Version tested: PC
Even the most optimistic Monkey Island fan couldn't have expected Telltale to nail the feel of the series as well as it managed with last month's comeback release, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal. With some excellent writing, generally spot-on delivery and a faithful degree of puzzle nonsense to contend with, it almost felt ungrateful to nitpick at some of the less gratifying elements.
But as well-received as it was, many desperately hoped Telltale would avoid the temptation of recycling locations and assets in the way it did for its episodic Sam & Max games. Having a new episode to play every month or so always sounds like a fantastic idea, but in S&M's case the smaller framework made for formulaic puzzles and less exploration, and effectively removed crucial ingredients from what had previously made a satisfying and fun adventure game.
The good news is that this latest Tale of Monkey is very much Chapter 2, not Episode 2, and feels more like the next part of an epic storyline, in some senses improving upon the elements we saw last time.
Having accidentally infected much of the immediate environment with a debilitating pox, Guybrush Threepwood finds himself on the hunt for La Esponja Grande. Initially stopped in his tracks by a female assailant, Guybrush and his faithful first mate sail on to Jerkbait Island to pick up a trail which, they hope, will reverse the effects and stop the spread of this deadly virus blowing across the area.
While the island's helpful Merfolk inhabitants do everything they can to point the hapless mighty pirate on his way, he finds himself, perhaps unsurprisingly, thwarted at every turn. As is seemingly the law of adventure gaming, you spend most of your four hours of pointing and clicking patiently hunting down three valuable artifacts in order to commence the next leg of the journey - only to find that something else goes wrong in between.
Just like all of Telltale's adventures, the main puzzle structure is pleasantly non-linear, with most of the game's environments available to players relatively early on. This ability to tackle the main problems in any order ultimately goes a long way to reducing the inherent frustration of wandering repeatedly around the same locations. At some point, something clicks, or you notice something that wasn't immediately apparent and off you go.
And if you don't... Well, there's always the hints option. Cuddly old purists might frown at such concessions, but it stops short of making it blindingly obvious what you're supposed to do next, which ought to appease many. At least half the fun of playing these games is figuring out the puzzles via your own lunatic lateral thought processes, and at least three times during The Siege of Spinner Cay, Telltale pulls off that classic trick of making you laugh out loud while hitting upon a crackpot solution.
Fortunately, the laugh-out-loud moments aren't limited to crackpot puzzle design. Much of the time The Siege of Spinner Cay also manages to hit the mark with the standard of writing, proving that the first chapter was no fluke. Guybrush, in particular, is rarely less than exceptional, inspiring you to click on the most mundane object in the hope of some hidden wisecrack.
Once again, Dominic Amato also puts in a fine performance as Guybrush, and is ably supported by Alexandra Boyd reprising her role as Elaine. The supporting cast is as hit-and-miss as it always seems to be in Telltale adventures, but at least this time around the proliferation of regional caricatures has been dialed down. In general there's much more knockabout piratey banter, and it's a more consistently amusing experience as a result. Yargh.
Visually, there are still a few remaining niggles. The exquisite animation and character design of Guybrush, Elaine and LeChuck is worthy of warm acclaim, with the lip-syncing and a flexible expression system adding a great deal of depth to the range of emotions on display. But while most players will no doubt be content with the overall standard, the degree of care simply doesn't carry over to the supporting cast, and it's hard to shake the feeling that most of the extras were put together in a comparative hurry. You'll be hard-pressed to remember any of them after the game is finished.
This notable contrast is the one remaining black mark on Telltale's otherwise-successful comeback mission. It's all very well being able to recreate the magic of the old favourites, but to build the legacy further and truly warm the hearts of the fanbase, there needs to be a substantial improvement in the characterisation of the less prominent cast members.
The same could also be said of the game's locations. Although there are a suitable number of places to idly roam around for random tat, more than half are extremely simple jungle paths or barren islands with nothing but sand and rocks on them. The feeling remains that there was scope to do much more to fill the players' time - more nonsense to click on, or incidental characters with more to say for themselves. Maybe we're asking too much, or maybe this is simply the price of trying to recreate a series: the fans are always going to want more from you. We're no different.
The important thing is that The Siege of Spinner Cay represents another pleasantly enjoyable chapter, which fans will enjoy greatly. It might not represent classic Monkey Island in every respect, but there's enough going for it to warrant an instant purchase if you have the slightest hankering for some more from Guybrush and company.
8 / 10