threepwood, the intrepid pirate-adventurer who once again begins the game down on his luck, left for dead by his nemesis, the evil pirate LeChuck. While it could reasonably be argued that the somewhat surreal conclusion to Monkey Island 2 was intended as an end to the series, the story is picked up pretty successfully here. Soon enough, all the usual suspects – Guybrush’s object of desire, Governor Elaine Marley; Wally, the cartographer from Monkey Island 2; dubious entrepreneur Stan, and LeChuck himself – are back on the scene and you’re sucked in. It’s all recognisably Monkey Island and it’s got everything a title bearing the name needs – self-referential humour, occasionally-tricky-but-not-frustratingly-so puzzles, sword fighting with a twist, and the almost ever-present need for Guybrush to humiliate himself in a variety of ways.

Criticisms? Well, the game isn’t perfect, but I only have minor niggles. I’d rather deal with the more sizeable grievances of Monkey Island ‘purists’:

1) “Monkey Island 1 and 2 were hilarious. The Curse of Monkey Island isn’t funny at all.”

Let’s get one thing straight: anyone who claims they have fallen off their chair in a fit of hysteria because of computer game humour is likely to be overstating the case rather. The kinds of things that have made me laugh out loud when playing games are mostly unscripted moments that occur in sessions of multiplayer fun – not jokes streamed off a CD. In any case, The Curse of Monkey Island possesses the same mix of dry sarcasm, slapstick cut-scenes and amusing characters as its predecessors. It didn’t send tears of laughter streaming down my face at any point, but then neither has any other game. What might have affected people’s opinion is the delivery of the script (see below).

You need to outwit this little kid to progress. Which is actually harder than it sounds.

2) “What’s happened to Guybrush/Elaine/(insert other character here)? They’ve been turned into cheesy American cartoon characters.”

The Curse of Monkey Island appeared several years after Monkey 2 and as such improvements in the audio-visual department were required. Okay, the characters look a bit different. They look better. Deal with it. Curse was the first game to feature voices for the characters, and several embittered rumblings emerged from UK games magazines to the effect that they didn’t like the voice, especially Guybrush, who came across as a cocky little shit. This may be why some people didn’t respond to the humour in the game very well – I suppose it’s a bit like seeing the film of the book – they had imagined Guybrush’s voice to be something else during the first two games and were shocked at how LucasArts themselves envisioned it. Personally, I find he comes across as a hapless wimp who always puts his foot in it – entirely consistent with the previous games.

3) “The graphics are really patchy.”

Well, this is down to personal preference, but to me, the cartoony approach employed by Curse and also seen in Broken Sword, Discworld 2 and Toonstruck is the best one for adventures. I mean, I prefer it to the pseudo-3D used in Escape From Monkey Island – in that, Guybrush looks like a bloody blow-up doll. Whatever, it’s a vast improvement on the first two.

4) “The engine doesn’t allow for very many commands – nowhere near as many as the other two Monkey Island games.”

It’s a case of streamlining – how many times in the earlier adventures did you have to keep clicking on different commands in order to do something? Plus, you don’t need to have commands like ‘Open’ and ‘Close’ when you’ve already got ‘Use’, now do you? We saw this new system in earlier LucasArts games like The Dig and Full Throttle – it makes it easier for the player to do what he/she wants, and that can only be a good thing.

As in previous games, the Voodoo lady ain't much help (although of course you have to talk to her anyway).

5) “It’s too short.”

Well, you might have a point there, although you can’t really complain if you didn’t select the ‘Mega-Monkey’ option – with extra puzzles.

So, there you have it. Consider The Curse of Monkey Island thoroughly defended. What people have to bear in mind is that the original Monkey Island was a benchmark title, the first really successful LucasArts adventure. Sure, we’d already had Maniac Mansion, Zak McCracken and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but Monkey Island represented a significant leap forward for point and click adventures. It was so much better than everything else out there that it really stood out. By the time of Curse, the general picture had changed somewhat, and if people were expecting it to blow everything out of the water in the same way its esteemed predecessors had, then they were understandably disappointed. But this is no reflection on the game itself – if you want a slick and amusing adventure, then all of the Monkey Island games are a must – including this one.