Epidode 2: The Siege Of Spinner Cay
The narrative flow of Tales Of Monkey Island is a little different from the typical Telltale game. Where previous episodic series presented a handful of standalone and loosely connected micro-adventures, Guybrush Threepwood’s tale is one overarching plot sliced into five consecutive chapters. And the difference is significant. Not only is it harder to jump into the series halfway through (a problem somewhat muted by the inability to buy anything but a full series directly from Telltale) but it also highlights the reliance on formula and repetition that has existed in every Telltale adventure from Bone to Wallace & Gromit.
We had hoped the The Siege Of Spinner Cay would show a long-overdue shift away from those design crutches, but they remain and are more obvious than ever. Yet again our seasonal hero finds himself on a quest to find three McGuffins designed to get the plot moving and the puzzles flowing, which provokes a double feeling of déjà vu for those raised on both Telltale games and Monkey Islands past… A feeling made worse by the lazy re-use of visual assets.
Character models from the first episode are recycled with an insulting lack of care. A skin-colour change here, a little facial hair there and Monkey Island has two new generic pirate characters in seconds. You’d have to be blind not to notice that they’re the same models, as are the desert island assets, which are rearranged to create another maze-like island that’s practically indistinguishable from episode one’s Flotsam.
If we didn’t know better we’d say the designers were having a joke at the player’s expense, but sadly, we suspect it’s more a case of a studio overwhelmed by a franchise that places higher demands on episodic production than the more sitcom-like Sam & Max or Wallace & Gromit, where re-use of characters and locations is both expected and acceptable.
Fortunately, the laziness doesn’t extend to dialogue or puzzle design, leading to moments of genuine brilliance in Spinner Cay. The opening set piece is a wonderful Princess Bride-style swordfight that mixes a clever environmental puzzle with exciting action to great effect. A much later puzzle, meanwhile, in which you have to teach Le Chuck the syntax logic of point-and-click adventures, is just the sort of self-referential genius that aces any number of obvious jokes about three-headed monkeys or rubber chickens. Monkey Island’s legacy deserves that extra layer of polish.