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PC Game Review: The Curse Of Monkey Island

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GAME: The Curse Of Monkey Island


PUBLISHER: LucasArts, Disney

YEAR: 1997


So for today's review, we're taking a look at arguably one of my favourite games ever. The Curse Of Monkey Island (commonly shortened to CMI) is the third game in the amazing Monkey Island adventure game series, and in my opinion the one that I consider the best. It was the first game not to be written by Ron Gilbert and while this does make the tone somewhat different from the first two games, in some ways this helps it feel more like its own thing as well. It was also the first game to be released for Windows exclusively as the first two games were released for DOS (and Amiga if I remember correctly).


The game starts off "somewhere in the Caribbean" and we're witnessing a somewhat distressed (and starving) Guybrush Threepwood sailing the sea in a bumper car. He's writing his Captain's log, complaining about lack of fresh water and food (while humorously he is too busy writing about wanting these things to notice they are floating right behind him...) when the sounds of cannon fire breaks him out of his thoughts and he finds himself on the shores of Plunder Island. A battle between LeChuck and governor Elaine Marley ensues with Guybrush becoming trapped in LeChuck's hold. After managing to both (somewhat anticlimatically) defeat LeChuck and escape from his capsized ship within the first part of the game, he meets up with Elaine on the shore and promptly asks her to marry him with an engagement ring he found in LeChuck's treasure hold. However, turns out the ring is cursed (which in Guybrush' defense he had no idea about) and Elaine is turned into a gold statue.So good news is she's solid gold and practically nothing could really happen to her. Bad news is she's solid gold and some pirates have stolen her. Your goal becomes to undo the curse on Elaine as your adventure takes you from Plunder Island across the seas to Blood Island where an engagement ring equal to the cursed ring is located, which you will need to replace the cursed ring with. Of course, all this info is relayed to you by the awesome Voodoo Lady from the older games who despite her short time in the game is one of the strongest characters in the game in terms of impression (if only cause she has a meat-flavoured gumball machine in her place).



Mandatory shameless plug for other Lucas Arts games comes in the form of a Manny Calavera cameo and a button that says "Ask me about Grim Fandango"


So that's pretty much all I wanna spoil about the main story since I honestly feel this is a game worth playing so I'll try to keep any further spoilers to a minimum. What I love the most about CMI is the humor though. Most of it ranges from witty and clever jokes to pretty much lough out loud moments. I mean, this game is funny, and if it doesn't make you at least gigglefit a couple times, I have no idea what will. And I find this makes the game a lot easier to play since the dialogue is so funny that you kinda wanna hear as much of it as possible while playing which kind of ensures you never miss any important hints. The writing is some of the best in any Lucas Arts game I've played, with a few references here and there to Star Wars thrown in for good measure.

A good example of the game's humor would be when Haggis McMutton (who's voiced by the late Alan Young of Scrooge McDuck fame) explains the origins of his name to you and tells you his given name was "Heart Liver and Kidneys Boiled in the Stomach of the Animal McMutton" and Guybrush responds "so your parents were expecting a girl." Or when you find out the origins of the name for Skull Island (which I won't spoil but it had me laughing so hard the first time I saw it).


What I love the most about CMI is the meticulate attention to detail the designers obviously have and how game mechanics are woven into the game's world so well that most of the time you don't even notice it. The game is chock full of little details and funny "in-jokes" that gives the game a ton of charm and personality. Whether it'd be from all the plaques scattered throughout the game, which granted is a purely mechanical way of giving the player hints but it also doesn't come off that way given it makes sense someone would put up a plaque to inform others of what something is, the fact that the clocktower on Plunder Island actually legit shows the time as it follows your system clock, or the fact if you read a plaque about the Pappapishu plant and learn the origin of its name, every character from that point on will say Pappapishu instead of "ouch". It's clear that the people who worked on this game had fun with the game's setting and put as much into it as possible to help make it memorable and interesting in addition to making it a funny and lively place. Nothing in the game feels outright threatening, there's ALWAYS a sense of fun beneath all of it, even during the darker parts of the game you get the feeling this is all in good fun and that comforting and inviting feeling about this game makes it so hard to put down, and makes it so relaxing to play. The characters are so incredibly well written in this game, whether it'll be Murray the talking skull and his craving for world domination despite being just a skull, the washed up actor Slappy Cromwell who rewrote Shakespeare to appease pirates or any of the other side characters in this game that never feel like side characters but proper characters who live in this universe.



The zombie pirate LeChuck who undergoes a bit of a transformation in the game, becoming... slightly more dead I suppose.


