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LucasArts Retro Part 3: The Curse of Monkey Island

by: Daniel Barros ; edited by: M.S. Smith ; updated: 5/25/2012 • Leave a comment

In part 2, we looked at Day of the Tentacle. Join me as we take a look at the game that defined what a true "battle of the wits" was, as well as took adventure gaming onto the high seas.

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    You're as Repulsive as a Monkey in a Negligee!

    Welcome to another exciting addition of the LucasArts Retro series. If you're wondering what the header means, we'll get to what was the most amazing part of an adventure game that was all-around fantastic. Previously, we talked about the sequel to Maniac Mansion - known as Day of the Tentacle, today we'll be talking about another follow-up that managed to surpass all expectations for a sequel.

    The third game in the Monkey Island franchise, The Curse of Monkey Island is a significant visual improvement from the days of DoTT and as such, continues to be a huge hit for the company that started it all. For those reasons and many more, Curse of Monkey Island is not available as either abandonware or freeware, but look hard enough and it's a steal for under $10. And don't worry, if you don't play the first two games (Monkey Island and The Secret of Monkey Island) you'll maybe miss one or two in-game jokes, the rest all have connotations inside this game alone, and so the laughter goes on and on.

    As usual, I'll give you some background on the story of the game before we talk a little about what made it such a huge success. The first few moments of the game have Guybrush Threepwood (that really is his name) floating in a bumper car out in the middle of the ocean before being found by a ship of pirates. Using his wit (and a few clever item combinations) he manages to leave his captors and discover that the pirates are fighting with his lover - Elaine. By a strange turn of circumstances, Guybrush manages to find his way into the hold of the pirate ship he was on and gets a gigantic diamond ring which he uses to escape the ship and sink it. Once Guybrush and Elaine manage to find their way onto Melee island, Guybrush bestows the ring on Elaine and she turns into a statue of solid gold. From there, the game becomes an insane scramble to find the cure for Elaine's problem - specifically an uncursed diamond ring which will solve everything.

    Unlike DoTT, the story of this game isn't nearly as important as its characters and events leading up to the climax. Once on Melee island, Guybrush realizes that he will need to command a pirate vessel to continue his travels to save Elaine. He manages to compile the most out-of-place crew imaginable to take to the high seas. Once equipped with a vessel, Guybrush sails only to find himself in a deadly battle with the notorious Captain Rottingham, whom Guybrush insulted. The mechanics involved in defeating the captain to this day are still tremendously entertaining.

    To me, the game has many incredible high points, but two stand out among the rest. The first is the series of insult swordfights that take place to defeat Captain Rottingham and sail onto the next island. The way it works is essentially like a dialog tree, but of rhyming witticisms that are insulting. If this sounds confusing, an example should make things clear:

    Suppose that you board an enemy vessel and duel the captain for his gold. The swordfight is actually a dialog tree that works like this: the captain will call out the insult and you then have to insult him back by rhyming, for instance:

    Captain: "You're the ugliest monster ever created."

    You then have to counter with something from your dialog list that rhymes and insults him back

    You: "If you don't count all the ones you've dated."

    And so this goes on and on until you get to Rottingham and use your cunning to defeat him.

    The other incredibly memorable part of the game is when you finally get out into open waters that your crew decides they're going to sing you a song. Each one of them sings a line of the famous sea ditty "A Pirate I was Meant to be". You, being in a hurry, try saying things from your dialog tree in order to make them move along and get the show on the road.

    In this way, the song keeps rhyming along - until you get to a dialog option that ends in "orange". To which the pirates try to rhyme "door hinge", but fail and the ship continues on its route.

    Overall, Curse was a critical success. If nothing else, the updated cartoonish visuals proved that LucasArts still was at the top of the food chain when it came to adventure games. The game proved immensely successfully amongst gamers who had played the previous two. The only gripes that came along with the game were ones complaining that the visuals had "lost something" when they switched over to a more cartoon-like presentation and the ones that called the secondary characters "criminally underdeveloped", I agree with the second point entirely. The ending to the game also wasn't the most climactic of endings, but the journey is really rewarding in this case - not the end result.

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