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SummaryA brilliant game that died under the weight of the series
The GoodThe biggest achievement of "Escape from Monkey Island" is the new course it has chosen: unlike the first three games, it is decidedly a satire. The main focus of the plot is the battle between two worlds: the piratey one and the new age of globalization. There are some really funny jokes and brilliant locations in the game, such as, for example, "Planet Threepwood", where the name of the "mighty pirate" is mercilessly exploited to attract more consumers.
The plot is surprisingly good, there is a totally unexpected twist in the last part of the game, that ties all the loose ends together, and the whole thing seems to be more focused than in previous games. The plot has a distinct satiric direction, it revolves around the Caribbean becoming nothing more than a cheap attraction for tourists, where there is no place for real pirates any more. This idea was fantastic. Alone watching the old trusty SCUMM bar turn into a sushi bar is guaranteed to make you laugh, or smile, or giggle, or whatever you prefer.
With this little (actually not so little) extra of a good satiric direction that this game gives us, all is left is to ask: "But is there something of the more traditional, more typical Monkey Island goodness in here?" Well, the answer is: yes, there is. More than enough, in fact... There are some amusing new characters, such as Marco Pollo, Miss Rivers, Allegro Rasputin, and others. There are plenty of monkeys, more than in other Monkey Island games, and they actually play an important role in the game. You re-visit, for the first time since "Secret of Monkey Island", your home Melee Island and Monkey Island itself.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with 3D graphics. They are very good, and the video cut scenes look great. There is no point in complaining about Guybrush becoming "blocky", as there was no point in complaining about him being too tall in "The Curse of Monkey Island". Technology doesn't stand in place, it has to move forward, and you can't expect a 256 color game to be released in 2000.
What about the puzzles? Well, the puzzles of "Escape from Monkey Island" is a coin with two sides. The bright side is: there are some really good ones. I enjoyed a lot the brilliant clock-puzzle in the swamps of Lucre Island. The diving competition was also tricky and fun. One of my favorite ones is the puzzle with the two parrots on Jambalaya Island.
In general, the parts that had nothing to do with previous Monkey Island games were the best. Clearing your name on Lucre Island, diving against Marco, figuring out how to get the bronze head on Jambalaya Island. Those parts were really fun and refreshing. But, alas... with all its great potential and all its brilliance, "Escape from Monkey Island" couldn't bear the fact it was a sequel to three great games...
The BadHow do I say this... Something's missing here... let's call this something a soul. It is brilliant and funny, storyline, puzzles, and characters are cool, but nothing is as fresh and as charming as it was before. "Escape from Monkey Island" tries to be holier than the Pope himself - to be more Monkey Island than Monkey Island. The result is remarkable: the game became a parody on itself. There is so much recycling in here that any really new and creative idea can't be perceived anymore. Or, better to say, it is forgotten once the mechanical routine of Monkey Island-ness takes over again. The really good parts of the game - evidence-gathering on Lucre Island, diving championship, the scenes with Elaine - are few compared to the monotonous mumbling of endless Monkey Island mantras: "You fight like a cow... I'm Guybrush Threepwood, a mighty pirate... Yes, darling... Swashbuckling sea scum..." and so on. There is too much of it. Too much to bear and too much to digest. Those phrases have been recycled so many times that they became meaningless. They are not funny any more, because repetition is the worst enemy of humor. Strangely enough, "Escape from Monkey Island" suffers precisely from what it laughs at - commercialism.
It is annoying to see how the game treats the series. For "Escape from Monkey Island", there is only Monkey Island, above, below, in front, and behind. Most of the jokes are allusions and references to earlier Monkey Island titles. Most of the characters are old friends from the previous games. For a person who never played the other three games, it is impossible to understand many of the game's jokes. It is annoying, because even the first Monkey Island is also just a game, and not some kind of a holy scripture. The whole entertainment comes courtesy of previous Monkey Island titles, especially the first one, and sometimes it looks as if it were enough for the creators of the game to quote "Secret of Monkey Island" endlessly, without thinking of some really new ideas for jokes.
The game became an empty container for all possible Monkey Island stuff. So many characters who were brilliant in previous games became uninteresting here, being totally unnecessary. Look at Murray, one of the most hilarious characters ever created, notice how funny he was in Curse of Monkey Island and how utterly boring in "Escape". Look at Stan, who was alone a fantastic parody on commercialism - he appears in this game without any reason to appear, and the pale figure of Ozzie Mandrill takes his place. Of course, some characters still didn't lose their charm, like for example Herman Toothrot, who is still great. But even Guybrush himself is much less lovable in this game than in previous three, and is definitely less funny. Almost every Monkey Island character makes an appearance here, so that sometimes this game seems more like a show based on Monkey Island characters than an independent game.
The puzzles are a mixed bag, and unfortunately, there is too much uninteresting stuff in it. Of course, some puzzles are great, like the ones I mentioned before, but many of them make no sense. Some of them are also too hard, while others are surprisingly easy and not rewarding enough. The "pinball" puzzle on Monkey Island is too obscure, as there are no clues provided. On the contrary, the manatee puzzle on Jambalaya Island is way too simple, although it was supposed to be one of the central issues in that part of the game. Some puzzles are downright strange. Monkey Kombat is a cool idea, but the moves are too hard to remember unless you write them down, and then the whole thing becomes uninteresting. But at least they could have been more consequent with it. Instead, it appears too late, and in the earlier parts of the game there is the same old insult competition, that already became boring. The feeling of a sheer perfection of gameplay, that all three first games had, is gone.
Another thing that suffered in "Escape from Monkey Island" is the atmosphere. The first three games had plenty of it. There was a lot of really romantic stuff there, with authentic piratey goodness, love, and even a tiny bit of horror. There is none of it in "Escape for Monkey Island". Of course, the whole idea of the game was to show the influence of capitalism and globalization on "authentic" stuff, but the result was an almost complete loss of true Monkey Island spirit. Monkey Island was never strictly a comedy series, like for example "Leisure Suit Larry". No, it always had place for real feelings and real pirates, while all pop-culture references were subtle and didn't prevail. "Escape from Monkey Island" shows so much Monkey Island-ness that it forgets about the naive, innocent approach the series always had towards everything it presented.
As for the graphics... of course, it is silly to complain about Guybrush becoming 3D, but the graphics of "Escape from Monkey Island" really don't fit the series very well. Not because they are 3D, but because they don't have the same warm personality as hand-painted or cartoony graphics. In Grim Fandango, the graphics were technically the same, but they were much richer and more detailed. The graphics of "Escape from Monkey Island" just don't have enough charm.