At the end of Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, Guybrush Threepwood was in trouble. His left hand was possessed by an evil voodoo pox, a mad Maquis wanted his body chopped up for examination, and he had a sword pointed at his gullet by an unknown assailant. Yes, Tales of Monkey Island is now in full swing, as we careen head-first into the second episode of the episodic series, that is delivering some much needed classic adventure gaming from the good folks at Telltale Games. The series got off to what was probably Telltale's best start, and in our review of the first episode we thoroughly enjoyed their latest take on the franchise. So does the second episode continue the forward thrust of the series?
The Siege of Spinner Cay picks up immediately where the last episode left off, with Guybrush facing off against the ruthless (and hot) Morgan Le Flay, pirate bounty hunter and Guybrush fangirl. This encounter has a surprising ending that we won't ruin, but Guybrush is quite non-plussed by its outcome. Perhaps he knows that Morgan's the least of his problems as his quest to find a cure for the spreading Pox of LeChuck, a sea-sponge known as La Esponja Grande, leads him to the Jerkbait Islands. This episode is filled with adventure ranging from pox-ridden pirates to androgynous mer-people and a... human LeChuck? Who isn't trying to kill you? Who's instead picking flowers, being helpful, and is such an all-around-do-gooder he's actually making Guybrush jealous?
The plot for this episode has a lot of clever ideas. Like the last episode, we felt it wasn't as funny as the original Secret of Monkey Island games, but we did laugh a lot more this time around. There's a lot more absurdist humour that we loved, although they do sometimes signpost some of the jokes too much, making absolutely sure we understand the irony in trying to drown a mermaid. We get it, guys, and it is funny, but not if you explain three times. And as we noted last time, the episodes in Tales of Monkey Island are less self-contained adventures and more chunks of one much larger game. That means that the story ends on yet another cliffhanger, and some of your inventory items will carry over. This is clearly a series that needs to be played in order from start to finish to truly enjoy it, despite a helpful recap by the Voodoo Lady at the start of the game. The only other weakness we could find is that the game introduces a cool new villain in Morgan Le Flay, but then shifts focus to another, more generic pirate-baddie for the majority of the episode, who isn't as memorable as either Morgan or the Maquis from last episode.
Not to fear, puzzle fans, because besides a cool plot, The Siege of Spinner Cay has some pretty great puzzles as well. We were quite truthfully stumped many a time during the game, and the solution was always something so exceedingly simple we were kicking ourselves afterwards. This, believe it or not, is a good thing because it means the puzzles and their solutions make sense, and once you get into the game's own warped logic you can get a good handle on what you're supposed to be doing. We don't want to spoil too much, but there's also a fantastically self-referential puzzle in the game involving LeChuck. You see, he's spent so much of the series killing everything and not solving puzzles like Guybrush, he's a bit lost being good. Not only do his efforts echo the first-time adventure game player, "I don't need help, I can solve this myself! ... But perhaps you could give me just a little hint?", but the way you help him out is sure to be a treat for veterans of the genre.
The only flaw we found was in the game's inbuilt hint-system. There are several levels of helpfulness you can set, with Guybrush prompting you more often with help with each higher level. However, it didn't work as well as we would have liked, with Guybrush too often defaulting to "I need to find some more stuff to plunder, arr!" or along those lines. Something akin to the hint system in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition would definitely have helped, where you get more and more specific hints depending on how often you ask for them. We should also note that the controls have not improved from last time either. We stuck with the keyboard controls, as the mouse controls are still unwieldy, but we won't complain too much as they're unlikely to change for the rest of the series.
The Siege of Spinner Cay also looks a bit sharper than the previous adventure, with a bundle of visual flourishes that help it stand out. The game seems to be set eternally at dusk, with the sky vivid with a nice palette of oranges and mangoes (are mangoes a colour? If not, then at least they're delicious), and the camera does some cool stuff, like zooming all the way out from your location to the map screen when you're inside the Jerkbait Islands. There are some interesting locations like the tip of an underwater mer-folk civilisation, although the jungle is a little reminiscent of the one from the last game. The voice acting is once again of a high caliber, with all of the leads doing pretty outstanding jobs. The generic-pirate-baddies we mentioned earlier are, guess what, a little too generic, and a certain comedy duo of two incompetent pirates seem to just be going through the motions.
So, yeah. The Siege of Spinner Cay is a great continuation of Tales of Monkey Island. We're rating it slightly above Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, mostly because despite its generic villains, the quality of the puzzles in the game and the pacing are excellent, as well as the general laugh count. Telltale are getting a hang of the gentle absurdity of the Monkey Island universe, and the way that these episodes are ramping up hopefully means that the series is going to continue to build and build upon these strengths. If you're a Monkey Island fan, and you've been waiting to see how the series is going to turn out, the first two episodes are both hits. What more evidence do you need?