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Game Review: Monkey Island 3 -- Hi, I'm selling these fine leather jackets... again



By Mark Huang

For those of us who remember that awful time five years ago called high school, the most anticipated game to hit the pirating boards in 1992 was Monkey Island 2. It was fast. It was slick. It was funny. It was VGA.

The Curse of Monkey Island, the latest in the installment, continues LucasArts' tradition of making nerds around the world chew their nails in impatience for the sequel. It's taken them five years to complete the game, enough time to have eaten off an arm and a good side of shoulder, but they rarely disappoint: Monkey Island 3 is far and away the best adventure game I've played this year.

More mature gamers may remember the good old days of 320x200, when designers had to disguise the fact that their lead characters had five-pixel faces by spinning a good tale. MI3 doesn't abuse its newfound appreciation for DirectX by slacking on the story, though. The demo alone took about a half-hour to complete. Some simple math, ignoring higher-order terms, reveals that the typical gamer will get at least 30 hours of good, clean fun out of MI3.

The graphics are all drawn in gorgeous full-screen SVGA. Characters move fluidly on a Pentium, with no signs of jagged edges or skipping. The animation is film-quality; the screen shot is from a standard scene, not an intro. A continuous soundtrack also plays in the background. I haven't heard the music, but the effects and speech are excellent so far. Gary Coleman has provided his talents for some of the voices, but I don't expect that Arnold will be making a guest appearance (I could be wrong).

The interface is a bit limited (you can use your hands, eyes, and mouth to do the various things that hands, eyes, and mouths do), but the puzzles, of course, require creative uses of it. The basic plot is pretty straightforward: rescue Elaine from the nefarious and apparently marriage-inclined ghost pirate Le Chuck. The usual difficulties ensue: restoring Elaine to human form after she is turned into a statue, escaping from hordes of undead, rubber-ducky-wearing pirates, that sort of thing. Much of your time will be spent listening and talking to other characters; you can speed up or slow down this process if you like. The game, like most adventure games, is primarily linear in plot, but you may be able to continue on and come back to a particularly difficult puzzle if necessary.

It was a bit of a shock to see Guy decked out like your average engineer: clumsy, lanky, feet the size and shape of Twinkies. The familiar mundane-looking Guy most gamers have grown accustomed to (since, hell, he basically looked like Indy and every other LucasArts character to make it into VGA) has gotten a major facelift. However, the hallmark of all of the Monkey Island games, terrible jokes and immature humor, is still alive and well in him. At each death-defying step, you'll always have the option of making him crack just one last joke.

Next week: Diablo

Author's note: This is the first review in a series. I will review, in alternate columns, unreleased previews, brand new games, and current games. If you're looking for someone to play a game with, or want a game reviewed, e-mail me at markman@mit.edu. A web page will be started soon with links to demo copies of all reviewed games and a forum for finding others on campus who are playing them.