Taking adventuring one step further


Please, I beg you, I didn't diss the church of Scientology... Ooops. Seems like Escape from Monkey Island got lost at the bottom of the 'to do' list during some vital restructuring (aka. extended Counter-Strike and Red Alert 2 sessions). But, we got around to it. And you know what they say - better late than never. They also say never look a gift horse in the mouth, but I never met a gift horse, only a Shetland pony.

Escape from Monkey Island, a member of a dying breed of game, is likely to be ignored by gamers when browsing the shelves of local software retailers. Why? Because no one plays adventure games anymore. More importantly, no one buys adventure games anymore.

Whose fault is this? Mine? Yours? The FBI's? No, its Tamagotchi actually, but let's not dwell on that one. For those who get a thrill from ye olde gameplay of yester yore, Escape from Monkey Island will be just the ticket. Like all good long-running series, it retains what made its precursors so much fun, yet adds enough for it to be fresh and entertaining.

The plot follows the exploits of the wisecracking wimp, Guybrush Threepwood. This time he's in a little situation. Well, change the word little with life-threatening and situation with blood bath. That's a slight embellishment of the truth - Guybrush is now married to Elaine, who was once governor of Melee island. Now, some other jerk-ass is trying to muscle his way in. A simple story on the outset, but layered like an onion as you get closer to the core.

The game ditches the generic mouse interface in favour of a Grim Fandango-style arrow key affair. This way, you must navigate by rotating your character left and right walking forwards and backwards.

Whether or not the old mouse-over interface would be more efficient is debatable but, as it stands, the game is still very playable. When you approach context-sensitive objects, areas or people, Guybrush will turn and face it. You hit the action key and he'll do something basic (not toilet functions).

Just say you are walking along and the main-man Threepwood's eyes swivel (evil Furby style) to face a pole. Push the action button and he'll shag it - the default action. You can also open your inventory and use an item with the pole, perhaps a chainsaw, or simply examine the pole where a sly hint may be dropped. "This pole leads to the treasure room. You can't climb it, but a rope may come in handy…"

Progression has always been a sore point in adventure games. Some titles involved puzzles that were just so insanely obtuse, figuring them out was usually a case of trial and error with every conceivable variable, item and character. Escape from Monkey Island comprises a number of interesting and generally cognitive riddles, which are difficult, but just enough so as to reward the player once completed. But it's not without those few bizarro killer puzzles.

Visually, the game is fantastic. Not in a special-effects, gourad-shaded, texel-mapped hoo-ha way, but rather in an art direction and backgroundy way. Everything is very cartoony and full of life and there's no clipping, no jagged edges. Complementing the vibrant visuals is some of the best speech experienced in a game. Threepwood's voice is strangely soothing and never gets dreary. Some of the other characters are a bit dry, but most only have bit-parts, so it's all smiles in the end.

The game is quite hefty and even the most experienced of veteran adventure gamers will find weeks of goodness within. 'Tis a pity we didn't review this one earlier as it really is a tasty little diversion from countless action games. Lucasarts still has it, but does anyone want it?