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Lora's CRPG Reviews: Escape from Monkey Island




Escape from Monkey Island (Game release date: 2000)
Polygonal 3D action sprites and frustratingly bad new controls make this game a baffling step backwards from Curse of Monkey Island.


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Highlights: Humor, catchy music, excellent main character Lowlights: Primitive interface, stupid plot, cliches, boring puzzles

I don't know exactly who at LucasArts came up with the bright idea of using the subtle and difficult to control interface from the artsy magical-realism title Grim Fandango to make a sequel to the shallowly fun cartoon adventure Curse of Monkey Island. Shooting a live-action version of "Scooby Doo" is one thing, but this is more like shooting a grainy black-and-white film version of Scooby Doo. What were these guys thinking?

Like its predecessor, Escape From Monkey Island is a humorous game with great dialogue diminished by dumb inventory puzzles and a story which is a cliched and generally boring retread of games past. For all intents and purposes it's the exact same game as Curse, only with the aforementioned lousy interface and a switch to badly rendered polygonal 3D action sprites. Those are two pretty hefty only's, though, and where Curse of Monkey Island was lightweight but perfectly tuned fun, Escape is clunky and flat. The really brilliant thing about Curse of Monkey Island is how tight the gameplay was and how little it wasted your time on mundanities. You don't care too much that puzzles are simplistic and make little sense if you're able to zip from one to the next at your own pace, without being held up by game mechanics or impeded by the interface. But in Escape From Monkey Island, you're held up and impeded at every turn. The keyboard-only 3D navigation is awful; Guybrush automatically turns around and starts running in the opposite direction whenever he bumps into an obstacle, and you can't tell an obstacle from a piece of scenery just by looking, so you end up constantly wrestling with the controls just to keep him from veering all over the screen. Timed sequences, in particular, made me want to throw the CD out the window. The inventory, which you need to use a LOT, is unintuitive and annoying. Pixel-hunting is a total nightmare--since you can't click on anything, the only way to take or interact with anything is to walk Guybrush right up next to it until the option to use it pops up. This makes for a ton of wasted time walking slowly around an environment to see whether anything there is interactive or not, or running around fruitlessly because you didn't approach a hotspot from the right angle and so were misled into thinking it wasn't a useable object. This game has roughly the same number of puzzles in it that Curse of Monkey Island did, but takes twice as long to complete.

I put up with this primitive interface all through Grim Fandango, because the original plot and offbeat artistry of that game motivated me to finish it. I enjoyed the lightweight fluff of Curse of Monkey Island because the gameplay was so pleasant and the designers so unusually respectful of my time. But Escape From Monkey Island offers the worst of both worlds--a shallow game that's aggravating to play--and the only thing motivating me to finish it was the whining of my children, who couldn't handle the crappy controls themselves.

Style: Escape from Monkey Island is a third-person graphic adventure game with primitive keyboard controls. There are a few timed puzzles--you can attempt each of them as often as you need to, though it's usually quicker to reload. It's not possible to die or lose this game. The plot is a pirate-themed cartoon adventure. Combat and leveling are not elements.

Series: There have been four Monkey Island games by LucasArts. The first two, Secret of Monkey Island and LeChuck's Revenge, were fine old DOS games that are now available as abandonware. It's possible to buy both of these DOS games bundled together with Escape from Monkey Island into the Monkey Island Archives, but they're very dated, and like most DOS abandonware, take a certain amount of dedication to play. The third game, Curse of Monkey Island, has a very cartoonish look but far superior gameplay to Escape From Monkey Island.

Finding Escape from Monkey Island: This is a relatively recent game which can still be found in some software stores. Here it is for sale on Amazon.

Getting Escape from Monkey Island to Work: I didn't have any problems getting this game working on XP. Like most games released before about 2007, it is not compatible with Windows Vista, but here is a workaround you can use. LucasArts is still supporting Escape from Monkey Island, so if you run into any problems, you can visit their website and get their help with it.

Hints For Escape from Monkey Island: If you're stuck on a puzzle, there is a really good hints page at UHS which reveals only one hint at a time, so you won't accidentally learn the answers to future puzzles while scanning for the one you're stuck on. You can also buy a Escape from Monkey Island Strategy Guide if you prefer, which includes some easter eggs and joke information as well as hints.

