There’s a certain magic to be experienced when playing a highly regarded game nearly twenty years after its original release. It’s not something that gamers get to do often, especially in an age when high-quality releases threaten weekly to bury us even during supposed “summer droughts.” Too often, years and years of praise and hyperbole create in our minds an image of perfection that no game, especially one that has suffered the ravages of time, could live up to. We play a classic, sit back after the credits roll and wonder why we bothered, and we wish we could have played it in its prime.
Hidden among those hundreds of disappointments is the inverse: a classic game that creates in you the feelings of pure admiration and gratitude, and we know that this game is and was something truly special. And, perhaps, it can be made more special by our many years of separation from it, as if the people we are today were the ones meant to experience it.
This is that game.
Monkey Island 2 SE is the second re-release in the classic Monkey Island series, which saw its first entry all the way back in 1990. However, what you’ll experience in this revamped package is a far cry from the original game, which shipped on eleven floppy disks. The game’s art, music, and controls have all been updated, with incredibly faithful reproductions of each element that look, sound, and play stunningly.
Of course, you’re able to switch to classic mode at any time, which will convert the graphics, sound, control, and interface back to the game’s original vision. Purists will notice a few omissions throughout the game, but they don’t affect the overall package quality in any meaningful way.
Nearly the only thing that has not changed a bit is the game’s story, which is (as one might expect from Ron Gilbert) hilarious, engaging, and even rather thought-provoking. It continues the story of the pirate Guybrush Threepwood, who sets out on a journey to find a famous treasure only to encounter his undead nemesis, LeChuck, along the way. The story is full of references as varied as Star Wars and Pirates of the Caribbean, and neither is done without great purpose. A bit of insight into the story and a variety of other developmental topics is provided via a commentary option that allows players to hear the three main developers speak by pressing a button during gameplay.
I have to spend a moment talking about the ending, which utilizes a “twist” style similar to shows like Newhart (an ending often called the best in television history). I was lucky enough to have entered into the experience with no knowledge of the twist, and thus had the opportunity to form my own opinions on it. Knowing the game’s connection to an attraction at Disneyland, I was very impressed with how the story connected adventure, videogames, and the joys of childhood in a way that is open to interpretation. If you’ve never played the game, and you have no idea how it ends, I’d kindly ask you to download this game immediately.
Such a decision is made easier by the fact that the game’s control is far preferred to the standard point-and-click flavor of the original, and some fantastic additions help you along the way in this often challenging affair. Movement of your character is controlled using the left thumbstick, with the pointer being directed by the right thumbstick. A more streamlined experience is afforded, as you don’t have to stand still and hunt the screen for objects to interact with. Holding the right trigger brings up a radial menu, where all of the verb actions available for that object are displayed. I’ll admit that it takes some getting used to, but it’s an extremely effective control scheme.
Players also have a variety of helpful tools at their fingertips if they get stuck, which invariably will happen. Hints can be accessed at any time, which get progressively more specific as you continue to request assistance. They’re not always helpful, but it’s a much preferred way of getting past a roadblock than consulting an FAQ. In addition, you can now highlight all objects in a room that you can interact with, which reduces the need for the sport of pixel hunting.
The game is far more difficult (and thus much longer) than The Secret of Monkey Island. Puzzles almost always make sense, but are often so bizarre or indirect that no sane human being would be able to solve them without trial and error. For instance, thinking to mesmerize a monkey by placing a banana on a metronome, shoving the monkey into your coat, then later using him to close a water valve is at once brilliant and esoteric. You’ll marvel at the game’s solutions while wondering how you could have possibly been expected to think of them. Really, it’s part of the game’s appeal, but it’s also a possible source of frustration if you are not prepared for it.
As mentioned before, the quest can be quite long. Those who know the game forward and backward can apparently finish in under three hours, which seems absolutely ridiculous to me. I spent about ten hours with the game, though I could easily see a player new to the game spending twice that if he refuses to use hints. If you’re looking for days of replayability, you won’t find it here. However, at a price of $10, it’s impossible to feel cheated by this package.
I play a lot of games, and only a portion of them are good. An even smaller number of games can be considered truly special. This is one of them. You simply cannot walk away from playing a game like this without feeling that you’ve taken part in something grand, something that represents everything great about videogames: fun, humor, meaningful plot, and genuine creativity. It contains an ingenuity that I haven’t found in games for some time, and it takes risks that many modern games aren’t willing to. Not all of these risks pay off (as the developers themselves acknowledge in the commentary), and I would never ask for modern games to be replaced by hundreds of Monkey Islands.
Yet even today, Monkey Island 2 stands alone even within the corpus of the developers’ other work. Though it is an imperfect offering, LeChuck’s Revenge is unforgettable as much for series veterans as it is for the player experiencing the game for the very first time.
There are some omissions that may pester those who dissect the game, but the presentation goes beyond functional by providing style, beauty, and ease of use.
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You'll find yourself stumped by puzzles, but the solutions are always hilariously appropriate. Still, for those not keen on these sorts of adventures, the barrier of entry may be abnormally high.
Listening to this game is always a joy, from the fantastically composed and performed music to the superb voice acting. The original music isn't represented perfectly in classic mode, though.
You get more than your money's worth out of this package, but after the joy of discovery is gone following the first playthrough, replaying may not be a priority.
LeChuck's Revenge is one of those rare games that we can truly feel privileged to experience, and this mostly faithful recreation is a necessity for aficionado and newcomer alike.