The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Cover
Platforms Windows, OSX, iOS, XBLA, PSN
Genre Shallow updated point and click
Score 6  Clock score of 6

I first played The Secret of Monkey Island about 20 years ago. This was an era of launching games from DOS, Commander Keen, and wheel spinning copy protection. I played the game with my cousin, who would frequently lose the Dial-a-Pirate code wheel forcing us to wildly guess at the game’s opening question.

The Special Edition released in 2009 thankfully does not have any code wheels (or even worse: always-on internet connection), but does feature completely redone high resolution art, a full voice cast, and the same brand of humor fans of the game know and love.

I’m personally a huge fan of the Monkey Island series, with the second holding a very special place in my heart and the third (gasp!) being my favorite. And while I beat the original when I was younger, I never held a lot of nostalgia for it, so this review is actually coming from a fan of the series who likes the first one the least in the trilogy And no, there is no fourth game.

Paul Eastwood originally reviewed the Special Edition two years ago when it was new, I finally got around to beating it this weekend after having it sit in my Steam library since release. Here is my review of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition.

I guess we should first cover the whole reason this remake/upgrade exists: the graphics. To potential new customers, this was a requirement. Monkey Island’s graphics have a wonderfully nostalgic charm to them, but games like this just don’t sell anymore. So while the update was a necessity for the re-release, I personally don’t like it.

The biggest problem is that while Monkey Island originally looked gorgeous at 640x480, when updated to 1920x1080, almost seven times the detail (and at least 10 times in reality when you remove the item/verb section of the screen), the new artists have to fill in a lot of blanks. 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 conversion is accurate enough, there are just so many gaps and empty areas, and it all just seems so lifeless. The Secret of Monkey Island lost all of its visual charm in the high defining process, and it’s a lesser game for that.

The other major addition are the excellent Curse of Monkey Island voice actors reading the same lines from the original game. 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. 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. There’s so little emotion behind the words and it sounds forced when it does crop up.

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. 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. 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.

Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition Before After

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. But while I have the opportunity, let’s have a go at the original game.

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. 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.

Its real issue lies in pacing. 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 second half devolves into an unstructured, wide open island with excessive backtracking and questionable solutions to puzzles. 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.

Finally, there’s the awkward, old school SCUMM interface that makes a chore out of item management and interaction. 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. 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.

But yes, I said earlier that this was a “very good game” and I still mean it. Behind the awkward controls and bland upgrades, the story is very funny and charming. Guybrush Threepwood is the kind of pirate we all want to be: bumbling and lovable. 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. There’s a reason LucasArts put itself on the map in the early 90s, and it wasn’t because of George Lucas.

Original game: 8

Special Edition updates: 4

Overall: 6

Blasphemy, I know, but I have to be honest. I just didn’t enjoy the Special Edition of the game that much. 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. It’s nice to know that you can play the original game without any of the new features easily, at least.