The most brilliant thing about the game, which also counts for pretty much all Lucas Arts games of the time, is that the puzzles are designed in such a way that it's impossible for you to get softlocked in the game and you'll never find yourself in a state where you can't proceed cause you missed an item or important piece of information, something that makes the game still really playable today. For instance, something I never really thought about but noticed while playing the game was that during a puzzle where you are trapped in quicksand you need to attach a rock to a balloon in order to drop it on a vine that will get you out of the quicksand. It's impossible for you to be stuck in the quicksand without the rock in your inventory since in order to get to the quicksand in the first place you need scissors to cut through some undergrowth. You acquire both things before you get there, but it's impossible to acquire the scissors without first acquiring the rock due to how that earlier puzzle is designed. It's this kind of really well thought puzzle design that permeates the entire game and most of the time you don't even notice it because the puzzles are so well done, just like the example I just mentioned. To this day I consider LucasArts some of the best designed adventure games ever and this is the exact reason why. Of course, it's also impossible to die in LucasArts games, which makes it incredibly hilarious that at one point in CMI you actually have to die to progress, though you do so by faking it so while it doesn't really count I find it hilarious that you have to actually do something that's pretty much impossible in LucasArts adventures (except the first game where you could actually die but it was in a single instance).



There's something familiar about that face...


The controls are pretty much as intuitive as you'd expect. Forgoing the classic SCUMM interface of the first two games, the game instead uses a much more simple "coin" which you can access by holding down the mouse button on objects. This coin contains three context-sensitive icons: The hand symbol allows you to physically interact with things, either pushing, opening or otherwise do things with your hands (no... not that...). The eye symbol allows you to examine things or look through things, generally use your face. The last is the mouth symbol, which for the most part is used for talking to people but can also be used for eating stuff or generally interacting with your mouth (again... not that...). It's an incredibly intuitive interface that was also used for similar games of the time period like The Longest Journey (another one of my all-time favourites) and Day Of The Tentacle. And trying out all 3 options on things can often lead to some funny lines, which makes it incredibly fun to just interact with things in the game, which is good considering that's what you do most of the time.


The game's graphical style is also incredibly good. While it's pretty different from the more realistic drawing style of the first two games and goes for a more cartoony style I think it really fits the game's atmosphere and helps give it a very distinct mood that you probably couldn't get otherwise. The characters all have really expressive animations and the background art is stunning at times with really well done colouring. At times it feels like you're pretty much playing a classic cartoon and I absolutely love every bit of it. Of course playing the game nowadays does make it feel somewhat low-res and I really REALLY wish there was an HD remake of the game similar to Grim Fandango Remastered with remastered artwork in high definition, much like the HD remasters of the first two games. But the game's artwork is still some of the best in the franchise in my opinion. I especially love the design of Guybrush who has a more lanky appearance in this game compared to the first two.


And the sound... good god I cannot praise the sound of this game enough. The voice acting is frankly superb and I love how much personality the voice actors add to the characters. My favourite has to be Dominic Armato who voices Guybrush for the first time in the series (although he did go on to voice him in the HD remasters of the first two games as well). His comedic timing is so spot on it hurts and his voice is now so synonymous with the character I can't even imagine anyone else voicing him in all honesty. He has this somewhat clumsy feel to him, but never mean-spirited and he really does come across as a well-meaning but unlucky (and unlikely) hero most of the time. Elaine is also voiced perfectly by Alexandra Boyd and it's a real shame she's pretty much quiet for most of the game. And of course, Alan Young has to be mentioned here, giving a really memorable performance as the Scotsman Haggis McMutton (and if you're going to have a Scotsman in the game, there's honestly no better Scotsman than Alan Young to voice him if you ask me). Everyone else are also doing an amazing job and the voice acting is one of the strongest aspects about the game, especially the Voodoo Lady who's voice alone helps give her an even greater impact than in the previous games (despite her short appearance).



This is what you get for recruiting a barbershop quartet as your crew, Guybrush...


And I don't think there's enough superlatives to say how much I love the music. It ranges from reggae influenced Caribbean music with plenty of steel drums and organs (which is perfect given the Caribbean setting) to cinematic mood pieces. All of it perfectly fits the scene it's in, helps give the game a ton of atmosphere and personality, and much like Grim Fandango's score has a style that perfectly matches the game's setting and it's impossible to imagine the game without it. Also, this game's rendition of the series' signature theme is probably my favourite of the entire franchise and when the theme hits during the opening credits I get goosebumps every time. It's honestly one of the best themes ever made for a video game.




I could honestly gush for hours about this game and how much I love it and it's a struggle keeping this review short enough, but in all honesty if you've never played this game you need to. I cannot recommend it enough, it is one of the best of its genre and much like other adventure games like Grim Fandango and The Longest Journey, the games that came out during this time were some of the best ever even if they underperformed in sales. The game feels like its own little universe, breathing and popping out of the screen with its quirky and memorable characters, its insanely funny humor and clever writing and insanely good puzzles. If you're going to play an adventure game today, I suggest starting with this. I don't see how I could give this game anything but a perfect score as in my eyes, there's been few games as good and fun as Curse. It's on Steam now for a price that's practically a steal, so what ye be waitin' for? The sea be waitin' for some good old insult sword fighting!


STORY: 10/10



SOUND: 10/10



Game developments at http://nukedprotons.blogspot.com

Check out my music at http://technomancer.bandcamp.com

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