[17 December 2009]
Guybrush Threepwood has been through a lot. He accidentally released a voodoo pox upon the Caribbean and fixing that little mistake has become quite the adventure. He’s also escaped an inescapable island, he’s saved a city from pirates, he’s been eaten by a giant manatee, and had to defend himself in court. But through all of these misadventures he never lost sight of his main goal: stopping the pox.
The Tales of Monkey Island games have always walked a fine line between episodic and serialized storytelling. Each episode tells two parallel stories, one being the overarching narrative that connects the games and the other involving a more immediate conflict. Each one plays off the other, they supplement each other, and so every episode has felt like a complete adventure as well as a part of something larger.
But despite the seeming completeness of each episode, a player can’t just jump into this series midway. The episodic content isn’t actually there to make the games more accessible to a casual audience, to those people that would want to pop in halfway. It’s tied so closely to the main story that the two become almost indistinguishable in retrospect. This tight connection ensures that the plot is always moving forward and that no moment feels like pointless filler. The episodic content is actually there for the dedicated fans, for those that bought the whole season up front. Tales of Monkey Island, despite being split into five chapters, is actually a highly serialized story, one that must be played from the very beginning. The episodic stories are there to give the fans a sense of satisfaction upon completing each chapter. If there was no resolution to each episode, the story would start to feel drawn out after a few iterations, and the month long wait in between would become frustrating. Instead, fans get a sense of closure at the end of each episode even though individually they can’t stand as complete games.
What this means is that if you haven’t played the other Tales of Monkey Island games, don’t play Rise of the Pirate God just yet, or you’ll be doing the entire series a disservice. This final chapter in Guybrush’s adventure provides everything one could want in an ending, and in order to fully appreciate it, you must know what comes before it.
There are plenty of puzzles, though some are outright annoying. One involving a corpse, a dartboard, a mug of root beer, and a trans-dimensional rip in space (only in Monkey Island . . . ) also involves a lot of backtracking that quickly becomes old. Another involving a past character and your own custom facial expression is funny at first, but when you realize that you must make a specific kind of face, the puzzle descends into an excruciating exercise of trial and error. Personally, I still wish there was a dedicated hint button. The current system, which has Guybrush thinking aloud, is clever and to its credit non-intrusive but too often he’ll give a hint to a puzzle I’m about to solve and then when I really need him he’ll be silent.
But the good far outweighs the bad. Early in the game Insult Swordfighting makes a return in a way that highlights the excellent writing of the series. The dialogue is just as sharp as ever and the characters just as appealing, but if you’ve followed the series this far, what you really care about is the story, and it doesn’t disappoint. All the loose ends are tied up, and the final battle is reminiscent of the finale between Guybrush and LeChuck in The Secret of Monkey Island, effectively bringing the entire franchise full circle. It’s a nice homage, but one that also feels unique to this game. And that has been the greatest accomplishment of this series, that is has managed to feel like a classic Monkey Island adventure while introducing so many new characters, new places, and a surprisingly epic story. If you’ve never played an adventure game before, then this series with its satisfying conclusion in Rise of the Pirate God will make you a fan. Now that it’s all over, the only thing we’re left wanting is a sequel.