Ahoy there, fancy pants! If it’s adventure ye be looking for, ye came to the right place. There’s a reason that, nearly 20 years after its introduction, Monkey Island is arguably still the best known franchise in the adventure genre. For me, the original Secret of Monkey Island was already the yardstick against which all other adventure games are measured, and with a brand new Special Edition recently released, it now has the chance to convert a whole new generation of gamers, this time with high-definition graphics, full voice acting, gamepad support, a multi-tiered hint system, and even a re-mastered orchestral music score. Don’t like the idea of tinkering with a classic? The original VGA version of the game, with its still-charming graphics and MIDI soundtrack, is fully included as part of the Special Edition as well, so players can have their grog and drink it too.
In case you’re just joining us, this is the story of a young man named Guybrush Threepwood, and his dream to become a mighty pirate. Upon arriving on Mêlée Island, he finds his way to the most popular pirate hangout, the Scumm Bar (newbie fact: SCUMM is the name of the programming engine Monkey Island and several other LucasArts adventures of the time were built on), and asks the Pirate Leaders how he can become a full-fledged scallywag. They assign him three trials: defeat the Sword Master in battle, steal the Idol of Many Hands from the Governor’s mansion, and locate the Legendary Lost Treasure of Mêlée Island. Guybrush also learns the reason the Scumm Bar is so crowded: the pirates are reluctant to set sail for fear of encountering the dreaded Ghost Pirate LeChuck.
It seems that when LeChuck was alive, he fell in love with Governor Elaine Marley, but she rejected his advances. To impress her, he decided to discover the secret of Monkey Island, but before he could do so his ship sank and all hands died. A twist of fate brought them back as ghosts, and LeChuck remains determined to win (or take) Elaine’s hand in marriage. Though the pirate trials are a significant challenge in their own right, they actually represent only the first of four chapters in the game. Guybrush’s adventure begins in earnest when LeChuck kidnaps the Governor, whom Guybrush has since fallen for as well, and whisks her away to Monkey Island. Before the surprisingly epic tale is through, Guybrush must confront a terrible hand-eating beast, perform a jailbreak, cook up a voodoo spell, meet a fourth-wall breaking hermit, get captured by vegetarian cannibals, and explore the depths of what may or may not be Hell itself.
Luckily Guybrush is the kind of guy you don’t mind going to Hell and back with. He’s so naïve and earnest it’s impossible not to root for him. Despite his desire to be a pirate, it’s hard to believe he’d even plunder a fly. He can be quick-witted at times, but just as often the joke’s on him. Still, when Elaine’s kidnapped by LeChuck, he’s the only one brave enough (or maybe dumb enough) to round up a crew and go after her. No wonder Elaine fell in love with him at first sight. Elaine is known for being one of the stronger female characters in gaming, but really she doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the first Monkey Island, though many people reference how tough she is in her absence. In fact, it’s amazing LeChuck was even able to kidnap her. Not that he isn’t a frightening and capable villain; he’s the kind of guy who loves feeling the winds of Hell on his face, and talks longingly about seeing his enemies’ bloated corpses being picked apart by fish. Everyone in town is so afraid of LeChuck, you’ll probably wonder how a young dude like Guybrush could possibly take him on. Yet while Guybrush may be physically weak, he sure is resourceful… with a little help.
I haven’t even mentioned the Voodoo Lady and her shop of creepy wonders yet, nor Meathook and his even creepier talking tattoo. There are so many great characters and moments in The Secret of Monkey Island, it would take all day to talk about all of them. I will say that some of my favorite characters are the islands themselves. Though Monkey Island has its name on the marquee, and yeah, it’s a tropical paradise, for me there’s nothing finer than Mêlée Island at night (and it’s always night on Mêlée Island). Something about the way the artists portray the architecture, the jungle, even the fireflies—it makes me want to pick up and move to some little place in the middle of nowhere, or at least go to Disneyland and ride the Pirates of the Caribbean a few times.
Is Mêlée Island more enchanting in shiny new HD or retro VGA? One of the best features of the Special Edition is the ability to switch back and forth between the original game and the enhanced version at any moment, even during a cutscene, so you can compare and contrast the two at every location if you wish. The new artists were very faithful to the original game, with the content being virtually identical, except in a few instances where they added details (i.e. you can now see several ships docked outside the Scumm Bar). The biggest difference you might notice is that the new art is more exaggerated and angular, which is subtly present in some of the architecture, but most prevalent in the character close-ups, where the realistic glamour shots have been replaced by caricatures. How you feel about these little changes is a matter of taste—personally I like everything except for Guybrush’s haircut, a bizarre combination of pompadour and buzzcut—but unless you’re an ultra-purist who can only be satisfied by the old-school graphics, you’ll probably enjoy the upgrade. Some of the new special effects, like LeChuck’s ghostly aura, are undeniably cool, although one consequence of the ability to switch back and forth is that both versions are running on the same engine, and therefore have the same number of frames of animation, which makes the HD version seem oddly stilted and jerky.Continued on the next page...