The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
It might be hard to grasp but back in the ’90s LucasArts were at the forefront of the adventure game genre. They may not have always received the commercial success they deserved, but critically, and amongst fans, LucasArts created some of the greatest games to ever grace the genre. The puzzles were inventive, challenging and quirky, and the writing was of another level; hilarious, witty and with plenty of heart and honesty. There was rarely a negative aspect leveled at the classic point and click adventure games LucasArts developed during that golden era, and the Monkey Island series was always the spearhead of their popularity and quality. Now, after almost a decade lost at sea, the classic series has finally returned to port - much to the tremendous jubilation of aspiring swashbucklers everywhere.
While Tales of Monkey Island progresses the story of mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition takes the classic franchise back to its roots with some added polish for the HD generation. Essentially this is the 1990 classic all over again, so if you still have fond memories of that game then there’s plenty to love here. Back then it was one of the most hilarious games you could ever play and the majority of the humour remains just as relevant and funny today. Of course now there’s also another dimension to the humour never seen or heard before that makes this entry one you‘ll want to spend your 800 pieces of eight on. This is a special edition after all and that means updated visuals, sound and functionality to give The Secret of Monkey Island a refreshing new facelift with it’s improved production values and streamlining.
“Updated for next-gen systems, the new art is stylish, smooth and highly detailed.”Right off the bat the most obvious change is the new visual style. Updated for next-gen systems, the new art is stylish, smooth and highly detailed. It fits in with the look we’ve seen from the more recent entries in the series and it works well. Some characters look a bit odd, but overall this is an impressive update that adds plenty of grandeur to this classic adventure tale. Although, if you’re not a fan of the new look you can always switch back and forth between new and old on the fly. With a simple press of the back button you can travel back to the early 90s and play through the original game with all the same pixelated goodness you remember. Entering a new area for the first time and being able to see what it originally looked like is always a welcome site to behold, and it just shows how big the new changes are in adding to the whole experience. They aren’t large enough to stray away from what made the game so brilliant in the first place, just subtle nuances like the light of a full moon glistening off the water at the pier, or the new high detail revealing things that were a little too difficult to notice first time through. The updated visuals should be good enough to impress and please everyone, but for those not too fond it’s excellent that you can just switch back to the original at any time and carry on from there.
Although if you did that you’d also be missing out on the all new sound design. The original music remains intact but on a much larger scale. It’s easily recognisable and the added quality given to each track really helps give the music much more prominence within the game. However, the biggest change is the inclusion of voice actors. The original only featured text, so giving voices to these characters easily ups the comedy value and immersion in the experience. Most of the cast will be recognisable from other Monkey Island games, and the new additions are perfectly cast in most places. Hearing these characters come to life makes The Secret of Monkey Island that much more hilarious, and the quality of voice acting actually manages to add new jokes to the original script purely with subtle tones and changes in pace. The original was a complete riot to begin with, so now imagine that with a performance thrown on top. Fantastic.
“Hearing these characters come to life makes The Secret of Monkey Island that much more hilarious”However, the same cannot be said for the new interface. The various options took up half the screen in the original so you’ll be pleased to know that they’ve been hidden behind the shoulder buttons in the Special Edition. It’s probably the best way to use it with a controller but it can still feel too clumsy and clustered. There are so many options to chose from that navigating through them and your items is always a slow process, especially when attempting to combine different items to solve a particular puzzle. It’s not ideal but it’s one of the problems that comes when converting a game like this to a console and controller setup. The only other problems arise from the games old design. It’s to be expected from a game nearly 20 years old, but some objects are often quite hard to make out, particularly on the overhead maps. You’ll often find things by chance, just by hovering the cursor over an area and seeing the text pop up. As you can imagine it can be hard to find what you’re looking for at times. I know they wanted to maintain everything from the original game with updated sound and visuals thrown on top, but it would have been nice to see some objects highlighted to improve the games functionality.
Luckily the new hints system goes some way to pointing you in the right direction if you ever get lost. By holding down the X button you can reveal three stages of hints. The first will give you a general idea of what you may need to do; for instance, it may say “maybe you should talk to the prisoner”, or “look for a sword” and so on. The other subsequent stages give you bigger hints until eventually giving you giant arrows to follow. It’s a great system that eliminates some of the frustration that comes with the adventure game genre, and also stops you breaking the experience by searching online for FAQs. You may find yourself relying on it more heavily than you would imagine, but you just need to fight your own willpower in those instances.
It may have been a long time coming but Monkey Island is finally back and just as good as we remember it. It’s disappointing that LucasArts have taken this long to go back to their adventure roots but the quality of product on offer more than makes up for it. The Secret of Monkey Island is still one of the greatest games of all time and this new Special Edition presents it to a new audience with its fantastic production values and hilarious dialogue. There are some problems with the old game design and animation, but the subtle new additions like the hints system make it an easier experience for new players to enjoy. For the old fans that played it back in the day this is the game exactly as you remembered it. There is absolutely nothing stopping you from setting sail once again, so get your crew ready and remember to bring a helmet. Ahoy!
Nine out of ten