Remember your first time reading the Harry Potter series? Part of the 'magic' of the first few books was that they were fun, light-hearted adventures. Sure, the characters found themselves in some tight situations, but the question was always 'how' they would escape, rather than 'if'. Remember how that completely changed with the Goblet of Fire? It felt just like the previous entries sure enough, right up until Harry grabbed the cup, transporting him to the graveyard where Voldemort came back to life and started killing off main characters. From that point on, the tone of the series was irrevocably dark and somber, turning what was once simply a great story into something truly engrossing.
Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood is the 'Goblet of Fire' for this series. The game picks up at the conclusion of Chapter 3, as Morgan rows a gagged-and-tied Guybrush toward Flotsam Island and the waiting De Singe. It's storming out, there's very little dialog, she's clearly conflicted about what she's doing, and even our ever-jovial hero has a scowl on his face. When they make port, Guybrush is immediately arrested and put on trial for four separate crimes he may or may not have committed. If convicted, he'll be killed and his things will be auctioned off on Ye-Bay.
Wanna see more? Buy Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4.
And things only get worse from there. Without spoiling anything, there's definitely an equivalent moment to when Voldemort came back. I was just following a typical Monkey Island plotline (with a somewhat darker tint) when all of a sudden, I enter a certain building and am genuinely SHOCKED at what I see! It was one of those 'loud-gasp-long-pause-jaw-hanging-eyes-wide-open-how-can-they-do-that-in-a-kids-game' moments!
I'll let you experience these amazing turns of events yourself, but suffice it to say, this is not the Monkey Island you're used to. The humor's still there in spades (Guybrush's conversations with his 'lawyer', aka himself, are of particular note), but it serves mostly to accentuate the darker tones. Most of the game revolves around helping Guybrush track down clues that can help clear him of the four crimes he's been accused of. Leading the prosecution is Stan, the con man in a sombrero and crazy jacket who should be familiar to longtime Monkey Island fans, who has a serious grudge against Guybrush. Playing a more prominent role in this episode is the villainous Marquis De Singe, the mad doctor bent on dissecting our hero and Elaine to analyze the Pox infecting them.
So, to recap, Guybrush has to clear himself of several criminal charges (each of which carry the death penalty), deal with a mad scientist gunning for his head, and find a way to get the Pox-curing effects of La Esponja Grande out to the pirate world at large. Yeah, I don't envy him, either.
Would you trust this man?
The chains of events you must trigger to solve each case, while totally outside the realm of rationality, make just enough sense in context that an intrepid puzzle-solver can figure them out and have an 'Oh, snap!' moment without seeming too obtuse. Once you think you have enough evidence, you can return to the courtroom where it's time for Guybrush to do his best Phoenix Wright impression. Here it's possible to present evidence and question witnesses, and it's a great spoof of the courtroom drama that is the centrepiece of so many TV shows lately. To give you an idea, one piece of evidence is a leg lamp. Yes, that leg lamp.
Trial and Execution is the first chapter in these Monkey Island episodes to really go for a different style. The minimalist, three-year old-PC-friendly, art style is retained (Stan's jacket is totally trippy, by the way), but the darker, grittier aesthetic really makes everything seem heavier. Some areas have seen some great improvement; most notably the lighting, as the well-done shadows (including self-shadowing) really enhance the mood in this more depressed version of Flotsam Island.
The improved lighting really adds some weight to the proceedings.
The sound is great, too. Stan definitely sounds like the used-car salesmen type he's supposed to be, and LeChuck and Elaine are given quite a bit more to do in this episode. Improper voice acting in the aforementioned pivotal scenes would have marred the experience, but luckily these bits are absolutely nailed by the entire cast.
As far as value goes, this is by far the meatiest chapter of the series so far, as it took me approximately six hours. And that is six hours of some of the best story, writing, pacing, and puzzle-solving the Monkey Island series has ever seen. Well worth the price of admission, perhaps even if you haven't played the first three.
So if you haven't figured it out yet, Tales of Monkey Island Chapter 4: The Trial and Execution of Guybrush Threepwood is far and away the best episode so far. Lengthy, challenging, and full to the brim with twists so dark you'd almost expect it to have an M rating; any fan of the franchise would be absolutely nuts not to grab this game as soon as humanly possible. And this one doesn't just end on a cliffhanger like the others; the surprise ending has me monumentally psyched to see how TellTale Games will bring things to a crescendo in next month's fifth and final chapter.
So what are you waiting for? Go buy it! Now!!