Tales of Monkey Island is a bit different from the usual episodic fare. With each Chapter inseparably linked to the last (and the next), it's becoming next to impossible to fairly review them as free-standing games. As stand-alone products, they simply don't work, and together they are greater than the sum of their parts. For that reason, TNL will be withholding any further reviews until the season is completed, at which point we will give you the final verdict on the full package. In the meantime, we will continue to bring you our impressions of the latest chapters as the come out, but we won't be judging them as stand-alone products.
Following its promising premier, The Siege of Spinner Cay begins with a short recap narrated by the Voodoo Lady, after which it picks up exactly where it left off, with the cutlass of famed pirate hunter Morgan Leflay against Guybrush's neck. It turns out they mysterious mercenary is actually a doe-eyed young woman quite smitten with Guybrush, even as she tries to smite him. She claims his pox-infected hand in the opening moments before Guybrush sends her back to where she came from, but the opening seen offers a glimpse at what is looking to be a great new character, and a possible rival with Elaine for Guybrush's affection.
This episode also gives us a broader look at the world of Tales of Monkey Island, beyond Flotsam Island. This episode takes place mostly in the Jerkbait Islands, but allows Guybrush and his first-mate Winslow to sail around the oceans and visit other islands as well. All of the locations are new (surely refreshing for those that grew weary of Sam & Max's neighborhood), but it's clear from the presence of Flotsam on the map (albeit off limits for the moment) that we will be returning to old locations at some point in the five chapter series.
The Jerkbait Islands are made of the eponymous Spinner Cay, a town of Mer-folk, alluded to in the last chapter, about the same size as Flotsam's hub, minus the interior of LeSinge's lab. Spoon Island is the largest, made up mostly of paths through the forest, suspiciously like those in the last chapter. Roe Island sits between them, a small formerly habited island rife with clues to the whereabouts of the Voodoo Lady's former beaux DeCava.
In a refreshing change of pace, Elaine gets plenty of screen time this Chapter. For much of the series, Elaine has acted as a MacGuffin; an object being chased to drive the story forward. Here we get to see the couple interact, and it's a lot of fun. Telltale's interpretation of the character (voiced by British actress Alexandra Boyd, reprising her role from Curse of Monkey Island) is my favorite yet, and I hope this trend continues.
We also catch up with the now-human LeChuck for the first time, and he appears to be genuinely reformed, even… nice. LeChuck is helpful, apologetic, and charming, even if he is still a bit dense and full of himself. He seems good-intentioned, which makes his affection for Elaine seem all the more dangerous. Guybrush isn't really buying the new persona, but Elaine is. Between LeChuck and Leflay, the Threepwoods' marriage could be facing more stress than ever.
Like the first Chapter, the puzzles seem very logical, and if anything lean more towards being too obvious than frustratingly obscure. You won't be hunting for tiny hidden items or trying to use a coconut as a cannonball, here. There aren't any puzzles quite as clever as the lab puzzle in the last episode, but Telltale seems to have struck a good balance with challanges that will give players pause, but are generally far more forgiving than the old school adventures that frustrate so many.
While Chapter 1 was written and directed by series veteran Mike Stemmle, the second is helmed by relative newcomer Mark Darin, who worked on Telltale's Strong Bad games and Sam & Max Season 2. This might leave some old-schoolers a bit concerned, but I'm happy to report that the writing in this chapter is on par with the first, in terms of characters and humor. The episode ends a bit sooner than the first on a cliffhanger just as big as Chapter 1's, but it's a fun ride while it last. Telltale is off to their strongest start yet with this season, and the series is shaping up to be their best.