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SummaryAn elephant in Ron Gilbert's porcelain shop
The GoodGame designer/programmer Ron Gilbert is the equivalent of a folk hero for several thousands of old school adventure game fans. He was the brain behind 1987's Maniac Mansion, a seminal graphic adventure game with unprecedented atmosphere and storytelling; the brain behind 1990's The Secret of Monkey Island, another milestone that took absolutely everything about adventure games to the next level; and the brain behind 1991's Monkey Island 2, an epic, refined and outlandish piece of art that I seriously believe is the best adventure game ever made. He left LucasArts soon after for reasons that were discussed to death.
Monkey Island 3 has nothing to do with Ron Gilbert. It has everything to do with LucasArts' greed to make some new bucks off the revival of their flagship adventure game series several years after Gilbert's departure, when LucasArts was very probably faced with diminishing sales and critical reception.
This game's popularity baffles me. Then again, maybe not, as I can see where it's coming from. Monkey3 is like an Indiana Jones film NOT directed by Steven Spielberg, or like a Harry Potter novel NOT written by JK Rowling. It lacks the soul of the series, or worse yet, it is replaced with a different soul. Obviously, this is not sensed by those who dashed through the originals in a superficial way. It is only felt unanimously by fans who embraced Monkey1 and Monkey2 to their hearts, or were even obsessed about them, like I was in my late teens. See, not obsessing about a game series is no sin. (In fact, the world probably doesn't need more hardcore game geeks.) But trying to argue how a counterfeit entry to the series is on a par with the true classic entries... is plain wrong. Monkey3 has superior graphics and music compared to the originals, which seem to have dazzled several gamers, but this is the only upside I can think of.
The BadMonkey Island 3 was designed and led by the Ackley-Ahern duo, with only one of them present in the team of Monkey2 (as an animator). While they prove to be capable game developers by and large, in the delicate, nuanced, semi-serious, and very personal world of Ron Gilbert, they move and thrash around like a particularly clumsy elephant in a porcelain store.
Regardless if they do or do not understand what made the original games work, they prove utterly unable to emulate their general weirdness, their general Ron Gilbertness. Now it's hard to define this Ron Gilbertness in mere words and give it a semblance of justice -- but for the purposes of this review, we can try: bittersweet, spooky, unpredictable, odd, offbeat, atmospheric, enchanting, smart, subversive, tragicomic and poignant; definitely poignant. The design in Monkey3 sometimes manages to be remotely spooky and/or atmospheric (the theater scene comes to mind), but that's where similarities end.
The Bottom LineAimed squarely at prospective new fans who were probably still preteens during the run of the original Monkey Island games, Monkey Island 3 is an OK if unremarkable adventure game when taken strictly in isolation. It looks well, plays well and sounds great. But it's not a proper Monkey Island entry. What LucasArts does here is effectively betraying the old fans (and Ron Gilbert himself, I guess), and producing something lighter, less profound, less edgy and more "PG" than Monkey Island 1 and 2, all for the sake of catering to a "fresher" audience. Out of cold calculation, the Monkey Island soul is replaced by a cheaper, downsized one that proves incapable of emulating the feeling, mood and peculiar jokes of the original, despite trying hard.
All this results in that no real fan of the series would honestly cheer this game. They just feel it's fake, like a changeling. What is there to cheer about an Indiana Jones movie deprived of Spielberg?..