Why I don’t consider Monkey Island games to be the best adventure games

Disclaimer: I try to write posts mostly about multimedia stuff but some things are nagging me for a long time. So I write this to get rid of that nagging and move along with my lack of life.

First of all, I need to say that even if grew up in a land that mostly favoured Sierra games, I don’t think low of Monkey Island series (the first three games for sure). The setting is interesting and fun, the graphics was good (for the first three games at least), the music is memorable (even if iMUSE system was under-appreciated), the characters became part of the culture. I’ve played them countless times (MI1 both floppy and CD versions too) and would probably play again soon. I agree that those are very good games but there’s one thing about them that prevents me from agreeing with the majority that MI 1 and MI 2 are one of the best adventure games of all time.

First let me list the games in the series:

  • Secret of the Monkey Island is a story of an aspiring young lad with a name mispronounced by almost everybody who wanted to become a pirate and defeated the dreaded ghost pirate LeChuck;
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is a story of the same Guybrush Threepwood in a search for a legendary treasure that should help him escape the game title. It is worth noting that the original creator left the company after this game and each subsequent game was made by a different team (the last one even by a different company);
  • Curse of Monkey Island is a game that feels like it was made by people who knew and loved the first two games and tried to replicate the experience. The plot reminds a lot of the previous game as it’s Guybrush trying to lift off the curse he unleashed himself. It’s still a pretty good game;
  • Escape from Monkey Island is the first 3D game in the series and it feels like a typical sequel to a finished story created mostly because the studio wanted money. The plot raises too many questions, the setting is strange and the whole game feels uncalled for. And it uses MP3 and Bink instead of SMUSH/iMUSE formats;
  • Tales of Monkey Island comes from Telltale Games which might explain why it ended like that. I’ve not played it myself, just watched playthrough—but that is enough. The plot is nonsensical, there are many sub-plots (most of them raise a lot of questions too) and the final twist makes you think not of L. Ron Gilbert but of M. Night Shyamalan.

Anyway, usually when people talk about Monkey Island games they mean the first two ones and exactly those two games have the problem that spoils them for me (not completely of course but it still does).

That thing is at attitude to the both protagonist and player. Space Quest is known for the creators mocking Roger Wilco for dying a stupid death but that feels justified: you do something that would be lethal, it turns out to be lethal and you’re reprimanded for it (so you won’t do it again). Deponia has a protagonist considered a walking catastrophe even by the standards of their landfill world. Yet Monkey Island does something much worse: it gives you a likeable protagonist who’s easy to understand or even associate with, it gives you a clear goal, and then mocks both the hero in-game and player by making their achievements moot i.e. it does not matter what you really did and the game (both of them) is not shy to tell you that.

By mocking the hero in-game I mean both the attitude of other characters (typical examples is how his crew treated him in the first game by deserting first and appearing later only to relax on a ship; or the ever-friendly Herman Toothrot, especially in the second game) and by the achievements he gets (both the pirate treasures in the first game and Big Whoop in the second game). Of course this calls for mentioning the widely accepted theory about the games essentially taking place in an amusement park of the current franchise owner (it was inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean ride in one of them after all). If you subscribe to it then all you do was rather meaningless beside “you had fun, kid, now go away and play elsewhere” (which also reminds me of post-credits messages too).

And it’s not just the ending. Throughout the games it’s shown how your actions do not mean much. Some people praise the games for creative design (which is true, the insult sword fighting won’t be forgotten soon, for example) citing among other things the creative ways how you can substitute some thing for another in a hurry. But you can look at it differently, it simply does not matter what you do since your actions do not matter much (and IMO this concept was implemented much better in Fables & Fiends: Legend of Kyrandia: Book Two: Hand of Fate). Another example: in the first game after arriving to the Monkey Island you can sink your own ship but it won’t matter at all when you need to leave the island. Or in the second game what happens right after finding the X marking the Big Whoop location). Or—SPOILER—the ending of the first game where it turns out your actions were unnecessary and Elaine could do it all by herself without Guybrush interference. There are smaller touches that probably were intended as gags where it does not matter what you wanted to do, the games makes it Soviet choice (examples: actions for interacting with The Beast on Meathook Island; some dialogues where no matter what you choose Guybrush will say the same thing not present in the selection, like the last dialogue selection in MI2; other dialogues where you can’t proceed until you select the right option, free hint BTW: when you meet Herman in the second game do NOT ask him about philosophy).

Maybe it’s just my flawed interpretation of the things, maybe it’s other people overlooking the creator’s attitude, maybe people are conditioned by Stephen King and don’t think that stories should have a proper pay-off. In either case this is just my opinion which should not become yours. It just wanted to be expressed.

P.S. I’m not a critic and as mentioned even in the very beginning I wrote this mostly to get rid of the feelings by putting them on electronic medium. And my other takes on culture that people might find controversial like an explanation why I think Star Wars should be just two trilogies—the original one and the apocryphal one (consisting of Holiday Special, Muppet Show episode 4.17 and Spaceballs)—should not ever be posted as they’re not that nagging.

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