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Written by  :  Cor 13 (174144)
Written on  :  Dec 19, 2002
Rating  :  4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars4 Stars

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Ending the series with dignity

The Good

Curse was the first Monkey Island game not developed by Ron Gilbert. While his absence is certainly felt, the new team did a very good job capturing the essence of the series.

Clearly, much effort has been put into puzzles, that very important cornerstone of adventure game design. Frankly, I enjoyed the puzzles more than in the previous game. Perhaps it was because the series returned to the original format, where you solve the islands one by one instead of moving between them at will, which ramps up the difficulty quite a bit.

That is not to say that the puzzles here are easy. The golden tooth puzzle will probably be forever engraved in my memory - not just because it's tricky, but also because it's brilliantly designed and very amusing. And how can I ever forget the banjo competition? After several futile attempts I finally figured out the solution and couldn't help bursting into laughter.

Is this game still funny? The answer is "yes". It does borrow heavily from previous two games - for example, insult fighting is recycled (though now with rhymes!) - but there is still a lot of fresh, charming humor here. The usage of classic humorous mechanics from the predecessors is nowhere as blatant, as abusive, and - dare I say - as insulting as in the next installment. Even the salesman Stan, who is now being featured for the third time, manages to stay amusing - he now sells coffins, because at least the customers don't come back with complaints...

Breaking the fourth wall somehow feels funnier than ever. Veteran Monkey Island players will be delighted to discover the Easter eggs - that scene where you explore a location from the first game displayed with original VGA graphics is priceless. The joke of the decade is the false ending in the middle of the game (I won't spoil it for you, but those who finished the game know what I'm talking about). And how can you not love a game that has a joke hidden in its menu options?..

The characters also do not disappoint. There aren't that many old acquaintances, and the game introduces one of the funniest characters of the entire series: the talking skull Murray. Even more forgettable characters are fun to be around thanks to the superb voice acting, which in my opinion contributes quite a lot to the atmosphere.

Speaking of which: despite the cartoony graphics, the game still manages to reflect the romantic spirit of a pirate adventure. There is something moody and dreamy in the visuals, a certain warmth and sweetness reminiscent of Disney movies. The game is also lovingly animated, and the cutscenes are a pleasure to watch.

The Bad

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I felt there was always something dark and slightly deranged in Monkey Island games. Admittedly, I liked the first one more than the second, which had a cynical break-up of a couple, dangerous voodoo rituals, and a spitting contest. But Secret also had unsettling scenes, and the whole premise of a ghost pirate ship lurking beneath a mysterious island was not taken lightly. The third game has lost that particular edge; it's funny, but it's not crazy enough - it's too tame. That's why I still prefer the second game with all its idiosyncrasies.

I have no complaints about the puzzles, but the game's structure is formulaic and not inventive enough. Just like the first installment, it begins with a search for a crew; each potential recruit requires you to undergo a lengthy trial of puzzles until you meet his whimsical requirements and he agrees to accompany you. The plot is also not particularly interesting, and instead of the weird ending of LeChuck's Revenge we are treated to a stereotypical final confrontation adorned with a disappointingly short ending.

I can't say I loved the simplified interface they carried over from Full Throttle. LucasArts' adventures have always been more restrictive than Sierra's, but at least specific verbs enhanced the interaction.

The Bottom Line

Despite my complaints, I enjoyed the game. Curse is rooted in the tradition of inventive puzzle design, and the atmosphere of Monkey Island is still there. The sequel, however, is another story; that's why, for me, the series ends right here.