The Secret of Monkey Island is regarded by many as one of the best adventure games ever made. I spent countless childhood hours playing adventure games together with my mum, and Monkey Island was a definite favourite because of its ability to make us laugh out loud constantly. The release of the Special Edition brought about an opportunity for young gamers to enjoy the game without having to get past the dated graphics, and allowed seasoned veterans the opportunity to enjoy the game all over again. Those of you who played the game first time round were probably nervous about playing the special edition – have Lucas Arts remained true to our beloved game? Luckily for us, the answer is yes. The whole game has been re-animated, the soundtrack re-recorded and the characters given voice, but the script and story remain intact and unmolested.
For readers new to the Monkey Island series, a bit of scene-setting might be helpful. Our “hero” is Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate. He’s come to Melee Island in an attempt to learn the ropes and become a famous, fearsome pirate. Upon his arrival, he visits the Scumm Bar where the Pirate Leaders are enjoying a tankard of grog, a drink so potent that it’ll eat right through the mug if it is not consumed quickly enough. They set Guybrush three trials to prove his pirating abilities in sword fighting (learning a wide variety of insults and comebacks), looting and treasure hunting, but while he’s busy with all that, the ghost Pirate LeChuck kidnaps the object of Guybrush’s desire, Governor Elaine Marley, and takes her to the mysterious Monkey Island. It’s up to Guybrush to get a ship and a crew, and rescue the Governor from LeChuck’s evil under-island lair. (Yes, now you know where the writers of The Pirates of the Caribbean got their plot ideas!)
In terms of gameplay, the Monkey Island games are point and click adventures, so you’ll spend your time talking to folks and interacting with the items in the world. The game throws you right into the action and before you know it, Guybrush’s pockets will be fuller than humanly possible, and you’ll be looking for ways to use or combine the items you’re hauling around. There’s a list of verbs which you’ll use to interact with the various items, such as push, pull, use, pick up, look at, open etc. You might be thinking along the right lines but if you’re trying to “use” something instead of “opening” it, for example, Guybrush may be unable to comply with your commands.
You’re able to switch between the original and new versions of the same on the fly, which I found myself checking out constantly to see the difference and watch the fade in from one to the other. The switch is a seamless real time dissolve and zoom from one version to another, the voice acting is completely synced with the old subtitles. The ability to swap back and forth like this is great as there are advantages and disadvantages to both versions. The new version is, of course, more pleasing in terms of sound and graphics, but the interface was slightly easier to manage in the original. Items and commands were permanently on the bottom of the screen for you to click, whereas in the new version the verbs and inventory are in pop-up windows. Although the actions are also mapped to hot keys, you still have to faff around with the inventory in the new version which does get a little tiresome. I did find myself swapping back to the original graphics for some sequences, where you need to perform a sequence of actions in relatively rapid succession. The overhaul of the controls is really the least successful element of the game’s makeover. It’s a bit of a shame you can’t choose to play the original graphics with the new sound and voice acting, but I guess we can’t have everything.
The characters are all very well written and memorable, from the annoying used ship salesman Stan, to the camp, cholesterol-aware Cannibals of Monkey Island. Some of the voice acting is a little stiff at times and it can be annoying to hear the same clips over and over when you’re trying to figure a puzzle out, but such is the nature of point and clicks. The puzzles are extremely well done; you’ll certainly find yourself coming up against brick walls from time to time but you’ll kick yourself when you do figure it out as the solution is always logical, if not immediately obvious. The “look at” command is very useful and often gives subtle clues as to what you should be doing. If you do find yourself stumped, the new hints system is really handy should you choose to use it. If you prefer to do without though, the game is amusing enough that you’ll remain entertained even during the moments when you’re a bit stumped. The whole game will probably take you anywhere from 5-10 hours to play through if you puzzle it all out for yourself, rather than resorting to walkthroughs.