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The Backseat Game Designer: The Rest of Escape from Monkey Island Review

This is the addendum to my Escape from Monkey Island Review in which I put all my opinions that contain spoilers. If you haven't finished playing Escape from Monkey Island yet, you don't want to read this page. Please go back to the regular review site, where I promise to tell you everything you need to decide whether or not to play this game without giving away any of its plot.

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The Backseat Game Designer: Monkey Island

These Backseat Game Designers pages are primarily a place for me to put all my game commentary that was too revealing for the regular reviews, as well as a place to tell everyone exactly how *I* would have done the game so much better. Hey, who knows, maybe some LucasArts game designer'll be Googling around, happen onto this page, and get struck with a bolt of inspiration for a really cool Monkey Island V. Ah, a girl can dream, right? Here's all the news about Escape from Monkey Island that's fit to print, just not on the no-spoiler review site.

Advice from the Backseat Game Designer

In my game review, I gave Escape from Monkey Island a 4.5 out of 10 (rating: so-so). So, what would have taken this game to the next level?

Well, the gameplay would have been a good place to start. One of the best things about Curse of Monkey Island was how little of the player's time it wasted-- it featured one of the most efficient and user-friendly interfaces I've ever seen in a graphic adventure game, and a gameplay mechanism requiring a bare minimum of repetitive crap. Disappointingly, Escape From Monkey Island failed to follow up on that success at all, instead introducing rudimentary 3D controls that make basic pixel-hunting a grueling chore. When you see something interesting in an adventure game that you want to examine or pick up, there really *must* be some way to just click on the darn thing. Having to use the keyboard to walk Guybrush around it trying to get it into his line of sight so that your options of what to do with it will pop up is not a good substitution. This game was just begging for a functional mouse. Navigation was a real drag too, particularly compared to Curse of Monkey Island, which let you move effortlessly from screen to screen just by double-clicking on the exit. In Escape, all you can do is hold the key down and watch Guybrush jog across the screen. Fixing these annoyances would have made it much easier to enjoy and appreciate this game.

But to be a really good game, Escape From Monkey Island would have needed to engage the player's brain more. Curse of Monkey Island was shallow but funny; too much of Escape From Monkey Island's humor just feels tired and gimmicky. Most of the game's jokes are references to previous games, which is boring for those of us who have already played them and frustrating for those who have not. Other jokes are beaten into the ground until there's nothing even vaguely amusing about them anymore-- one or two wisecracks about Australia and annoying tourists might have been funny, but by the end of the game it's just heavy-handed and stupid. A more interesting variety of puzzles would have helped (particularly anything involving lateral thinking.) More interesting ways to interact with the plot would have helped (particularly anything that would have broken this game's excessive linearity down a bit-- letting us make a few decisions in this game would have deepened the playing experience tremendously.) More interesting characters would have helped. A plot that was less stale than moldy old cheese would have helped a LOT. Grim Fandango was an excellent example of a game that offered creative puzzles, unique characters, a touch of interactivity, and a nice mix of humor types. Escape from Monkey Island could have done those things, and it would have turned an unmemorable game into a really good one.

LucasArts could make a really slammin' Monkey Island V if they put their minds to it. They clearly have all the weapons in their arsenal. They have great voice talent on this series, they know how to do terrific graphics, make an intuitive interface, be innovative rather than hackneyed, challenge your brain, and make you laugh. They could do it all at once.

It would require a new plot though. Because frankly, I didn't have too much fun with Monkey Island 4. There's only so many times you can play through the same old boring plot before your fun center shuts off.

Best Puzzle: Figuring out through trial and error how the sorting machine worked. The lag time between trial and feedback was a bit off-putting, but the puzzle itself was a good one.
Lamest Puzzle: Finding the correct names for the prostheticist's pointless story written on the bottom of a manhole cover. It just doesn't get more contrived than that.
Best Plot Twist: None. Nothing interesting happened in this entire plot.
Lamest Plot Twist: It's hard to pick just one, but Murray's cameo was especially painful.
High Point: Like Curse of Monkey Island, the excellent voice acting was really the high point. If I were to pick one moment that stood out, the bitchy figurehead definitely cracked me up.
Low Point: Monkey Kombat. This would have been a perfectly serviceable little piece of homage if the player wasn't forced to ACTUALLY COMPLETE THE STUPID COMBATS A DOZEN OR MORE TIMES. Authentic long pauses, jerky celebratory moves, and all. It's almost as if Escape from Monkey Island felt the need to make itself look more smooth and modern by deliberately mimicking a ten-year-old game for long stretches of time. It Didn't Work.

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