Since 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island has captivated many gamers through brilliance in writing and comedy, as well as an intuitive use of the point-and-click puzzle adventuring that has popularised the series and genre as a whole.
With nearly twenty years of swashbuckling, voodooey questing under his belt, Guybrush Threepwood returns for an encore – and a much needed face lift – in LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for the Xbox 360 and PC. But after two decades and a generation of gamers, can Guybrush keep you laughing and intrigued? Or has the game lost its silly, piratey flare after all these years?
Being a veteran and long time fan of the series, I decided to take a crack at the XBLA version of the MI remake to hopefully create a fresh experience for a game I’d beaten numerous times. Upon beginning my adventure once again down the monkey-hole, I was instantly impressed as Guybrush Threepwood spoke and told me that he “wanted to be a pirate” through a familiar, naive voice against beautifully remastered, hand-drawn backgrounds.
The added voice-overs and enhanced, hand-painted artwork are fantastic additions to a rapidly aging game, ones that hope to attract the new, visually obsessed gamer. Yet, for those of you (including myself) who are not graphic-whores, the ability to seamlessly transition from the special edition to the classic version is a welcomed feature. Though the new voice-work cannot be heard while in this mode, which is somewhat of a letdown, series enthusiasts (and newcomers) switching between classic and enhanced modes will find almost perfect art and dialogue recreation.
Along with the enhanced visuals, music and added voice-overs, LucasArts has streamlined the verb interface that was once a staple of the series, something that honestly seems unnecessary. The verb options and item menu are now brought up using the left and right triggers on the 360 controller, a feature that doesn’t quite help the initial clunky feel to the Xbox 360 control scheme.
Mimicking the feel of a mouse and keyboard on a console has always been a tricky matter when porting point-and-click adventures, or any mouse-heavy game at that, and The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition does not completely escape this problem. Moving the cursor, at first, will feel sluggish and a tad unresponsive, and with no option to change the sensitivity, may leave you a little frustrated. But after about twenty minutes of play, you’ll soon become familiar (and less frustrated) with the controls and will grow to enjoy them.
Progressing through the game, newcomers and Guybrush will find that becoming a pirate is not an easy task on Melee Island, as he will have to prove himself in the most basic – and most vital – pirating skills: thievery, sword-fighting, and of course, finding buried treasure.
In order to fulfill his wannabe-pirate dream you’ll need to direct Guybrush through a series of puzzles that are both intriguing and at times, brain-racking. The majority of your time will be spent puzzle-solving, as Threepwood will have a satchel full of items that range from common household pots to bizarre rubber chickens that may need to be combined or used in such a way to progress through the story.
However, unique to Monkey Island is Guybrush’s inability to die or back himself in between a rock and a hard place, meaning that if you have the patience and try every possible combination of items and actions, you will succeed in finishing Threepwood’s story. If all logical solutions have seemed to escape you, and your patience is dwindling, a three-tiered hint system has been utilized, which at the third level prompts the player where to go with a bright yellow arrow (with inducing palm-to-forehead smack).
Patience is rewarded through increasingly comedic and brilliant interaction with the wide-variant of buccaneers, used-ship salesman, and strikingly beautiful mayors. Character exchanges are often laugh-out-loud funny and provide for a unique experience rarely seen among the current generation of games. Meeting and interacting with the cast proves to be just as intriguing and enjoyable as it was nearly twenty years ago, even more so with the added voice-work, as average as it may be.
Those who remember (or found) the solutions to the puzzles will find The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition can be completed in just a couple of hours. Yet, if you take your time and actually sit down and play, you’ll find that it can offer anywhere from 5-10 hours, depending on your puzzle-solving abilities.
Although the enhanced graphics, rerecorded score, and added voice-overs provide a nice and welcomed touch, the writing and gameplay are timeless enough to warrant a classic play through. And for 10 dollars, this swashbuckling laugh-riot cannot be passed up.
Reviewer’s note: The Xbox Live Arcade version was tested for this review.
The hand-painted enhanced graphics provide for a more visually enjoyable experience. The seamless transition to the classic version of the game is a blast for veterans and newcomers alike.
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Even with a newly streamlined interface, the integrity of the gameplay is not lost and simply remains timeless.
Although the re-recorded score and voice-work are great additions, the voice-work at times is average at best, and sometimes doesn't flow with the comedic writing.
Once you finish the game, there's not much left to do, other than playing it again using the classic mode of play.
For 10 dollars, The Secret of Monkey Island: SE is a steal. The game pays homage to series enthusiasts, as well as making it accessible to an entire new generation of gamers.