After saving Spinner Cay from pirate attack in the previous episode of Tales of Monkey Island, the buckswashling Guybrush and his crew were rudely interrupted by the gargantuan gullet of a monstrous manatee. Episode 3: Lair of the Leviathan (LotL), picks up right here as our hero is about to be devoured. This plot continuity makes a nice change from other episodic games, and really gets the player hankering for more.
Guybrush, Winslow, and Morgan LeFlay find themselves trapped in the throat of the giant manatee – and they are not alone. Besides the occasional crawly throat grub, Guybrush discovers the conquistadorial Coronado De Cava (an old flame of the Voodoo Lady) who like him has been searching for La Esponja Grande. He has been marooned in the manatee for many years, and with his help you must find a way to guide the giant critter to the sacred manatee mating grounds, the resting place of the sacred sponge.
LotL is somewhat linear when compared to previous open-exploration episodes, and there is a very limited number of locations. The majority of the game is spent within the manatee, but fortunately you’ll be having way too much fun to care.
Puzzles continue to improve, with LotL having the best in the series so far. There is a lot of variety and originality here which makes a pleasant change from the usual adventure game find-this-item or talk-to-that-person malarkey. At one point you will take part in a matrimonial quiz, requiring you to have paid attention earlier in the game. Failure will result in Guybrush being slowly digested by the manatee… tasty! My favourite has to be the Pirate Face-Off – much akin to Insult Swordfighting in earlier Monkey Island games, you and your opponent pull faces at one another until one is defeated. Building up your repertoire is a challenging task and will have you scouring the manatee’s guts for inspiration. And let’s not forget the opportunity to play manatee matchmaker! There are plenty of great puzzles to entertain you, and with one or two exceptions they are inherently logical – but actually solving them requires a fair bit of brain juice.
Voice acting and animation are still excellent – if anything, Guybrush’s lines and character have improved as the series matured. There are some recycled character models, but these are well disguised and do not become tiresome. That aside the characters are remarkably well-rounded in this episode, a step forward from the generic pirates earlier in the series. You’ll encounter a surfer dude with a drinking habit, a bongo-playing nerd, a crazy-eyed pugilist (the Democratically United Brotherhood of the Manatee Interior)… and one of the greatest characters ever, Murray the Talking Skull. First seen in The Curse of Monkey Island, Murray has some of the best dialogue and voicing you’re ever likely to hear, and he makes for some truly entertaining end credits. The game is almost worth playing just for him.
Overall LotL is the strongest of the series. Those new to it may feel a little lost, but that won’t prevent them from enjoying this game – but if you haven’t already played the rest of the series, now is the time to do so.