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Escape from Monkey Island Review

by Stephen Granade

Primates. Pirates. Pants. They are the three P's of comedy, the elements with which so much humor is shaped. Put them together, and chances are you'd have a Monkey Island game.

At least, that's what happens when LucasArts combines those primal comedic building blocks.

Escape from Monkey Island is the fourth game in the LucasArts series of graphic adventure games. The first one, The Secret of Monkey Island, was released back in 1990. It is a testament to the staying power of the series that we're seeing a new one now, some ten years later.

The star of Escape from Monkey Island, as in prior Monkey Island games, is Guybrush Threepwood. At the beginning, life is good for him. He has gone from being a would-be pirate to being, well, less of a would-be pirate. He has married the love of his life, Governor Elaine Marley, and is returning from his honeymoon.

Alas for him, he is the star of an adventure game. Bad things must befall him in order for there to be puzzles for him to solve. When Elaine and Guybrush return to Melee Island, they discover that Governor Elaine has been declared dead. Even pirates expect certain things from their government, including living civil servants--Melee Island isn't Missouri, after all--and Elaine being declared dead has ended her term as governor. To regain the governorship she must run against Charles L. Charles, a prissy dandy of a man who is winning the support of the rough-and-tumble pirates despite his foppish demeanor. Meanwhile, an Australian land developer by the name of Ozzie Mandrill has been buying up property and gentrifying it, covering islands with such mainstays of consumerism as StarBuccaneersTM and Micro-Groggeries. Then there's the Ultimate Insult, a voodoo talisman of terrible power which can take a man's ego and crush it like a grape, and which a number of people are seeking.

While Elaine is busy running for office, Guybrush must scour the Caribbean for the makings of an Ultimate Insult while trying to find a way to stop Ozzie's rampant conversion of pirate islands into Disneyfied versions of themselves.

And if you're lost, never fear. All of these plot threads wind together in the end, forming a solid whole.

Escape from Monkey Island is the second LucasArts adventure to use 3D graphics; Grim Fandango was the first. Escape from Monkey Island uses a modified version of the Grim Fandango engine. Those who have played Grim Fandango should be amazed at how different the two look. Grim Fandango is filled with the dark angles of Film Noir; Escape from Monkey Island, with brightly-colored cartoon pen strokes. Escape from Monkey Island is a visual treat, and does an excellent job of recapturing the look of The Curse of Monkey Island. The characters, too, are well-done, their gestures and facial expressions helping sell them as fully-realized characters.

What is less enchanting is the game's interface. You must use a keyboard or joystick to move Guybrush around and deal with objects. While accessing and using using your inventory isn't too difficult, sometimes maneuvering Guybrush to the point where he can interact with an on-screen item can be an exercise in frustration. Many times I found myself trying to nudge Guybrush to just the right spot: closer, closer, turn a little -- no! Wait! Too far! Back up, back up, back up...okay, now try turning -- ack! And coercing Guybrush into walking along narrow paths will just about drive you mad. As slow as Guybrush normally walks, I had him run everywhere, which gives him all the turning ability of a Mercury Grand Marquis. It was all too easy to overshoot my destination and instead end up running in the wrong direction.

The sound in the game is good, and the voice-acting is flat-out amazing. All too often game companies skimp on hiring voice talent, instead using That Guy from Accounting Who Does a Decent Impression of Jim Carrey. You cannot do that in an adventure game and end up with a quality product: the illusion that the people in the game are real is crucial, and voice-acting is the most direct way to provide that illusion. You don't have thumping techno music and pulse-pounding action to distract you from goofy voice acting; you aren't too busy sending army units hither and yon to notice how bad the voice acting is. Recent LucasArts adventures have had good voice acting, and Escape from Monkey Island is no exception. There was no one whose performance made me cringe. Dominic Armato is especially to be commended for his performance as Guybrush.

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