Adventure Gamers Awards
The updated soundtrack, on the other hand, is smooth as smooth can be. The original Monkey Island score from Michael Land is one of the best ever (the main theme was my cell phone ringtone for a while), and the Special Edition features all the same compositions re-recorded with live instruments. Players booting the new version up should let it linger on the title screen for a while, listening to that opening theme and feeling instantly transported from your computer desk to somewhere in the Caribbean, a feeling likely to recur at various times throughout the game. But perhaps the greatest aesthetic upgrade the new version offers is the full voice cast, including all the main actors from Curse of Monkey Island (Dominic Armato as Guybrush, Alexandra Boyd as Elaine, Earl Boen as LeChuck) and some secondary actors from Escape from Monkey Island (Meathook, Herman Toothrot, and more). Considering that dialogue written to be read can be quite different from dialogue written to be spoken, it’s remarkable how well the jokes still work—and sometimes work even better—when said aloud. Unfortunately the Special Edition upgrades can’t be selected piecemeal, so there’s no option to have, say, the new soundtrack with the old graphics.
Some changes have also been made to the way the Special Edition version is controlled. The original interface—with a grid of verbs (Open, Close, Push, Pull, Look At, etc.) you can apply to anything on the screen or in your inventory—is still kind of present. By default, left-clicking somewhere walks Guybrush to that spot, and right-clicking does what the game considers to be the obvious option (like Open on a closed door). However, each action is assigned its own keyboard shortcut, or the full nine-verb grid can be accessed through a pop-up menu, which is also how you open your inventory. This works quite smoothly, though interacting with inventory items can get a little cumbersome, and one hand is constantly required for keyboard commands. The Xbox 360 version uses the gamepad face buttons in place of mouse-clicks, and the triggers to open the verb menu or the inventory. The D-pad can be used as a shortcut to select verbs, but this doesn’t work very well since “Look At” can’t be chosen that way, and honestly the D-pad is barely functional anyway—pushing any diagonal almost always registers as a different verb than you intended.
There are no substantive differences between the puzzles in the original game and the Special Edition, which is a very good thing as the puzzles are consistently excellent from beginning to end. Virtually all the puzzles involve locating and then correctly applying inventory items, but there are several notable exceptions. Even if you’ve never played Monkey Island, you’ve probably heard about insult swordfighting. Battling other pirates requires no reflexes other than a quick wit, as you have to learn over a dozen special call-and-response insults and apply them correctly. If your knowledge of the Art of Insults is superior to your opponent’s, you win the duel. Things really get interesting when you take on the Sword Master, because then you have to—oh, but that’s best discovered for yourself.
Since it’s (almost, and only as a joke) impossible to die, you never have to worry about experimenting, and better yet, often your experiments will pay off. This includes conversations, as you can always feel free to choose the funny dialogue option without worrying about missing out on something vital. In fact, keeping a sense of humor is not just optional but advisable: several puzzles are solved by way of puns or plays on words. At no point does the game ever take itself too seriously, and the comedy in The Secret of Monkey Island has held up remarkably well. Of course, many of the game’s jokes or references have long since passed into legendary status: “You fight like a cow”, “Look, a three-headed monkey”, the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, among others. Even having played the game several times in the past, I still found myself laughing on numerous occasions, which is due in no small part to the ultra-talented voice cast shining a new light on things. Seriously, if Dominic Armato’s take on insult swordfighting doesn’t make you smile, then I’m not sure we can be friends anymore.
Despite its ever-lighthearted tone, returning to the game after a number of years I’d forgotten how difficult the puzzles are, especially in comparison to many modern releases. Some of the clues can be rather esoteric, while others demand cartoon-inspired leaps in logic or the ability to think about situations on a deeper level than a game like this would normally require. Even so, all the puzzles make total sense in hindsight, and figuring them out yourself is deeply satisfying. My favorite, without a doubt, is the enormous puzzle that takes up the entirety of chapter two, where Guybrush, now that he has a ship, needs to actually find Monkey Island (though in terms of good punchlines, nothing beats what you need to do to convince the cannibals to help you track down LeChuck). But if you get really stuck, the Special Edition has added a hint system. With the push of a button, some context-sensitive text pops up to give you a nudge in the right direction, with the nudge becoming more explicit every time you ask, until eventually a large yellow arrow shows you exactly where to go or what to do. It’s a great way to keep you in your seat enjoying the game instead of running to the internet for answers, and the hints themselves can be funny in their own right.
How much time you spend with the Special Edition is going to depend a lot on your previous experience with Monkey Island. If it’s your first time through, and you don’t use any hints, you could easily spend up to ten hours or more. Even if you’ve played it a dozen times before, you might do like I did and click “Look At” on every object just to hear the lines read aloud. I do have some nitpicks on a few elements of the new version, but even if you hate every aesthetic choice the developers have made, the original game is a mere button press away and plays as well as ever. This isn’t a situation where one forces oneself to slog through Moby Dick because it’s a “classic”; The Secret of Monkey Island is still as fun as any other game you’ll play this year, and probably significantly more so, and everyone who loves adventure games should experience it at least once.
What our readers think of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
Posted by TimovieMan on Oct 4, 2013
Still lots of fun!
Hilariously awesome game, and hearing Dominic Armato this time around is a great plus! It was nice to see some upgraded visuals, too, but to be honest, I must have pressed F10 at just about every screen (at least when no-one was speaking, otherwise I'd lose...
Posted by emric on Jun 5, 2012
adventuring classic receives very impressive remake treatment
I thoroughly enjoyed playing this remake of Lucasarts' classic adventure 'The Secret of Monkey Island'. A wonderfully nostalgic experience. Playing it now as a more analytical adult, I was able to appreciate just how well designed & written this game really...
Posted by Lucien21 on May 27, 2012
Never pay more than $20 for a video game
I loved the remake of the classic Lucasfilm game on the iPad. The new graphics were cool, the new full voice work for every character was fitting and the touch screen interface that is really easy to use. The Scumm icons are along the bottom and tapping the...