Go back to The Curse of Monkey Island

Written by: Stoo

Date posted: September 22, 2020

Reviewing a series in the wrong order is a long-standing tradition at this site. We tend to cover whatever happens to have taken our interest recently, as opposed to working through anything in a methodical manner. The first Monkey Island that Rik wrote about was this third entry, so it it seems suitable that I start here also. I’d not played Curse before, but picked it up on a gog sale, and I doubt I would easily find a better way to spend £2.89.

For a start, the artwork is fantastic. I have a particular love for the early-90s pixelly VGA of the first two games, but those days were past by 97 (and it was far too soon for them to return for nostalgia value). So in line with other Lucasarts adventures of the time curse takes a slightly whimsical cartoonish look. I think this a sensible evolution of the older graphics; I suspect any attempt to look realistic would not have suited the tone of this series.

So Plunder island, where the first major section of the game occurs, is lush and green. Blood island, later on, has a bit of that midnight atmosphere of melee island from the first game. Characters look appealing, or comically ridiculous to suit, and animation is of a high standard too. Cutscenes are seamlessly integrated that further bring our hero to life, along with the slightly irate Elaine Marley and monstrous LeChuck.

“A pirate I was meant to be, trim the sails and roam the sea!”

Series creator Ron Gilbert wasn’t involved in this one, and we might wistfully wonder what new creativity he might have brought to it. Still, the new guys do a fine job picking up the reins. Importantly the humour is still present and of a consistent tone with the previous games. Like Rik I don’t think I ever cracked up, but I can’t remember the last time I did playing a scripted single player game anyway. What Monkey does deliver is an affectionate parody of pirates in popular culture, full of wry comments, absurdity and anachronisms.

One memorable scene involves a weary Guybrush imploring his pirate crew to stop singing and get back to work (while they rhyme with his every request). Another would be the gentlemen’s duel that takes an unexpected turn… then another. There’s also the return of Stan, arms still flailing away in that jacket with the weird pattern effect, now trying to flog life insurance. Or how about the actor delivering a truly dreadful re-interpretation of Shakespeare.

What you don’t get, I’m happy to say, is any of the acts of weirdly random cruelty that slightly marred the second game. Remember what Guybrush did to Stan and Wally? There’s no return of that weirdly sociopathic streak, and Guybrush is a better character for it. About the worst you get is pissing off a deeply obnoxious cabana boy.

This was the first Monkey to benefit from voice acting for the characters (I guess Monkey 2 was *just* too early), and it’s of a high standard. The returning characters all have voices that seem a sensible fit to their personalities. LeChuck is traditional pirate, with monstrous tones on top. Stan is a smooth-talking salesman. Guybrush is a slightly goofy American, which Rik tells us angered some reviewers back in the day, but I’m not sure what they were expecting.

The game has two difficulty settings, and I’m going to have to admit I went for the easier one. It provided a modest challenge, the few times I got stuck I just hadn’t been thorough enough in considering all the items in my inventory. This suits me just fine, given my limited gaming time these days. I didn’t try the “Mega Monkey” mode with extra puzzles, but I’ve played enough Lucasarts to predict it will give your brain more of a workout, without doing anything really unfair or frustrating like an old Sierra game

There’s a ship battles segment that could have been a pain in the ass; action interludes in adventures were often an unwelcome change of pace. Yet it’s actually fairly simple, even on its harder mode (unrelated to the overall regular\mega choice). Just remember to watch the direction of the wind.

If you’ve played the second Monkey you might recall its somewhat bizarre and controversial ending. Trying to avoid spoilers I’ll just say, the writers do their best to incorporate those events. In the process I thought the anachronisms were being pushed a bit far, even by the standards of series. Still, I guess the writers had to either work with what they were given or give up and wave it away as “just a dream”.

The first Monkey remains the most important of the family, in fact one of the most important adventures of its day. I don’t think anything will ever quite match that first few hours exploring Melee island, and it basically laid down the principles of every lucasarts adventure to follow: puzzles that are tricky but not unfair, no death and no unwinnable situations. Curse is not revolutionary in the same way; it safely uses the tone, setting and design philosophies of its forbear. It also recycles Secret’s master-stroke, the insult swordfighting.

Nonetheless, it retains everything that made the first two magical, has at least one or two clever ideas of its own, and adds a new level of polish suitable to the expectations of the late 90s. In fact I would even suggest it’s a more consistent game than the first one, the back half of which never quite matched the absolutely stellar first act. Rik gave it a positive review, all of which I agree with, other than being unable to comment on comparisons with Monkey 4 (which I’ve not yet played). He gave it eight out of ten, I feel compelled to give it a lofty nine so maybe I’m even more enthused, but one point does not matter greatly here. I think it’s safe to say we’re united in our conclusions: Curse is an excellent adventure, and we strongly recommend it.