Aye! The Case for Tales of Monkey Island as a Saturday Morning Cartoon

By Rich Shivener in Unraveling Yarns
Tuesday, July 5, 2011 at 4:00 pm
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Guybrush Threepwood, Awesome Pirate.
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As I've been swashbuckling through the iPad version of Tales of Monkey Island, I've been focusing on its narrative, something that outweighs its gameplay, which is essentially limited to clicks and drags. Many graphic adventure video games operate this way, and it's a design like this that calls for a strong narrative. Tales of Monkey Island has just that, chronicling the exploits of Guybrush Threepwood and his seaside friends and foes. The five-episode set was developed by Telltale Games, the collective mind behind such releases as Back to the Future: The Game and Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People.

Telltale's releases, including these Tales, are oft regarded as humorous, irreverent, puzzling and seriously awesome. Tales of Monkey Island saw another revival late last year when it dropped on the iOS, and like those aforementioned titles, it's now available on a number of video game-ready devices. In fact, Episode 5: Rise of the Pirate God dropped June 23 on the iOS. 

It shouldn't stop there. Tales of Monkey Island is ready for another voyage in the seas of media: television. To plunder a few cliches, I suspect smooth sailing because the game has the booty of an animated series - and perhaps an animated feature.




If we do a survey of Telltale's offerings, we can spot several series that have TV show tie-ins. For instance, The Adventures of Sam & Max: Freelance Police aired on Fox from 1997-98, just a few years after Sam & Max Hit the Road was released for PC and Mac (via LucasArts, the original developer). Elsewhere, we can tie Back to the Future: The Game to Back to the Future: The Animated Series, which aired nearly 10 years ago. The list goes on, and Tales of Monkey Island isn't a part of it, though it should be.

One interesting thing about the game is that, although it was released as five episodes, it's not exactly an episodic narrative. Everything Guybrush does--from the winning a pirate "face-off" (literally), to finding the La Esponge Grande--ties to the overarching narrative. From a gamer's perspective, you must complete said episode's puzzles to drive that narrative forward. They welcome a few head scratches, ah-has and eurekas as you solve their pieces. For example, who knew a pirate bongo player could control the bile of a giant manatee? Who knew that a cutlass soaked in root beer could wield so much power? Mysteries like this make sense in cartoons.

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Who's the real ruffian on Monkey Island?
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Solving a bevy of those puzzles expanded my thinking about Tales of Monkey Island as an animated series. Its narrative is chock-full of scenes tied together by Guybrush's interactions with the personalities of land and sea. He meets irreverent, larger-than-life characters such as the regal scientist Marquis de Singe, the glass blower Crimpdigit, and most importantly, the devious pirate LeChuck, his eternal enemy. They're shallow, but their comedic actions compensate for what we don't know about their personalties or histories, and they enhance Guybrush's adventures.

Simply put, we're supposed to laugh at Marquis' inflated French accent and his deep obsession with the voodoo pox. We're supposed to laugh at Crimpdigit's collection of glass unicorns and vowels, namely the U-Tube.

These characters function like those in an animated series. Let's think about it: SpongeBob SquarePants has a dopey seastar buddy named Patrick Star, and an antagonizing neighbor named Squidward Tentacles. Rocko's Modern Life (remember that? You do!) has the gluttonous Heffer, and Ed Bighead, Rocko's prying neighbor. While Spongebob and Rocko aren't faced with puzzles, they do overcome hilarious odds, thanks to these supporting characters.

In theory, Guybrush's puzzles operate like half-hour cartoons reminiscent of the aforementioned as well as Sam & Max: Freelance Police. Each animation depicts Guybrush trying to solve some puzzle, and interacting with some cartoony characters along the way.

To point out one:  


- Plot: Guybrush meets Marquis de Sange, who, after examining Guybrush's pox-laden hand, imprisons the title character for science experiments
- Puzzle (Conflict): Guybrush needs to escape! Why won't the lab monkey help?
- Resolution: Monkey likes bananas, not shock treatment.

And another:


- Plot: Guybrush needs the giant manatee's missing cochlea, but first he must join the Democratically United Brotherhood of the Manatee Interior
- Puzzle: Beat Bullseye in a pirate face-off, and he'll vote you in. 
- Resolution: Guybrush resorts to the voodoo pox face!

As a whole, Tales of Monkey Island is a treasure one could loot for episodes of an animated series. If we're still talking in metaphors (and we are, mind ye), here's hoping we find pieces o' eight and doubloons worth 30.

Unraveling Yarns is a weekly column that explores video games as narrative delivery devices. James Hawkins and Rich Shivener rotate week-to-week to discuss their opinions on some of gaming's most challenging and nuanced stories from all generations. Follow James on Twitter @JamesHawk1ns. Follow Rich on Twitter @RichShiv.


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