The first two Monkey Island games were created and designed by Ron Gilbert. When he left the company, LucasArts retained the IP, and decided to do a couple more games without him. The Curse of Monkey Island was the 3rd game and used an interesting, entirely hand-drawn cartoon art style with huge character sprites. It was well-received, but apparently also a little too expensive as this 4th game switches to a slightly modified version of the engine introduced in Grim Fandango with a mostly polygonal world.

That interface was the only thing that marred the otherwise nearly perfect Grim Fandango (well, that, and a propensity to crash out to Windows, which Escape fortunately does not have.) Unfortunately, Escape's tweaks to it are very minor and don't address the core problems - annoying "tank controls" with slow turning, and an insistence on using a bunch of arbitrary hotkeys or joystick buttons instead of the more familiar menu systems of PC adventure games. I think this was LucasArts' attempt to develop a system that would allow them to more readily port their adventure games to consoles; unfortunately at the point at which this came out (2000) adventure games were just about dead on the PC and console gamers had shown zero signs of interest in them, so this ended up being LucasArts' last major adventure game release.

EMI unfortunately pairs this frequently irritating interface with some poor design. In general, puzzles require you to run all over a sizable environment picking up whatever objects are loose for no apparent reason. Aside from being pointlessly time-consuming, some of the puzzles are awfully dream-logicy. There's an early one that has you trying to uncover the identity of a masked bank robber. The game gives you strong hints that his distinctive fragrance is the only way to identify him, but this involves running about mixing a bunch of seemingly arbitrary ingredients in a perfume bottle just because they're lying around. I had to consult a FAQ to solve it and even after doing so, I still had trouble getting the inventory to actually mix the items, and I still don't understand how you're supposed to know all of those particular items belong in the fragrance.

That puzzle is far from the worst of it, though - a tedious time-travel puzzle that hinges around copious note-taking (when note-taking has never been required of you in any MI game before) immediately follows it. But the thing that drove me off from the game early was Monkey Kombat, EMI's attempt to have its own "insult swordfighting" system (even though insult swordfighting is also replicated here as insult arm wrestling.) Instead of insults, you're trying to counter with appropriate patterns of monkey screeches, and the whole thing is just arbitrary and irritating trial-and-error.

So that's everything that's bad about it. Thankfully, there's some good stuff too to keep it from going completely off the rails. While the game doesn't recapture the same unique anarchic whimsy it had with Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer writing it, it still actually does come close sometimes and has at least a few genuinely funny moments. At the outset it relies on too many obnoxious pandering callbacks, but after you get to the first island and the game's plot is established and new villains are introduced it starts to come into its own. The graphics take a beating from longtime series fans, but I was actually somewhat impressed by the 3D characters - for 2000 they're more detailed than usual, with expressive faces and lots of little gestures. The backdrops still appear to at least be partially hand-painted and some of them look really nice; I liked the little touches like the stylized clouds that look like an early Wind Waker. And the compositional "dream team" of Michael Land, Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian stuck around to the bitter end of LucasArts' adventures, turning in a score that nicely blends old series motifs with some good new stuff.

Monkey Island on its worst day (which this probably is) is still better than a good number of adventure games on their best, but series fans stand a good chance of being disappointed.
Links :
* Installer for Windows 7 (along with a bunch of other LucasArts goodies)
Videos :