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Review of Return to Monkey Island.

Look behind you, a new Monkey Island game!

Return to Monkey Island is an adventure game that continues the tales of Guybrush Threepwood from the The Secret of Monkey Island series. By way of background, while I did play some adventure games in my far-gone youth, I didn’t actually play any of the Monkey Island games until a few years ago.

In Return to Monkey Island, Guybrush is finally going after the biggest scurvydog of them all: the secret itself. That old nemesis. Also going for the secret is the ghost-pirate LeChuck. That second old nemesis. But there’s a catch: Guybrush needs a ship, and LeChuck is readying a voyage of his own to that fabled shore.

As expected, the old favorites show up. The tale starts on Mêlée Island (after a brief but fun Gaming-101-plus-framing-tale that sets Guybrush relaying the deed to his young son). Elaine, The Scumm Bar, Stan, the Governor’s Mansion, the Lookout, that weird back alley on high street where you always go when you’re frustrated with a puzzle and need to stop and think, and even Murray the demonic skull.

Art-wise, it is a departure for the series (though if you really want to see a departure, go play the original in CGA-graphics mode). It’s a nice style, both clear and comic. The gameplay art fits the world and feels comfortable, but the closeups really pop. They remind me a bit of The Ren & Stimpy Show, the way they are often gross, exaggerated, but still really fun to look at. (See Ren & Stimpy Wiki: “Gruesome close-ups”.)

The Caribbean-style music and the voice acting are excellent. They really set the mood throughout the game, even if you don’t have any rum handy for grog. The pacing is solid (though you have the option of playing the easier version or the less-paced writer’s version (the latter through the options)). Even the hard version’s extra puzzles weren’t all that hard.

This is a game made by experienced professionals who know what they’re doing when it comes to adventure games, extending a known franchise they created decades ago. That’s the kind of proposition that goes one of two ways. Lucky for Guybrush, and for gamers, this one went the good way.

In all, it took me about 26 hours to beat the game and to get all 39 achievements (a good chunk of which was hunting for trivia cards only to get the questions wrong (How did I get the same question wrong five times when there are only four answers?)). I had a fun time playing, and I think this one is worth a look. (Also, I now know the real secret of Monkey Island. So that’s something.)

Review of Ultreïa

The classic story of a robot out for revenge.

Ultreïa is a science fiction point-and-click adventure game in which you play a robot named Nymo on a pilgrimage to Ultreïa, a satellite of whatever rock you’re native to, to learn the secrets of life and death.

The most obvious draw for this game is the graphics, which are very nice in 2.5D, but even better are the cutscenes which are 3D animations. A few of them suffer slightly from what I assume are compression issues (they look noisy to me, anyway; possibly done to keep game size smaller or for rendering reasons), but aside from that they add a lot to the feel of the game. The whole game has a cool post-apocalyptic future feel which makes you want to adopt that robot you’re always seeing salvaging spare parts from behind the computer store, the one that was stranded in a time-travel accident from the year 2525.

At its base, Ultreïa is a fairly standard point-and-click, with an inventory and click-on-the-active stuff to select an action. That modern control scheme is easy to learn and stays out of the player’s way, and the game offers a super-brief tutorial to teach it for new players. That’s a solid choice for any adventure.

There are a few rough edges. At least a couple inventory items don’t do anything (that I found, anyway), which violates the principle of Chekov’s gun—if you introduce a rubber chicken in the first act, it must have a use by the conclusion. Significant items are too easily acquired, which feels more like the need for Chekov’s gun control: if an item is useful, it should be behind at least one obstacle. Also, the quick-travel map for the city, Mount St-Troy, could use labels and perhaps larger thumbnails.

The overall story arc is great, built as a combination of noir and Eastern philosophy. While most of the character interactions are fleeting, it fits the story well enough to be forgiven. The puzzles are mostly logical, and none felt too hard. There’s even a nice (optional) card game you can play.

It took me about four hours to complete the game, including all achievements. I enjoyed my time, and if you like the robotic, post-apocalyptic aesthetic and adventure games, take a look.

Review of Embracelet

Legend has it there’s a birdwatcher on Slepp.

Embracelet is a casual 3D adventure game centered on a magic (telekinetic) bracelet and a teenager on the edge of adulthood who is given a quest by his grandfather to go to a remote, depopulated fishing island, Slepp, in northern Norway to return the artifact.

I had previously played Milkmaid of the Milky Way, by the same developer. That was a short, more traditional point-and-click adventure about a rural milkmaid who boards a spaceship to save her abducted milk cows. Both are built around kind and humanist narratives.

I played it via Proton/WINE and used an old console controller (per the game’s recommendation to play with a controller). When I first booted the game, before I opted to use a controller, the mouse cursor wasn’t showing up, so maybe controller is best? The joystick controls were manageable, but I think I would have preferred to play with mouse and keyboard, as I found using a joystick to move the cursor mildly annoying.

The graphics are simple, but pleasing and consistent for the style. One flaw there was a semi-subtle global reflection applied to the world. I didn’t like the look of that, and I’m not sure why it was there, but from time to time I noticed it and felt it was a distraction from the overall aesthetic.

The principle action of Embracelet takes place on Slepp, with several different quests to be found as you explore. The gameplay and events are fairly spectacular, and the game does a good job of keeping its pacing between exposition and simple puzzles. The only pain points for me were the follower events where you have to follow NPCs, which always feels a bit annoying.

The least explicable part of the game is the lack of any accommodation for the main character on Slepp. Where does he sleep? Does he eat? Is he actually a robot?! The game never gives up the goods on those key questions. (Minor un-spoiler, the game never truly explains the origin of the magic bracelet, either.)

Embracelet shares many aspects of a traditional adventure game, it attempts to do so within a semi-open-world design. I am glad to see this attempted, and I hope it will be attempted more in the future. While there will always be a place for 2D adventure games, the basic elements aren’t particularly tied to that format, and I continue to believe the format can have a broader appeal with 3D environments, either as thirdperson (in this case) or firstperson.

While this is a short game (it took me about eight hours (three playthroughs) to complete it, including all the achievements), it was a nice look at a world touched by magic. If you like traditional adventure games or coming-of-age fare, this one is a low-key story game that’s worth a look.