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Retrospective: The Curse of Monkey Island

Fresh bananas for the whole crew!

But Curse feels like a hark back to those days, admittedly with their cannibals being vegetarians. Appeasing volcano gods, albeit lactose intolerant ones, feels oddly old-fashioned.

But far more elderly is the logic behind so many of the puzzles. The game came with two modes, one that cut out a lot of the tougher puzzles for you.

Obviously a die-hard adventurer is going to choose the full game, and is going to expect those puzzles to be well set up. But this is where Curse falls shortest: the puzzles are hopelessly flagged.

In the passing decade or so since the heyday of this genre, tolerance has decreased. Adventure games inevitably come with in-built clues, since everyone's going to be Alt-tabbing to GameFAQs anyway.

More often than not, if a game spots you're in trouble it will start to prompt you. But Curse does no such thing. Often it gives you not the slightest idea what you're supposed to be achieving, let alone how.

That's not true of the whole game, certainly. There are many beautiful puzzles in here - the use of cooking oil to get a layer of peeled tattooed skin from the back of a pirate and tricking the barman into thinking he's still got his mirror stand out as classics.

But can anyone justify the game thinking that you'll figure out you can smuggle a gold tooth out of a chicken restaurant by breathing in helium, then sticking the tooth in bubble gum and blowing a bubble with it, which of course floats out the window? It's a very cute idea, but one that really requires at least a prod in the right direction.

Some puzzles are even more obscure. To get the cooking oil from the cabana boy you must cause him to leave. (Surely the goal of about 50 per cent of all of adventure gaming's tasks.) Another nearby puzzle challenges you to cross extremely hot sands by laying down towels after they've been dipped in ice water.

The thin line drawings do make the game look oddly cheap.

So the towels are for the sand-crossing puzzle - you feel that you've successfully applied them. I'm not sure what would have ever possessed me to think to use yet another wet town to whip the kid behind the cart to make him run away. Completely daft.

It's most annoying because a simple dialogue prompt makes everything much more fun. The cabana kid need only have said, earlier, "I was bullied by the other kids in school chasing me around the locker room with their towels..." Or even a more subtle nudge.

Of course, I'd have solved it back then. Because back then I was quite prepared to meticulously click everything in my inventory on everything else in my inventory, and then on everything in the world.

I was prepared to wait until the next edition of my choice of PC gaming magazine came out to read the hints they'd publish. (Although by 1998 I of course had the internet to ask, albeit at 14.4k/s.)

I suspect those developing the games knew that their audience was trained to behave this way. A behaviour I've since lost.

But let's not get too negative. Because for all my frustration at the game leaving me bemused as to what to do next, Curse really is very entertaining.

It's an enormous game, with huge numbers of scenes, each packed with gags. It features both the traditional Monkey Island humour and some really, really horrible puns. There's the return of insult sword fighting, and an enormous cast of lovely extras.

It's funny now how familiar the voices are. Dominic Armato simply is the voice of Guybrush, having played him in Escape From Monkey Island, Tales Of Monkey Island and the remakes of the first two. Hearing him speak for the mighty pirate here feels absolutely natural, rather than the shock it was at the time. Earl Boen is magnificent as ever as LeChuck, fruity and mellifluous.

Oh, and there's one moment I want to celebrate. The game is quite generous in recognising that it can be frustrating to watch Guybrush slowly walking around, and there are lots of short-cuts and ways to jump from scene to scene.

But one area, on a beach, has Guybrush moving very slowly. On the other side is a waterfall, and waterfalls in adventure games mean secrets. So of course you have Guybrush walk all the way around the shore to the back of the screen to reach it. Slowly he trudges toward the only feature on that side of the screen. Upon reaching it: "It's wet." That made me laugh a lot.

Ah, the gang's back together.

Then there's the town clock. Weirdly, it's about the only thing I can remember from playing the game through the first time. Other than the fact I'd not liked it.

It showed the correct time based on your Windows clock and chimed on the hour. Rather brilliantly, via SCUMMVM, it still works even with 64bit Windows 7. It's very cute. And let's not forget Murray the skull.

Perhaps it was the ending that made me think so little of the game. It's utterly awful. Seemingly in tribute to the second game's nonsensical finish, you're back at the funfair, going around and around a rollercoaster trying to arrange items to defeat LeChuck in battle.

The puzzle itself is fine but once LeChuck is crushed by falling ice, suddenly and without explanation, Guybrush and Elaine are married, and floating off together on a boat.

No ceremony, no jokes, no closure, nothing. It feels as if enormous scenes were cut, or never finished, and the scrappy remains muddled together so there was something to ship. Which is a shame.

But that's not enough to justify my disdain. Curse is a perfectly good instalment in the series and still plays well today (though with a walkthrough to hand, I'd argue).

What remains to be seen, of course, is whether I was equally wrong about the much-hated Escape From Monkey Island. I'm certain I was not.

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