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The Secret of Monkey IslandOne of the most famous adventure games ever made is The Secret of Monkey Island, created by Ron Gilbert of LucasArts, a recently defunct studio that pioneered the genre.
LucasArts’ first adventure game was Labyrinth, although they were then called Lucasfilm games. When it was first announced that Disney had bought up Lucasfilm, I was very excited about how the two biggest names in film had joined together and what this would mean for their game studios, particularly concerning how well Disney treat their properties, I was hoping that there would be some renewed interest in some of the properties that had now come into their care, such as Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle. Unfortunately this never came to pass as Disney appear to have decided to go the way of their own game studios and shut them down, so in memoriam, and also because it was already on my list, I decided I would play The Secret of Monkey Island, which I have never played before. I have the remastered Special edition that is available on Steam however, I played through the original mode on it. It wasn’t until the end of the game when the credits were rolling that I noticed Orson Scott Card had written all of the swordplay insults, which I never knew. The game’s dialogue was written by Tim Schafer and some other people and is the best thing about the game, you can choose the fairly standard dialogue options or can go for some fourth-wall breaking answers or just really sarcastic retorts.
My favourite character is Stan the ship merchant, the entire segment of buying the ship was completely pointless and time-consuming, which I found hilarious. There are lots of in-game jokes and references, for example at the beginning of the game there is a pirate in the bar that starts going off on an advertising reel for a game and there are lots of allusions to LucasArts games. When I got to the end of the game there was one thing that I kept thinking about, waiting for the answer.
Some of the puzzles can be a little unintuitive but the witty dialogue and the beautiful graphics really set this game apart from the types of adventure I usually play.
Although just about all the adventure builders from the old days are long gone a€“ in many cases, to places like Telltale and Double Fine - it turns out there are a nonetheless a number of folks still employed at LucasArts who, like us, harbor a deep-seated love for the classic adventure IPs. One decision that speaks to this level of reverence is the fact that the remake is built directly on top of the code of the SCUMM powered original (the VGA CD-ROM version from 1992, to be exact). Visually, the game looks great, although calling it an improvement doesna€™t feel accurate.
This unevenness extends to the character designs and animation, the latter limited to the same number of frames as the twenty year old game being drawn over despite using far crisper sprites. The interface gets a bit of a keeloverhaul in this remake as well, though ita€™s mostly to accommodate the Xbox gamepad.
When ita€™s all said and done, while I dona€™t consider The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition to be the ideal version of the game, Ia€™m forced to admit that my judgment probably has more to do with nostalgia than it does with the objective quality of the effort.

For its part, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is, or should be, a welcome treat for longtime fans for being another version (and not a replacement, as some offended diehards bizarrely seem to take it as) of the game for us to add to the line-up and enjoy for its strength and weaknesses, just like all the others.
The conversion is accurate enough, there are just so many gaps and empty areas, and it all just seems so lifeless. The other major addition are the excellent Curse of Monkey Island voice actors reading the same lines from the original game.
For what it’s worth, the voice acting is more welcome than the graphical upgrade, especially since casting went to the effort to nab all the original actors, but there’s more good, and bad news. Though I’m ragging on the “Special Edition” part of the title quite a bit, don’t forget the fact that The Secret of Monkey Island is still a very good point and click adventure game at heart.
There’s two major complaints about the point and click genre, the first is pixel hunting for obscure little items, the Monkey Island series has never had an issue with this, in my opinion. Finally, there’s the awkward, old school SCUMM interface that makes a chore out of item management and interaction. Labyrinth was based on the film of the same name and is known for having Douglas Adams contribute to the design of the game. Whether it’s because it is an early title or not I noticed how arbitrarily linked some of your actions have to be to solve certain puzzles and so at times did become a little stuck.
There are a lot of NPCs in the game and as you learn how to swordfight there are encounters with people in between screens on the map.
It all provides for some interesting banter that can make the game extremely replayable to see how another choice might have affected things.
It was probably like a game of connect the dots, upgrading the sprites to look good in high definition, but it just doesn’t come together.
The Secret of Monkey Island lost all of its visual charm in the high defining process, and it’s a lesser game for that. While they sounded great in the third game that was written for actors, they honestly sound like they’re phoning it in for the Special Edition. The good is that you can switch to the game’s original graphics at the press of a button, the bad is that the voice acting is turned off, too. The second is that the puzzles are so obscure or senseless it would be nearly impossible to solve without a guide or walkthrough, Monkey Island generally doesn’t fall into this trap, either. The first half of the game is well structured, with our hero Guybrush Threepwood undertaking three tasks (map, ship, crew) to get off the opening island and rescue the governess Elaine.

The Special Edition isn’t that much better, forcing you to either seemingly scroll randomly through the verbs with your mouse wheel, or memorize ten different key shortcuts spread across the keyboard. In this respect LucasArts have helped to give the games industry a boost in credibility amongst a wider audience by involving staple sci-fi names.
Fortunately this version has a hint button that I used a couple of times when I had no idea what I was meant to do, UN-fortunately it was pretty useless, often giving me irrelevant location specific advice. In fact, I half expected there to be some sort of thing I had ruined or glitched out when playing this, but it’s an incredibly solid game. Monkey Island’s graphics have a wonderfully nostalgic charm to them, but games like this just don’t sell anymore. I’m not sure if it’s the fact that the lines weren’t originally intended to be read aloud, or if the reading sessions were rushed, but the dialog just sounds flat. I would have loved for a combination of classic graphics with voice acting, but I had to stick it out with the new art for the experience. The second half devolves into an unstructured, wide open island with excessive backtracking and questionable solutions to puzzles.
I can’t really blame the original designers as they were pioneers of the industry, but why the Special Edition developers didn’t use a click and hold pop-up like Curse of Monkey Island is beyond me.
The graphical upgrade wipes out almost all of the charm and visual wit The Secret of Monkey Island features, and the voice acting is welcome, though not very good. I wonder if this version has had to be altered much to fix things that could have caused issues in the original release? And then there’s the rushed finale, so rushed in fact the Special Edition completion percentage hilariously jumps from 75% to 100% in just ten minutes. The cast has a bunch of memorable characters including Stan the boat salesman, the fruit cannibals, and of course, LeChuck and Elaine, and the game certainly has its moments, especially when learning to insult sword fight and sneaking around LeChuck’s ship. It’s nice to know that you can play the original game without any of the new features easily, at least.
There’s a reason LucasArts put itself on the map in the early 90s, and it wasn’t because of George Lucas.

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