REVIEWS -- Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (The) -- PC
Getting funky like a monkey
by Mark Medeiros
Fun factor: Average
Worth to: Buy
Secret of Monkey Island brings the ha-ha, but it also brings an abundance of the point-click.
I quickly found myself relating to Guybrush Threepwood’s voyage into the mysterious and deadly Monkey Island. I was also venturing to a strange and foreign land; that being the forsaken territory of the point and click adventure genre. I’ve always preferred the dry lands of the consoles over the PC’s treacherous waters and torrential system requirements. So this review for Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition may come off as a bit naïve, like I’m way out of my league by trying to review this mystical series of games that I don’t fully comprehend. But I’d like to think that if people only reviewed games in genres they liked then every major game would get a near-perfect score. Plus I’m sick of reviewing Mega Mans.
Guybrush Threepwood is the main hero of the Monkeyverse. After seeing Johnny Depp’s career-defining performance as a drunken pirate, he aspires to follow in the actor’s footsteps and become a renowned swashbuckler. Mr. Threepwood’s problem is that he weighs about 90 lbs, so he won’t be able to fight adversaries to make his dream happen, let alone attempt manual labor. So he’ll have to talk, give, use, pull, push, look and walk his way through exotic locales in order to rescue the governor from the gruff ghost pirate LeChuck.
The microphone assassin
The dialogue is fantastic. In fact, it could be said that you should play this game just to hear some of the dialogue trees that Guybrush will have with many of the game’s unlikely characters. Pirates, pirates, dogs, pirates, and plenty of other strange characters walk around, spoofing all aspects of piratology. Unlike many of today’s RPGs that offer the same branching tree conversation system (something that a certain Bioware game wasn’t Massively Effective at), you’ll actually want to select every conversation option that presents itself, in the name of gawking at the wacky response.
The player is given the option to “look” at any given object and hear Guybrush throw his single line of social commentary on the chicken with a pulley in the middle. The Special Edition features some great voice acting, with particular kudos to an over-dramatic narrator that would fit in perfectly announcing Rocky and Bullwinkle. I know this is as redundant as saying the dialogue in a Quentin Tarantino film is imitating Reservoir Dogs, but I couldn’t help but play Monkey Island and be reminded of Tim Shaeffer’s more recent work of genius in Psychonauts.
In fact, it quickly got to the point where the snappy liners were the only reason I was playing through the game. As if this whole game aspect was but an inconvenience for the real fun.
Perhaps it’s the years of Mega Manisms teaching me that a video game involves you throwing yellow balls at high speeds at things with big eyes while avoiding their yellow balls. But the gameplay here left me feeling nothing short of… understimulated. Most of the actual controlling involves dressing up your analog stick like a mouse and moving a cursor over the objects you want to interact with or the ground you wish to power-walk through. One shoulder button is designated to phoning up the inventory menu, with the other dragging in the possible commands menu, presenting a list of ways for you to toy with the environment, not that the environment has many toys to toy with. A lot of the time, I’d find myself combing the mouse cursor all over the screen, searching for objects like lice, that the game recognized as not just part of the background art. And then once I found the insects in question, I’d have to rub what I hoped was the right item in my pouch (or otherwise, rub up every item against it) in hopes that it was the correct item to advance the plot.
Riddle me this, riddle me that
That about sums up the gameplay part of Monkey Island. If it’s not trying to figure out the game’s twisted logic in regards to how to make certain items dance, then it’s trying to figure out which branch in a conversation tree to clip in order to make certain people say what I want them to say. Or which hidden path in a maze to take. I understand that this kind of game is meant to rack your noggin with puzzles, but is perversely rubbing every object against every part of the scenery considered true puzzle-solving?
And even puzzles that aren’t completely trinket-related will require you to outguess the game’s random sense of humor. For example, the game believes that a sword fight is won not by skill but by your ability to throw and counter within an exchange of insults. How Mike Tyson wishes this was true. To defeat the mighty Sword Master and earn the title of skilled swordsman or wordsman (a skill you’ll never use in the game again), you’ll need to learn a series of counter-insults. Learning these insults involves walking around the overworld, engaging in random battles with pirates like they were Pokemon in a grass field, throwing out an insult and hoping they respond with the correct counter, as opposed to “I am rubber and you are glue.”
Once you think you’ve grinded up enough insults (Grind! In an adventure game!) you test your might against the Sword Master, who throws a completely new set of mockeries at you. The only way to figure out which of your counters will work against her new insults is either through a long and troublesome trial and error period or to just look up the answers on the internet.
This special edition saved my life with the Hint feature; hold the X button once and the game will give a nudge in the direction of where you should be going. Do it again and the game will angrily point an arrow at where the hell you should be now; while this doesn’t work against the Sword Master, I frequently leaned on this button like a crutch to save myself the inconvenience of squinting at every screen, looking at what to do next. The game already has a great deal of meddlesome backtracking (especially in the first chapter) when you’ve got an arrow telling you where to go; I’d shudder to think of all the time I’d spend wandering around every store counter or patch of jungle looking for interactive aspects to toy with if I didn’t have the arrow. Hell, there were actually quite a few doors and hidden paths that I wouldn’t have found without loyal arrow. Hence, I quickly lost faith in my ability to care about solving the game’s puzzles and just found myself holding the X button in the name of progressing. As far as I’m concerned, that arrow is what saved the governor.
I enjoyed playing Monkey Island for the laughs, but it’s the game part of the danged game that I was annoyed with. And really, should the video game part of a video game feel like the real inconvenience? Longtime Adventure gamers will most likely appreciate this game the most, especially with the feature to freely press the Back button to switch between the revised graphics and the original game’s pixilated glory. But I couldn’t help but feel like this style of gameplay fell out of prominence for a good reason. And unless this Help button makes its presence known in other adventure games, then I’m as good as done with this genre.
Release Date: July 15, 2009
Review Date: 19-08-2009
Numbers of Players: 1
Players Online: No
Notes: Downloadable Game, 1080i Support
Characters are appropriately cartoonish and the game has the “MS Paint-designed art in High Definition” look that it’s perhaps striving for. The option to switch between the old and new graphics on a whim makes the deal.
You drag a cursor around, clicking on things and trying to make sense out of the game’s odd logic. If you weren’t a fan of this genre before, this game won’t convert you.
Whimsical story that pokes fun of pirate culture takes itself about as seriously as a game called “Monkey Island” should. Which is to say, not at all.
Exceptional voice acting and a few catchy songs. You’ll want to explore every dialogue tree presented.
You may have a fond place in your heart for the game when it’s all said and done, but you may never want to play it again.