Tales of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan

Tales of Monkey Island: Lair of the Leviathan

What we liked:

+ Great puzzles
+ Great jokes
+ The inimitable Morgan LeFlay
+ The incomparable Murray

What we didn't like:

- Those stupid reworked walking controls

DEVELOPER: Telltale Games   |   PUBLISHER: Telltale Games   |   RELEASE: 09/29/2009

A fine return to form.

After a mediocre second chapter, I am happy to report that “Lair of the Leviathan” is a fine return to form. To idiosyncratic bowel-exploring, ichor-guzzling, manatee-wooing form.

A month ago, Guybrush and company were swallowed by a giant, betusked manatee just as they were en route to recovering La Esponja Grande, the voodoo-empowered sea sponge of lore that would cleanse the Caribbean of the zombie plague. Action resumes in the beast’s belly and… ear canal? The geophysiology of manatees is not my strong suit, and neither, fortunately, the designers’. Their manatee interior is a fun place, suitable for endless fraternity parties and surreal bile-duct spelunking.

This month, the team was firing on all cylinders. Most of the jokes made me laugh, sometimes aloud. The plot was exciting. The puzzles provided just the right amount of frustration before yielding. The episode also prominently featured the adorable Morgan LeFlay, whom I wish were my girlfriend, and the return of Murray, possibly the most unique, compelling, and deep character not only in video games, but in the canon of Western fiction.

Telltale’s genius for the genre is in their variety of puzzle types. They transcend the “use everything on everything else” breed of puzzles that dominated the great games of the 90s, and they never bog down into the awful pace-killing logic puzzles of Myst and its derivatives. This chapter introduces a face-making mechanic and a voodoo-card set of puzzles, but these devices are not driven into the ground. Telltale exploits them and is on to the next great thing, like a brilliant section where you must act as a Cyrano to two lovelorn manatees, but with nothing more to your manatee vocabulary than a set of travel phrases.

You know by now what to expect from the graphics: bright, big, exaggerated models, little in the way of textures, but effective nonetheless. Animations are sometimes goofy. When Guybrush plays the bongos, his mouth hangs open and his hands slap limply. It’s weird. There’s also a bit of stiffness to the characters. But this is nitpicking. The graphics suffice, and they are agreeable. Their simplicity is more a caveat than a con.

The score, which I would not hesitate to describe as “lush”, continues to delight me and makes me think my life could stand to be more exciting; I instantly think of darkened coves, fringed by fronds, torchlit from below, where men are burying treasure or exhuming it. Steel drums do that. The voice acting maintains the high standards of the series. New characters Moose and Coronado de Cava enrich their respective archetypes.

“Lair of the Leviathan” is the best chapter yet, and it thrills me for the future of the series. Halfway through, Telltale has proven that they know what they’re doing. Bring on the next!

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