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Game: ‘Escape From Monkey Island' (2000) Dev. LucasArts

Updated: Oct 15, 2020

Escape from Monkey Island, LucasArts, GrimE, iMUSE, Sean Clark, Michael Stemmle, Clint Bajakian, Michael Land

The fourth entry of the successful 'Monkey Island' franchise would be the one that split critics and fans, using new gaming technology to compete in an ever changing gaming world...


This entry into the franchise was a drastic change in look and gameplay for those familiar with the previous Lucasfilm Games / LucasArts entries. ‘Escape From Monkey Island’ came just three years after ‘The Curse Of Monkey Island’ but also was developed during a turning point itself for LucasArts.

Following the release of ‘Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace’ by LucasFilm in 1999, the reinvestment in Star Wars for old and new fans would become something that George Lucas and his team would focus their future games on. Covering more video game consoles as action / adventure / fighting games as well as platform games for adults and children, ‘Escape From Monkey Island’ was the last true graphic adventure from the team that came from an original source not related to the galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars well and truly changed LucasArts as a game designer and developer with a new multi-billion dollar video game franchise opening up before them to accommodate new gamers of a new generation with new technology and consoles to play on.

It seemed the day of the classic point and click graphic adventure was well and truly on the way out in the mainstream commercial market as the next-gen consoles started to come into the market and take players away from original simple adventures to immersive, high-budget, franchise built gaming experiences.


But Guybrush Threepwood was back and once again going to prove the appeal of the graphic adventure.


Gameplay

A host of very familiar faces return for a swashbuckling tale of good vs evil across the Caribbean. Guybrush Threepwood and wife Elaine Marley return home to Mêlée Island only to discover Elaine is legally dead, and all her property and assets are up for grabs! It never rains, but it pours for these two love-birds, and it’s up to Guybrush to seek out the legal proof and evidence he needs to put Elaine back to her rightful, mortal place in the eyes of the law before she loses everything.

But that’s not all – oh no. The undead/zombie/ghost pirate LeChuck is back and out for revenge. Again. But he’s also out to seek a powerful voodoo hex known as the “Ultimate Insult” which renders those it is used against powerless and broken, which would allow LeChuck to conquer all the islands he wants. It also makes him able to break Elaine down and finally have her become his wife, as well as ridding himself of Guybrush in the process.

As with his previous adventures, it’s down to our plucky buccaneer to once again summon the help he needs to seek out the “Ultimate Insult” and find it before LeChuck does. He will travel to new and old islands in the quest, as well as meeting new and old faces that will both help and hinder him in the process. Along the way you will encounter slimy Australian real estate developer Ozzie Mandrill, loveable salesman Stan, the Voodoo Lady and a host of familiar friends.

A classic adventure, but with one big change to gameplay.

The SCUMM (Script Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine and the beloved verb interaction / point and click control system was removed and replaced with Lua, a Portuguese high-level, multi-paradigm programming language. This took away the familiar mouse control of graphic adventures and replaced it with either joystick or keyboard control which was far more complex and tricky to learn. It took away the simplicity of having a mouse and verb interactions with just one click, so new or younger (and some older) gamers struggled to focus on the game whilst also making sure their hands were spaced out enough to touch the corresponding keys on the keyboard.

This may have given more freedom of control, but certainly took away the pleasure of concentrating on just playing the game now with remembering and hitting the right control keys.


Graphics

Gone were the charming pixels of the early 1990s, and gone were the cartoonish drawings and matte art of the late 1990s. For a new millennium with new technology already pioneered for graphic adventures in LucasArts 1998 acclaimed comedy-mystery game ‘Grim Fandango’, ‘Escape From Monkey Island’ used the upgraded Grim Engine, commonly known as GrimE.


GrimE allowed developers to use a fully 3D graphic system which creates characters out of 3D-rendered polygons adding more depth and realism to characters and locations over a flat 2D look. While GrimE was a new engine that debuted in 1998, to use it in an existing game franchise that was based on 2D pixels and then hand-drawn art, it was a very drastic and shocking change that altered the whole look and feel of the game. So much so it seemed to take away the simplicity and enjoyment of basic controls and character interaction.

‘Escape From Monkey Island’ retained the often cartoonish style of characters and locations, but also popped from the screen with bright visuals, colours and art. Colours and lighting were able to be used more to create atmosphere in many levels such as the familiar Mêlée Island that could be expanded on from the 1990 pixel creation in ‘The Secret Of Monkey Island’.


However, there was no question that the GrimE engine allowed characters and locations to become near cinematic in look and style; cut-scenes were seamless with gameplay and the ability to explore so many various locations rather than just left, right, back and forward was more expansion to the existing Monkey Island lore for gamers.

‘Escape From Monkey Island’ was the second and last LucasArts game to use the GrimE engine.


Sound and music

LucasArts sound designer Larry The O worked with iMUSE to craft and collate sounds that helped immerse gamers in that bustling, swashbuckling Caribbean world. Crashing waves, squawking gulls, creaking ships, crunching sand, exploding cannons and booming pistols were just some of the sounds heard across the game. As with previous entries, the atmosphere from the sound design is second to none and, coupled with the score, makes these series of games so rich and immersive thanks to the detail in sound and music.

Michael Land returned for his fourth time composing music for the series, and also collaborated with four other composers within LucasArts; Clint Bajakian (who had worked with Land on ‘Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge’), Peter McConnell, Anna Karney and Michael Lande.

Land led the scores with the usual swashbuckling, Caribbean-themed music that was full of high spirits, spooky danger and comedic humour and slapstick. As ever, Land captures the fun and zest of what it means for Monkey Island showcasing pirate adventure and Caribbean atmosphere and indulgence, whilst also being sure to highlight other genres such as drama, danger and romance in his work with others.

iMUSE was once again used to seamlessly orchestrate and blend the scores from location to location, making storytelling much more fluid and the atmosphere almost never-ending in terms of score.


Summary

The decision to go bigger and bolder was one that deserved praise, and many found the upgrade to both gameplay and look was proof that the Monkey Island series was always going to fight to stay relevant for graphic adventures in a more modern video gaming world. Even porting on the PlayStation 2 console, it received fair praise for the story and production that went into the game.

The controls were a big hurdle for gamers to overcome, but once that hurdle was crossed, then a story awaited that was still packed full of tongue-in-cheek humour, pop culture references, swashbuckling adventure and wonderful voice acting from a familiar cast.

While the ‘Monkey Kombat’ segment weighs the game down and didn’t work as well as expected, never hitting the highs of insult sword fighting and being far laborious and painstaking to pass than anything, most of the new elements work and add some new dynamics to proceedings. This is a new era of Monkey Island gaming, but at heart it is STILL the Monkey Island you remember from 1990; just updated and evolved over ten years.

Highs and lows aside, it wasn’t ‘Escape From Monkey Island’ itself as a game that hit the brakes on the franchise for LucasArts, but more simply a radical change in the attitude of new gamers, new consoles and new pop culture that the old-fashioned PC adventure game was now battling. It was an uphill struggle to stay afloat and compete, but the charm and wit of ‘Escape From Monkey Island’ with its experimental graphics and challenging puzzles was enough to get by and satisfy many critics and fans.

It is bittersweet to see this as the last true graphic adventure, and last true Monkey Island game, from the team at LucasArts.


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