I finished those up during the summer, and while I love Curse, I'd have to agree with the general opinion that Escape is the weakest. The general theme of over-commercialization feels a bit too out there, and Monkey Kombat is by far one of the worst things in the series. It seems that some people are lumping the Tales of Monkey Island series with this one, which I don't really agree with. So, having just played through the first three episodes, here are five things I really dig about them:
Guybrush's romance with Elaine was always kind of a joke in the first three games...until they ended up married by the end of it. By the time the fourth game rolled around, Guybrush was clearly henpecked, and Elaine was kinda bitchy, and that's such an worn out theme that it's just not funny. Elaine's more restrained, less mean than more of a capable woman who can clearly take care of herself, as evidenced in the first game. And she's actually pretty charming too, as evidenced by the one scene where you can make Guybrush try to say "no" in a dozen different ways, only to end up conceding after exhausting all of them. It also helps that her British voice actress from Curse is back.
Morgan LeFlay is a bounty hunter - one of the best in the business - who is also somewhat struck with a case of hero worship for Guybrush. As such, she's constantly conflicted between her pride for her job, and her pretty obvious crush on the mostly oblivious Guybrush, which leads to a surprisingly heartfelt speech using ravenous manatees as a metaphor. But it's mostly her demeanor, carried through the outstanding animation and charming voice acting, that really make the character. I actually really loved the moment where you pretend you're married, and need to answer a bunch of intimate questions based on some random things she mumbled when passed out.
LeChuck's Puzzle Solving Conundrum
LeChuck's gone good? Probably not, but in the first few chapters he's actually a fairly reasonable guy, who seems to want to atone for all of the evil he's put the Carribean through. The best part with him pops up in the second chapter, where Guybrush gives him a lesson in adventure puzzle logic, slowly walking him through all of the steps to figure out what to do. ("If I stick this in there, then it looks like a cow. Do I need a cow?") LeChuck is voiced by a different guy this time around - Earl Boen was great, but the new guy doesn't need the same growling sense of menace, so he works out pretty great too.
Who doesn't love Murray? He pops here again, and serve more of a useful function than his gratutious (but still funny) cameo back in Escape from Monkey Island. While in the belly of the manatee, you come across a stranded crew who've used the opportunity to take a nice, relaxing vacation. The three of them are so contently deluded that they somehow refuse to believe that the fourth, a guy named Santino, actually died a long time ago and is now a mere skeleton. You'll need to switch his skull with Murray, in an attempt to get him to do you a favor...until he double crosses you, anyway. It's also amusing how you later learn that Santino actually was a pretty awesome dude - it makes me wonder if you'll somehow meet him later on, even though it'd probably ruin the mystery.
Stupid Face Contest
In order to get initiated with the crew, you need to best one of the men by making scary (more like stupid) faces. Functionally, it's a very easy puzzle, since you just need to walk around and look at other things (and talk to other people) to get inspired, and all you need to do is not use the same expressions more than once to win. It's remarkably dumb, but watching it all play out is gleefully ludicruous. It's even better when you need to scare one of the other crew members by mimicing the expression of the person he fears most - Sister Agnes, Director of Discipline.
It's not all great - there are a few things that kinda fall flat, or otherwise disappoint.
So, you've made it to the manatee breeding grounds, but you need to lure the female manatee out of her cave. The male manatee is too frightened to do anything, so you need to teach yourself their language to get them hooked up. However, the only guide you have is a travel book, filled with stock phrases. The female manatee will say something threatening - you need to pick one of those fairly neutral sentences to make it sound like you're being coy and funny. It's a great idea in concept, and a nice skewering of the sword-fighting insult stuff that Telltale sweared they wouldn't do...except in practice, it just kinda falls flat.
Ozzie Mandrill, the villain of Escape from Monkey Island, was one of the game's weaker links. His only major characteristic, despite being evil and cranky, was randomly sticking the names of Australian animals into his speech, which also wasn't very funny. Le Singe is set up to be one of the antagonists in Tales of Monkey Island, a mad scientist who wants to experiment on Guybrush due to his condition ("For science!") Except, like Mandrill, he's just another ethnic stereotype, this time a super gay Frenchman. Still, I can't hate him too much - the part where you need to coerce a monkey to free you from his operation table is pretty inspired, and his squeaky/shrill voice acting is slightly funny.
Reused Locations/Character Models
The first chapter features not one, but TWO puzzles where you need to navigate through a jungle maze, similar to the Treasure Trial from the first game. In the second chapter...you come across an almost identical looking maze! Thankfully there's no more puzzle to solve, but you still need to wander around. The reuse of locations - and character models for nearly all of the NPCs - is one of Tales of Monkey Island's biggest weakness.