Secret of Monkey Island: Swordplay and treasure

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With three trials ahead of him to become a full-fledged pirate, Guybrush Threepwood has his work cut out for him. First stop? The circus, of course!

The circus is run by two argumentative siblings, the Fettucini Brothers. They don’t want to test out the human-shooting cannon, so Guybrush, um, volunteers and is promptly smacked against the pole on the far side of the tent. Good thing this is a LucasArts game, else that would have been a game over screen!

In a snarky twist, when Guybrush is lying upside-down and dazed, his dialogue options are ALSO upside-down on the screen. Clever devs.

I’ll say that after flipping back and forth from the original to the special edition, I’ve actually taken more to a shine to the classic with its pixel art and chunky text than the flatter graphics of the remake, so I’m going to stick with the original going forward.

Another aspect of this game that makes it a hoot to play is that you’re able to choose from some really wacky dialogue choices. Sure, there are the tame and normal ones, but what’s the fun in that? I always go for the crazy ones first.

After buying a sword and shovel, I’m off to knock out two of my three trials. First up is proving myself a master swordsman, which will be difficult seeing as I hardly know how to fight. Fortunately, Captain Smirk there agrees to train me (with his MACHINE) for 30 pieces of eight. That makes me technically competent to fight, but I have to learn the other half — the insults.

In a really awesome twist, this game’s fight mechanics is all about insults and responses. Basically, one person spits out an insult and the other has to respond, and if that response doesn’t make sense, then the first person presses the advantage and starts winning the fight. Guybrush doesn’t have a lot of insults and responses at first, but the more he picks fights, the more he hears these usable lines and collects them like Pokemon. Finally, he’s good enough to take on the feared Sword Master — Carla.

She’s tougher because (a) she has insults Guybrush hasn’t heard yet, and (b) he has to use old comebacks in new ways. But all in all, Carla isn’t too hard and she gives up. From this, I get a (drumroll) t-shirt! Hey, whatever proves my capability.

The treasure hunting is a little tricky as well. Guybrush purchases a map to the legendary lost treasure from a shady-looking pirate, but the paper turns out to be dance instructions. OR IS IT? Nope, it’s actually a thinly veiled guide through a forest maze to what turns out to be a frequently visited treasure spot.

Another tee! This game, guys, it is weird. At least Guybrush doesn’t seem that put off.

Battle Bards Episode 139: Return to LOTRO

It has been a good long while since the Battle Bards walked the road that led them from the Shire to Mordor, but now they’re back in Lord of the Rings Online — and they have a lot of positive things to say about this beloved soundtrack. If the word “quaint” can ever be used as a recommendation for a score, it has to be done so here! Tune in as these three Minstrels share a few favorite tracks you may not have heard before.

Episode 139 show notes (show pagedirect download)

  • Intro (feat. “Let Us Sing Together,” “Rivendell,” and “Urgent Errands”)
  • “Coronation of Aragorn”
  • “Mug in Your Hand”
  • “Brigand’s Tale”
  • “Night in the Shire”
  • “Malthellam, the Steward of the Vale”
  • “Tavern Lore”
  • “Cape of Belfalas Housing”
  • Which one did we like best?
  • Listener mail from Hamblepants and Jaedia
  • Jukebox picks: “Chicken Illuminati HQ” from Guacamelee 2, “Menu Music” from Kingdom Hearts 3, and “Towergrounds” from Forgotton Anne
  • Outro (feat. “Battle of Pelennor Fields Final Victory”)

Try-It Tuesday: Survived By

While I haven’t been great about it so far this year, the Try-It Tuesday experiments were also intended to get me to dip into MMOs that are largely unknown to me. At least I’ve been installing a bunch on my desktop to try as time presents, and the first of these for 2019 is the upcoming Survived By.

Basically, Survived By is an action RPG MMO in the vein of Realm of the Mad God. That is to say, your character has one life, and when you die, you start up a new toon. While characters don’t persist, their loot and legacy does, allowing a different line of progression. Call it “permadeath lite,” if you will. It’s an interesting concept and one that weans players from getting too attached to characters while feeding their desire to try out different classes.

