Retro Games: The Screaming Narwhal

The Fiction Addiction

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Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate(amazon.com)

Telltale Games’s Tales of Monkey Island, not to be confused with the LucasArts updated re-release of the original stories, is an entirely separate adventure in the ongoing saga of Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate. The first episode, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal: Chapter 1, brings Guybrush, Elaine Marley, and LeChuck (and at least one other familiar character!) back for new stories, revamped from their grainy 2d incarnations, but following the spirit of the originals.

Goofy dialogue, creative uses for found items and pirate-y silliness are the hallmarks of the Monkey Island games, and the Screaming Narwhal has them all. Guybrush uses his razor-sharp wits to deal with the wacky denizens of Flotsam Island, whether that’s a clever ruse about selling fine leather jackets, an amazing use of misdirection (Look! It’s Louis XIV!) or coming up with a believable excuse on the spot. The dialogue is not a memory test of in-game facts, but a chance for zany interactions.

The freedom of the old Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge options was in stark contrast to the thousand ways to accidentally off the protagonist in the punishing other adventure games I played around the same time. (Crossing the road as Laura Bow and immediately getting killed by a passing car still sticks in my memory as the finest example of pointless player death.) Guybrush can stick a bomb in his pocket or attempt all sorts of athletic feats without any ill effects.

The Monkey Island games make you wonder What would happen if I…? and then encourage you to try it out, a gameplay style I really love. When you try to pair two objects that don’t belong,  use something in the wrong way, or say something ridiculous, Guybrush makes a joke instead of a beep, an error message, or a score punishment. Creativity is rewarded by offering zany responses to zany questions and zany actions. The object was not to beat the level, the boss, or the game, but just to see what would happen next. That’s exactly what I love in games.

The Screaming Narwhal contains the old Monkey Island mechanic of an old pirate map for Guybrush to decipher. I don’t want to give away too much, but this isn’t the usual hidden object standard, there isn’t any squinting at the screen to find map pieces. If you’d like to make the puzzles easier or harder, the hint frequency is on a slider in your options menu, so you can adjust how helpful Guybrush is to you.

When I think about it, the only thing that could possibly be improved is the inventory. Oh, no, not the actual inventory, the U-tube and manatee monocle and breathmints leave no room for improvement. But the way to access the inventory is to mouse over the right hand edge of the screen. This is also the way to walk off the right hand edge of the screen or look at things on the far right of the screen. It is not a game-breaking mechanical failure, but a minor annoyance that came back every time I mean to look at something on the right and opened my inventory.

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