"The simplicity of most of the tasks means Lair of the Leviathan ends up being a little shorter than the rest of Tales thus far, but it's not really an issue when the episode feels so well directed, tight and polished. It's the most solid of the series, certainly, and if Telltale can maintain this level of quality while ramping the humour back up to its highest standards, the final two episodes might as well set sail for the shores of greatness."
Another month, another instalment of Telltale Games' revamping of Lucas Arts' beloved Monkey Island franchise. The first outing saw Mighty Pirate Guybrush Threepwood losing his hand and unwittingly releasing a terrible pox that quickly spread all the way around the Carribbean. Last month Guybrush spent some time on the isles of the Merfolk, solving a local dispute and heading out in search of La Esponga Grande but instead getting stuck inside a manatee. A large portion of Episode 3 takes place right there.
Last month, I complained that Telltale would risk the series becoming stale, despite the generally high quality of their games, if they couldn't deliver something significantly new in the remainder of the series. This month, Guybrush Threepwood is on the inside of a manatee.
Last month, I praised the genuinely amusing storytelling, and expressed my wish for it to continue with such aplomb. This month... well, the manatee again.
That said, given that much of Lair of the Leviathan takes place in the mouth and stomach of an enormous sea-cow, it's somewhat surprising that this episode fails to reach the humorous heights of the previous outing. Not that it matters so much - the concept is barmy enough to stand on its own merits, and while the script is never side-splitting, it's never grotesquely unfunny. And besides, Lucas Arts' original games were never side-splitting either. No, seriously. Go back and check. The jokes were great; there just weren't all that many of them. It's the irreverance of the series' sense of humour that made the games so endearing, and Episode 3 of Tales follows suit brilliantly in that respect.
Fantastically, it turns out there's a miniature society dwelling in the manatee's stomach. They know the whereabouts of the creature's missing cochlea, which is causing it to swim around in manic circles instead of heading on to the breeding ground where La Esponga is thought to be. And so - just to reiterate: on the inside of a gargantuan manatee - it's down to Guybrush, alongside the sassy but de-sworded pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay, to infiltrate the group and set the poor bugger on its way again. And, y'know, hopefully get out in the open again before things get messy. As Guybrush puts it, "I've never seen a manatee breeding session before, and I don't think I want to be inside one when I do."
The tightly constrained nature of the game's opening two-thirds allows Telltale to flex their social-puzzle muscles once again, last put to great use back in the third (and easily best) Wallace & Gromit game. Again, it's splendid, and a genuinely refreshing change from the more standard inventory tasks. The difficulty level drops as a result, but everything takes on a delightful sense of actual logic, as you establish how to successfully charm, manipulate or trick the manatee's inhabitants into compliance via a collection of dialogue trees and mini-games. One particularly exquisite sequence pits you in a "face-off" against the gang's leader, Bugeye, in which both parties must attempt to produce increasingly more obscure pirate faces. The solution? Go around saying "ARRRRRRRR!" to everyone, take note of what faces they pull when they respond, then mix and match to create the most original visages available.
The simplicity of most of the tasks means Lair of the Leviathan ends up being a little shorter than the rest of Tales thus far, but it's not really an issue when the episode feels so well directed, tight and polished. It's the most solid of the series, certainly, and if Telltale can maintain this level of quality while ramping the humour back up to its highest standards, the final two episodes might as well set sail for the shores of greatness.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (October 08, 2009)
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