However, I knew from the first minute into this game that it wouldn’t be for me. Survived By is less like Diablo and much more like a “bullet hell” shooter. Every bad guy is constantly shooting something at you, filling up the screen with must-dodge projectiles while you attempt to return fire. Add to that very tense music, and I felt stressed out for the entire gaming session. There isn’t a lot of enjoyment in it for me to spend the whole time ignoring scenery, quests, and gear while I desperately try to Not Die.

From what I saw, there is crafting and the pull of loot to keep you out and about, and I did find the constant stream of XP from kills appealing. But the whole exercise felt like another attempt to streamline and water down the MMORPG into the most base and boring component: mindless repetitive combat.

And that’s a shame, because the pixel art here is really attractive (which I admired for split-seconds at a time while not dodging) and the controls are fairly fluid and responsive. Quests popped up here and there on the world map, always to Go Somewhere and Kill The Thing, but it was devoid of context or urgency.

I did die a few times and cycled through successors, but the passing-on-of-one’s-legacy angle didn’t grip me. What I was doing in the first five minutes I felt that I would be doing in the next five hours, if I persisted. Eventually, I let a death by billy goat be the last one I experienced:

Please lay flowers at my gravesite.

DDO: Dusting off lowbie quests

The primary goal of my solo Dungeons and Dragons Online character — my Gnome Artificer — was always to see every quest in the game at least once. I think I’ve been pretty good about pursuing that goal, although so far I’ve been going area by area rather than tracking down quests by level via the Adventure Compendium. I’m trying to rectify a few oversights and get every quest done from level 1 through 12 (my current level), so I’m going back to start at the very bottom of my missed-missions list.

And that means a trip back to Korthos Island for Necromancer’s Doom, which I had overlooked somehow at level 1. It’s a forgettable quick dungeon romp, even on Elite, aside from some frozen corpses that turn into zombies if broken out of their icy tomb. I would think they’d be grateful that I freed them, but nope!

So quick quiz — what’s the best kind of zombie?

Obviously! Because you can kill two terrible things in one blow.

Next up was Recovering the Lost Tome. For whatever reason, this library scavenger hunt didn’t net me any XP, even on elite (while the level 1 quest did), but I’m going more for completion than level gain here. For some reason I have this impression that this quest is not very well liked, although I am not sure why that is the case. It’s one of many fire-and-forget Harbor missions.

The Swiped Signet was next on my list, another fairly tepid sewer crawler. When you look at the early game of DDO, it’s absolutely packed with the same two or three tilesets, including warehouse and sewer. There are just too many of these, no matter how quickly you can get through them, and it makes me wonder how many players are turned off to the game after their 15th sewer romp before they get to some of the more inventive and interesting locales.

Kobold Assault was next on the list, and seeing as how it was a level 3 extreme dungeon, I can understand why I skipped it way back when. Even at level 12, it’s a tedious affair of killing wave after wave of kobolds while standing still in a fort. One hundred and twenty dead kobolds later, and I am the last Gnome standing. Yay for me.

My feelings on the “MMO Big Five”

I’ve noticed that among the larger MMO community these days — mostly on Reddit — that there’s this tiering of MMORPGs, especially when it comes to labeling the “Big Four” or “Big Five” titles that seem to be getting most of the discussion and play. I don’t necessarily agree that these titles are the most popular or successful, just that there’s this perception that they are so. For example, RuneScape may well be doing better than at least two other MMOs on this list, but it doesn’t get that much respect among the wider community.

In any case, I thought it’d be a fun exercise to go through the Big Five, such as they were, and give my current thoughts and attitudes toward each.

(1) Elder Scrolls Online

Let’s start with the one title on this list I’m actually playing. ESO had a rocky start but really started to turn things around with the One Tamriel update, console launch, housing, and expansions. Aside from the lackluster action combat and class design, there’s so much to see and do in this world that I keep getting impressed all over again every night. I like being able to play at the pace I want following whichever quest lines I want, and for the most part, I’m content just to wander around taking screenshots. Also, I want to be a Necromancer SO BAD.

(2) World of Warcraft

I won’t lie: I think about going back every now and then. But Battle for Azeroth ended up being such a bland disappointment that I have a hard time mustering enthusiasm for the current expansion and endgame. Maybe one of these days I’ll reroll — perhaps on a fresh server — and there’s always the outside possibility that WoW Classic will get a post or two from me this summer. Now a WoW Progression Server? That’d be totally up my alley!

