"It's a thoroughly good, thoroughly traditional adventure game that's sure to please fans of the original Monkey Island series and adventure-savvy newcomers alike. It's nothing remotely special, but it's unlikely that was ever its intention. Judged for what it is, it's a solid, entertaining and often exceptionally amusing way to pass a couple of afternoons."
My relationship with adventure games is an odd one. On the one hand, I absolutely love the genre. Done well, it's entertaining, sufficiently challenging, engrossing and oddly relaxing. Done really well, with exquisite dialogue, a meaningful narrative, logically progressing and well-integrated puzzles and decent acting, it's the sort of genre that can really epitomise how splendid videogames can be.
On the other hand, you could probably count the number of adventures to fit into that category on, well, your other hand. Try to come up with a list of genuinely excellent adventures from the last few years, and you'd be hard pressed to list more than a couple.
In a sense, I suspect this is because it's not a genre that's easy to progress. A lot of the stuff that gets panned these days - and rightly so - would have passed quite nicely fifteen years ago. But introducing new mechanics to the adventure game is a difficult task, and many that have tried haven't emerged entirely successful. So the genre remains pretty much unchanged since the mid nineties. Have a think about, say, how many innovations have been brought to the first-person shooter since Quake, compare with the changes that have been made since The Curse of Monkey Island, and a problem begins to emerge.
So as I play this second episode of Tales of Monkey Island, Telltale's new episodic reincarnation of the classic franchise, I find myself feeling oddly dissatisfied. It's not, in any way, a bad game. It's a very good one, in fact, capitalising on the series' strong start and building it into something even more worthy of the Monkey Island name. But at the same time, it never does anything splendid or interesting enough to push into the upper echelons of greatness. Siege of Spinner Cay is a thoroughly strong, effortlessly entertaining and only rarely frustrating episode. It just fails to inspire on any stratospheric level.
It's obvious by now that Telltale intend to keep the Monkey Island experience as familiar as possible. If that's your bag, you'll find little to moan about here. Beginning on the Screaming Narwhal, launched in the previous episode, you'll find yourself engaged in a brutal swordfight (an actual one, not an insult one) with the pirate catcher repeatedly referenced in Episode 1. It's an exceptionally clever section to kick off with, utilising some excellent puzzle mechanics in between genuinely amusing dialogue.
This is true of much of the game. It's noticeably funnier than the first part, with perfect comedy timing and well-written gags in abundance. Dominic Armato remains as fantastic as ever as the Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood, and some of wife Elaine's quips brilliantly capture their bizarre relationship. If anything's a little out, it's the somewhat predictable and tiresome dumb-pirate routines, during which Guybrush attempts to gain possession of one of the three important artifacts much of the game revolves around. We've seen these characters so many times in adventure games - one tall and skinny, one short and fat, both "endearingly" stupid - that the jokes fall flat from the start. Only Guybrush's presence lifts the sequences out of the gutter.
The game's generally well-paced, aside from one sticking point around two-thirds of the way through. Most of the puzzles are tricky yet logical, providing a sufficient sense of reward and progression to maintain its charm. One, though, involves a really very silly use-this-with-that routine that only makes any sense once you've stumbled upon the solution accidentally.
There's another slightly problematic sequence that sees the required actions slightly contradict with what you've been told in a conversation. There'll be no spoilers here, but if you find yourself puzzled as to what you're supposed to do after Guybrush explicitly stating not to do something, you might want to keep heading down that track anyway.
Aside from that, it's all very good. But I can't help but feel it's lacking a certain something that would elevate it even higher. It's something the genre's lacked for some time - a spark of genius, a truly innovative puzzle technique, a largely comic story that doesn't mind dropping in a little intellectual complexity from time to time - whatever. None of that's here, and while such features have never been a part of the Monkey Island saga, there's no reason why Telltale should be afraid of mixing things up a little.
It's far from being a deal-breaker, though, and it's worth reiterating that much of this adventure-game commentary is just idle brain-dumping rather than active criticism of Siege of Spinner Cay. It's a thoroughly good, thoroughly traditional adventure game that's sure to please fans of the original Monkey Island series and adventure-savvy newcomers alike. It's nothing remotely special, but it's unlikely that was ever its intention. Judged for what it is, it's a solid, entertaining and often exceptionally amusing way to pass a couple of afternoons.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (August 19, 2009)
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