The Curse of Monkey Island (1997)

The Curse of Monkey Island (1997), designed by Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley, written by Larry Ahern, Jonathan Ackley, Chuck Jordan and Chris Purvis, starring Dominic Armato, Alexandra Boyd and Earl Boen, developed and published by LucasArts 

Had you asked me last year, I would have told you that The Curse of Monkey Island is my favourite game in the series. Now, I'm not so sure. It's not because the third game in the series is a bad game, far from it, or because Rong Gilbert left the series after the second game. It's because it is, in many ways, a bit of a retread towards the previous two games.

Somewhere at the sea, a bumper car is slowly floating ahead, carrying a single passenger. It is Guybrush Threepwood, who was captured by the dreaded undead menace of the Caribbean, LeChuck at the end of the previous game. In the middle of writing his seafaring log, the hapless pirate wannabe stumbles upon  Plunder Island, where the formerly living pirate captain is sieging governor Elaine Marley in order to coax her to marry him. During the battle, Elaine confesses her love toward Guybrush, who promptly ends up stopping the plans of the zombie pirate and his undead horde.

After a job well done, our not so dashing buccaneer swims ashore and asks Elaine's hand. Unlucky for her, Guybrush offers her a cursed ring, that turns her into a solid gold statue. And here's where the retread comes in: you have to get a ship, crew and a map in order to get to Blood Island, from where you can find a ring of similar worth to undo the curse. The first third of the game is basically the man puzzles from Monkey Island 1 and 2 compressed into the same game. And then there's the return of insult sword fighting accompanied by simplistic sea battles.

Structurally The Curse of Monkey Island is closer to the Secret of Monkey Island. Unlike in Monkey Island 2, you can't travel between the islands at your own leisure. You need to go through each segment after another in a very linear manner, the same way you do in the first game as well. In Curse the structure is just even more linear, as after you finally set sail, the next thing you have to do is the sword fighting and sea battles, which you can do either in easy or harder mode. But personally, I find even the more difficult mode pretty easy, especially if you upgrade the ship's cannons immediately after each won battle and gather all the insults.

Interestingly enough, The Curse of Monkey Island offers two different difficulty modes. The easier mode removes some of the more tasking old school adventure type puzzles as well as streamlines some, so you don't have to take as many steps. The Mega Monkey setting is something recommended only for more seasoned adventurers. The story in both modes is the same, but the regular mode treats you with a bit fairer hand.

Back when The Curse of Monkey Island came out, I was certain it was the best game in the series. But I do think it had something to do with the fact it was the first game in the series to be fully voice acted, fantastically I might add, the graphics were gorgeously hand-drawn and in higher resolution than in the previous games and animation had a fantastic cartoon look and feel to it. in many ways it looked and felt like a step toward I had always wanted adventure games to go.

Looking at the game now, however, makes it a bit too obvious how much it does lean against the games that came before it. In some ways, The Curse of Monkey Island feels almost like a fangame as the characters themselves don't feel quite right. The setting and the tone does work and feel it's there, but there's something about the characters that feel a bit off. And the sword fighting and the sea battles do feel like filler content.

But here's the thing, The Curse of Monkey Island still is a good game and in many places a fun game with well-designed puzzles. Sure, the some of the ideas might feel a bit too similar to what has been before, but the puzzles that'll get you there are new.

As for now there's no remaster in sight for the Curse of Monkey Island. I wouldn't be surprised if one would be made though. In the meantime, you can get the original from Steam or GOG.