(3) Final Fantasy XIV

Aside from being slightly irked that fans consider this a game which can Do No Wrong (even when it clearly stumbles from time to time as all MMOs do), FFXIV earns my admiration at an arm’s length. You’ve seen me try and go back a few times, and while there are some nice parts, the slooooow pace of the story, the character models, and the reheated content delivery system leaves me feeling agnostic toward it. However, I am glad its community is getting a lot of fun with its upcoming expansion, so you all go and enjoy that.

(4) Guild Wars 2

Out of all these games, the subscription-free GW2 is the easiest to jump into without worrying about much of a time commitment aside from churning through the boring and needlessly difficult episodes. I still love the world exploration, the class design, the visuals, and the character options (including wardrobe!). However, I’m starting to get a little more than worried that this game may not have as strong of a future, what with ArenaNet’s rocky 2018, its very slow pace of content, and the lack of communication from the devs.

(5) Star Wars: The Old Republic

SWTOR is the title that may or may not belong on this list depending on who you ask, but it still has a pretty high profile. It’s still trying to recover from the damaged caused by the Eternal Throne expansions, and I think a lot of former fans — myself included — are in a holding pattern until we see what BioWare really wants to do with this. If a solid-looking expansion is announced for 2019 or something that’ll inject some excitement back into this game, I’ll probably be back.

DDO: Mists of Ravenloft completed!

Due to our regular DDO playgroup taking up most of my attention in that MMO, it’s been a very long time since I played my solo Artificer, who I last stranded somewhere toward the end of Ravenloft. However, I’ve been meaning to check back in with her, and since I’m twiddling my thumbs waiting for LOTRO’s progression server to unlock, I figured this was as good a time as any to get another mission in!

I picked up on the druid chain I had last left, although getting to the instance in question required a long trip through the wilderness. It was not pretty, as I kept getting ganked by all of the mobs, especially these flameskulls that would whittle me down from 200 to zero hit points in seconds. I tried to rez and run, but they dogged my every step. Even Mr. Devil up there wanted to get in on the Syp corpse camp action.

Sheesh, man. Time and polygons have not been kind to you. Also, you need a new dental plan.

I won’t lie: This quest thrashed me on normal difficulty. Oh, I was more or less fine until the final boss encounter, when I got trapped inside this circle with gobs of spellcasters and other unsavory druid types. That led to a quick death and some stern reevaluation.

It’d been a while since I last played this character, so I went back and leveled up, spent action points, got a hireling, equipped an elemental protection spell, the works. I thought maybe I had just been rusty, but no, even with all of that going and the cobwebs from my finger memory blowing away, I lasted mere seconds in the final battle. This meant either defeat or a try again on an easier difficulty. BABY DIFFICULTY.

At least I got it done. And I managed to redeem myself with a following overland trip and a blast through normal mode of Raven’s Bane. Perhaps I just needed to shake off the rust and get back into the groove of playing my Artificer, but I didn’t have any problems with this one at all. And I genuinely enjoyed going through this mission, which had me combing through a semi-sunken town full of mist, scarecrows, and wereravens (the latter who were the good guys).

It also had this lady, Mama Strahd. Don’t really know what kind of look she was going for here, but Glamour Shots she is not. I don’t think anyone would pay to use that hairstyle on the DDO store, if it ever showed up.

I was having such a good time, in fact, that I kept on rolling into the third quest of the day — and what turned out to be the final one of Mists of Ravenloft. The Abbey is a surprisingly easy romp through a small monastery. It’s almost downright tame compared to some of the sights and stories I’ve witnessed in this expansion, although the “Bride of Frankenstein” was a neat touch.

The final fight here against Strahd was pretty strange, to tell you the truth. While the Abbey was well done, this fight takes place in a fenced-in lot that looked kind of crude, like something from EverQuest circa 2003 or something. And Strahd went down easy, as long as I got him into the holy pool of water and turned on my machine gun bolts.

So with Mists of Ravenloft finished, what next? I quite like the idea of getting back into this solo character, and after looking over my adventure log, I see that I’ve missed a lot of lower level quests. Thus, the next order of business is to tidy things up and complete all of the quests from level 1 to 12!