Game Length: 30 hours counting all the optional conversations.

Age-Appropriateness: This game is rated E (for everyone 6 and up), and contains no sex and only cartoon violence. There's a fair amount of bathroom humor, though. Unlike the previous game, Escape from Monkey Island's interface makes the game too frustrating for young gamers to play alone.

Lora's Escape from Monkey Island Review: (So-so)

Plot and Quests: The plot is boring and annoying in that brainless-summer-sequel kind of way (even if you've never played any of the previous Monkey Island games, this one beats you over the head with pointless narrations of the previous games' plots and characters, so you still get a good sense of exactly how derivative and uninspired it is.) Unlike most Hollywood sequels, Escape from Monkey Island is at least tongue-in-cheek enough to be campy about its lack of originality, which keeps it from getting too unbearable.
Puzzles and Mental Challenges: Primarily dull inventory-combination puzzles and password usage, with a few good logistical puzzles tossed in.
Characters: You play a pre-assigned PC in Escape from Monkey Island, a goofy pirate named Guybrush Threepwood. Guybrush is an entertaining and likeable fellow, but his reactions and conversations are all scripted--the only input you get into his character is choosing one-liners from a menu when it's time for him to make a joke, and you will never get the opportunity to make a decision on his behalf. NPCs are generally caricatures, and many of them have little to say beyond references to the previous three games.
Gameworld: The Monkey Island games are set on a cluster of seventeenth-century Caribbean islands which are colorful, anachronistic, rather silly, and completely logically inconsistent. Since this is intentional and frequently funny, it didn't end up irritating me as much as inconsistent gameworlds often do, but the setting had too childish a feel to capture my imagination the way LucasArts' more creative offering Grim Fandango did.
Gameplay: Like most modern graphical adventures, Escape from Monkey Island is really just your standard Infocom game with graphics and sound appended. That isn't inherently a bad thing--I loved those old Infocom games--but this genre really has not advanced much since the '80's where gameplay is concerned, and I spent large portions of this game longing for the days when I could just type something like "get bottle" instead of having to steer the sprite across the screen and around an obstacle to pick it up myself.
Interface: The interface is what you might call "primitive." There's no mouse. You use the keyboard or a joystick to move Guybrush around (an awkward affair) and access his inventory (an extremely unpleasant one.) Instead of being able to quickly mouse over a scene to see if any interesting-looking objects are clickable, you have to stroll Guybrush slowly around to see whether any options pop up when he gets close to anything. Unlike Curse of Monkey Island, there are no movement shortcuts and no way to tell where the exits are from each screen. Frequently I found myself knowing exactly what to do next but unable to easily execute it from the controls.
Ambience (Graphics, Sound, etc.): The 3D character models look blocky but OK, and the 2D backgrounds look cartoonish but good, but they look pretty poor together. Some of the Australian accents are very awkward. On the plus side, Guybrush is wonderfully voice-acted and the music is infectious. The mood of the game is unfortunately very similar to that of a corny children's show and may not appeal to many adult gamers. If you have any kind of aversion to smug self-referentialism (constant jokes about LucasArts; puppets, dolls, and other merchandise featuring the main characters everywhere; etc.), steer far away from this one.

Lora's Recommendations: I don't really recommend Escape from Monkey Island for most gamers. The previous game, Curse of Monkey Island, has less aggravating controls and is much more fun to play; and if you already played that game and enjoyed it, then the rehashed plot and inferior design of this game may annoy you. Anyone who's been a fan of the Monkey Island series since the DOS days will likely enjoy this offering, however--the characteristic humor of the series is in fine form here, even if nothing else is. Devoted graphic-adventure fans may be able to look past the crummy game design to appreciate some of the original puzzles in Escape from Monkey Island, too.

If You Loved Escape from Monkey Island: Then you would probably also like the previous game in the series, Curse of Monkey Island. You may also get a kick out of Sam and Max Hit the Road, another very wacky adventure game by LucasArts, or from the excellent Grim Fandango, which is just as funny but in a more sophisticated, adult style. More recent 3D graphic adventures that have been outstanding are The Longest Journey, Syberia, and Sanitarium.

For a more detailed critique of the game involving spoilers, plot holes, and impacts Escape From Monkey Island could have on the adventure-game genre, please see my Backseat Game Designer page. Enjoy the game!



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