Tales of Monkey Island: Ch. 1 – Launch of the Screaming Narwhal Review

You might not be old enough to remember the fun – and funny – pirate-themed Monkey Island computer games that debuted in the early ’90s from LucasArts, but if you enjoy challenging puzzles, memorable characters and a treasure chest full of humor, be sure to download the first all-new adventure in many years.

Telltale Games, in partnership with LucasArts, has just launched Tales of Monkey Island, distributed digitally in playable monthly "episodes" for Windows PCs (reviewed here) and via WiiWare for the Nintendo Wii console. The first in the 5-part series, Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is now available for download.

Before we set sail with this review, on a related note fans of this franchise can also download The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, a refresh of the original 1990 game – now with better graphics and sound – for Windows PCs, Xbox 360 or iPhone/iPod touch devices.

As with the past games in this award-winning series, Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal stars Guybrush Threepwood, a bumbling pirate who tends to get himself in all kinds of trouble while sailing the High Seas.

This swashbuckling adventure starts off near the "Rock of Gelato," where Threepwood’s nemesis – a demon pirate known as LeChuck – has taken his wife Elaine captive on his ship. While trying to save her, Threepwood accidentally blows up LeChuck’s ship and washes up on the shores of Flotsam Island.

Threepwood’s goal is to find a way off Flotsam (despite strong winds that only blows towards the isle!), rescue Elaine, and finish off LeChuck once and for all.

Similar to previous Monkey Island tales, players will move Threepwood around the game world, talk to hilarious characters (by selecting desired dialogue from a list of options), add items to an inventory and use them on the environment when needed. For example, early on in the game you have to find a way into a private bar on Flotsam Island, so you’ll need to first find a sea captain’s membership card to grant access.

In some cases you’ll need to first open items in your inventory to see what’s inside or combine items in order to create a new item altogether, such as placing a bomb in a pair of underwear before you use it (don’t ask).

The puzzles can get quite tough, but a little perseverance (be sure to click on everything and everyone for clues) and perhaps sneaking a peak at a walkthrough posted online, and you’ll make your way to the end of this first episode.

Tales of Monkey Island: Launch of the Screaming Narwhal is worthy of its name, and nearly 20-year history, but it’s not a perfect adventure. For one, you can’t save the game whenever you want. This is an annoying oversight because if you need to take a break from the game you might have to repeat the area instead of starting where you left off. If you try to save the game at non-checkpoint spots you’ll see the words "Sorry, you can’t save here."

Secondly, while I love the idea of episodic adventures, there is no option to buy individual episodes. Instead, it costs about $35 for all five, which is reasonable (plus you get a DVD when they’re all released for only the cost of shipping), but what if you didn’t enjoy the first episode? Now you’ve paid for all five.

Overall, though, this funny and gratifying adventure is great for fans of the genre or series, as well as newcomers.

For similar games, try The Tales of Bingwood: To Save a Princess and Emerald City Confidential.

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