Secret of Monkey Island: A noob walks into a pirate bar

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

While I was mulling my options over for a new retro gaming series, I ended up watching a video on LucasArts’ Monkey Island series and being reminded of how great it was. Actually, I was reminded of how much I liked it and yet had to completely play through the main four games in the series. All too quickly, I felt the call of the sea and the puns dragging me down into a loader screen and this here post!

Even though I’ve played through the first game and parts of the second and third, I would love to do this entire series start to finish while writing about it. We’ll kick things off with 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, which was remade in 2009 with better graphics and voice acting. All of it is based on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which is one of my all-time favorite amusement park experiences, so I’m all for soaking up that atmosphere.

In any case, let’s dig into this farcical series about a wanna-be pirate, a world set out to frustrate him, and an island that contains many secretive monkeys. Who’s with me?

From the get-go, I have an agonizing decision to make: original flavor monkey or special edition monkey? Both have virtues in my book. I like the pixel art of the original, which looks stunningly good for 1990, and the remake’s graphics can border on looking a little flat and flash-like. On the other hand, the remake features better mouse controls and the addition of pretty well-done voice acting.

At least I don’t have to choose for good — this game actually lets you instantly swap versions on the fly with the F10 key. I think I’ll play the special edition primarily while swapping over to see what the original screens looked like. I’ll probably be showing screens from both, so go with me here.

Anyway, meet Guybrush Threepwood, a man who appears out of nowhere to talk to a guy on a cliff about his (Guybrush’s) deep desire to become a pirate. Turns out that this isn’t as easy a prospect as one might hope, as Guybrush will need to apply and undergo three trials just to make it. Who thought buccaneers were so discerning and exclusive?

First stop, the SCUMM Bar (SCUMM was the game’s engine that powered a lot of LucasArts’ adventure titles). I love the happy smiling face in the title there. And speaking of LucasArts, one of the things I’ve always liked about these adventure games versus Sierra is their decision not to put death traps everywhere. I don’t even think it’s possible to die in this game, although you can get stuck trying to get past an obstacle or puzzle. While I love a funny death screen, I appreciate the “no deaths” design because it encourages me to explore and experiment more.

For example, the SCUMM Bar is pretty entertaining to visit, especially as I talk to the various pirates around the tavern. Aside from some blatant fourth wall-breaking talks (not to mention a pitch for a LucasArts game few people actually remember), there’s some vital background information on what’s been happening on and around Melee Island here.

Turns out that a fearsome pirate named LeChuck fell in love with the island’s governor, Gov. Marley, and went on a quest to find the Secret of Monkey Island to impress her. He died, came back somehow, and now he’s terrorizing the seas and nobody wants to sail out there. Hence the packed bar.

My enjoyment of this series is derived from two factors. First, Guybrush is a very likable and affable character. He’s sincere and earnest while playing a funny straight man to the lunacy around him. I genuinely wanted him to succeed.

But past that, the second factor is that Monkey Island is enjoyable in the moment-to-moment. It’s hilarious to talk to everyone, including the dog (with whom you can hold a surprisingly long conversation). Even though there is a story to progress through, the descriptions, actions, and conversations in each section are a lot of fun to behold.

Guybrush’s quest to become a pirate leads him here, to the three Important-Looking Pirates that apparently serve as the gatekeepers to all piratedom. They tell Guybrush that he can join up if he completes the three trials — that is, proving himself successful at swordplay, thieving, and treasure hunting. To do this, I’ll have to defeat the Sword Master, steal an idol from the governor’s mansion, and find the legendary lost treasure of Melee Island. I also find out what’s actually in grog, which ends up being a horrific list of ingredients including sulfuric acid, pepperoni, and red dye no.2.

Can I also say how much I adore this soundtrack? In both editions, it’s so soothing and perfect in striking that Caribbean pirate mood. Just an all-time classic and one of my favorite video game OSTs of all time.

There are lots of great environmental gags to notice as well, like the vat of poison (grog?). Oh, and the picture of the Pillsbury Doughboy. HE IS TOO ADORABLE FOR WORDS.

MEANWHILE IN HELL…

The ghost pirate LeChuck is informed by his laconic skeleton first mate that there’s a new pirate wannabe on Melee Island. Don’t know how the word of such an insignificant detail has gotten down here, but here we are. LeChuck mulls this over and vows to take care of it personally. After all, his plans are too important to be thwarted by a greenhorn such as Guybrush.