"It's not a classic. It's still a game whose intricacies are likely to be forgotten within months. It's probably not even the best of the series, all considered. What it does have, though, is Tales' strongest moment, across all of the games."
I am the worst person in the world. Three months I've had this game. Three months without a review. It's gone way past the point where any excuse would be feasible. I've procrastinated, and dawdled, and put off the inevitable. But let me try to explain.
I played Rise of the Pirate God, this fifth and final episode in the new Monkey Island saga, for a couple of hours just before Christmas. Then my hard drive died, and I lost all my progress. And then I couldn't bring myself to start again.
Because ultimately, despite the generally favourable reviews I've penned of the previous four instalments, I'd come to realise by this point that I hadn't really been enjoying myself.
Throwaway. That's the word I'd have used to describe Tales of Monkey Island. Functional, faintly amusing, sometimes genuinely funny, and with generally reasonable puzzles... but still pretty much forgettable. They're decent adventure games. When "Monkey Island" is in the title, you kind of expect more than that.
So - spoiler alert for those who've yet to play Chapter 4 - when Guybrush Threepwood bit the dust at the end of that episode, it almost felt symbolic. Once a Mighty Pirate (TM), he'd been reduced to a bag of skin and bones, covered with soil. Of course, Tales would find a way of bringing him back, just as Telltale did with the series as a whole. Whether it'd be worth it, though, was the very real concern.
That's three months ago. Eventually, I'd have to play it through and pen some thoughts. So here we are. It's funny what a break can do, sometimes. My forray back into the Monkey Island world has left me pleasantly surprised. Who'da thunk it?
Threepwood's task this episode is to stop being dead. He's trapped in the afterlife, with sassy pirate hunter Morgan LeFlay, his wife Elaine having been captured by good, old, nasty LeChuck. As his guide, you've to get Guybrush back to the land of the living, back to Elaine, and rid the world of your arch nemesis once and for all.
Of the five games, this one's heaviest on story. There are cut-scenes aplenty, the tale twisting and turning sharply in a few agreeable directions. The pacing is neat, although at the expense of some puzzle difficulty early on. Initial tasks are basic, to say the least, but it allows for speedy narrative progression where previous episodes have suffered. There are a couple of repetitive sections - such as one part deep into the game, during which you've to transfer from ghost to zombie and back again around eight billion times - but it's generally okay. It's generally fine.
The art design's lovely, too - a natural evolution of that of the previous episodes, rendered in gorgeously ghastly darkened tones. And it's less aggressively glitchy, with only a couple of minor graphics bugs rearing their perplexing heads. It feels like Telltale have, in time for the final episode, finally hit their stride and created something more solid, more complete.
Of course, Tales has always been essentially decent. As far as rebooting a classic franchise goes, Telltale have done so with reasonable success, building on what came before while rigidly sticking to the core design ideologies of the original games. Then again, that's pretty much been the problem. It's not the 1990s any more and, just sometimes, it's better to look forwards rather than backwards.
When you're creating a follow-up that's so distinctly familiar and - dare I say - outdated, and you choose to make it episodic, you're taking a risk. Releasing games part-by-part has a whole truckload of benefits, but if you're not careful, you end up with the situation in which Telltale's last series, Wallace & Gromit's Grand Adventures, languished: delightful to begin with, increasingly tedious as the novelty wears off. Monkey Island looked set to suffer the same fate.
Except... it's three months since I played a Tales game. And in that time, something changed. It must have, at some point, because restarting Rise of the Pirate God didn't fill me with the same excruciating dread as I assumed it would. And returning to this charmingly ridiculous and ridiculously charming world felt good. It felt right. I actually - gasp! - really enjoyed myself.
It's not a classic. It's still a game whose intricacies are likely to be forgotten within months. It's probably not even the best of the series, all considered. What it does have, though, is Tales' strongest moment, across all of the games. When Morgan LeFlay makes a certain sacrifice to help Guybrush on his quest, and turns away, looking as though tears might well up in her eyes, there's a moment. Guybrush reaches out his hand, and gingerly places it atop LeFlay's shoulder. She slowly turns her head. There's an agonising pause. "Thanks," Guybrush finally says.
In amongst all the irreverant and juvenile humour, it's a genuinely touching sequence, animated perfectly and filled with humanity as a result. It hints at the genuinely clever and nuanced series Telltale could have made, and it's almost enough to suggest Guybrush wouldn't be better off dead and buried after all.
Freelance review by Lewis Denby (March 17, 2010)
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