When LucasArts released Monkey Island 2 back in December 1991, it occupied no fewer than eleven floppy disks.
For the relatively few IBM PC owners at the time who were fortunate enough to possess hard drives, this presented a one-off challenge. However for the surprisingly large number of Amiga owners who didn't list their official occupation as "octopus", Monkey Island 2 featured one of the craziest disk-swapping marathons available at the time. Sure, you could have bought it on CD, but who had a CD drive back then? They may as well have shipped it by semaphore.
Roll forward to 2010 and even the Special Edition is 1.8GB as a Steam download. To put that into perspective, it's a bit like owning a copy of the original Terminator on VHS, then discovering the newly remastered extended version comes with an entire movie theatre to watch it in.
What is obvious from the outset though is the bulk of this additional space is taken up with the wonderfully redrawn scenery and animation, along with cleverly introduced menu systems, tutorials and guides. LucasArts have spared no expense in capturing the essence of their original game, and presenting it to a new generation intact with the same hilarious dialogue, in-jokes and dark humour that made the original one of the most popular games ever made.
Much like LucasArt's previous remake of the first Monkey Island game in 2009, the story arc in Monkey Island 2: Special Edition remains faithful to the original. Purists will easily slot right into the tale of LeChuck's revenge and the clumsy idiocy of Guybrush Threepwood. From the very first chapter - the Largo Embargo - the puzzles will come flooding back, even if the solutions don't. It's a testament to the determination of early game adopters that anyone made it though some of them without google.com.
Included in the Special Edition is the expert commentary from creator Ron Gilbert, as well as programmers Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. This can be activated at predetermined times to reveal the three discussing exactly how the current scene was created, including technical aspects and otherwise intriguing little details that are simply unavailable anywhere else. Some of their dialogue and insight is every bit as hilarious and enjoyable as the game itself, and you'll find yourself torn between listening to the progress of the game, and waiting for a suitable time to listen to the design narration instead.
Making a welcome comeback from the first Special Edition is the ability to switch between the remake and the original. This seamlessly changes the HD-era effects back to what was considered state-of-the-art in 1991. The difference between two decades of development is staggering, to say the least, although it's made more obvious by the larger overall viewing area we use on screens and TV's these days.
It's here too that you can see how effective the new radial interface is. It does ease the interaction between environmental objects and your inventory, but not by a great deal - again showing just how clever the 1991 design was. Indeed, using keyboard shortcuts and a Guybrush-inspired glint in your eye, you can just about outpace the modern interface entirely. It seems that the new design has been subjected to a streamlining effect, which works well to pretty up the game but doesn't really serve to add any new functionality.
Pretty the game is however. The original characters, suffering from a terminal shortage of available resolution have been recreated with extreme attention to detail. Most of the animation quirks that were no doubt due to colour, depth of field and pixel limitations have been copied across, yet somehow seem to retain their own personality in the process. From the crazy French Chef swinging a cleaver to Wally the hard-done-by Cartographer surrounded by stacks of paper, the attention lavished on accuracy is heartwarming.
It's not without problems however. The old iMUSE sound system, which delicately transitioned background music from one location to another is entirely absent from both the HD remake and the classic mode (despite a lengthy developer commentary on the benefits of iMUSE right at the beginning of the game). Gone too is the original cinematic intro with the dancing monkeys. I have no idea why LucasArts couldn't incorporate this - they've missed a beautiful opportunity to show a seamless change from 1991 to 2010 and really show just how much work has gone into this remake.
Another disappointing gaffe is the prompt system for the developer commentary. As soon as a scene is loaded that has an associated commentary, the prompt will appear - but by this stage, you still need to listen to the action in the game to figure out how to proceed. This means you either listen to the commentary over the top of the game, you skip the commentary, or you reload the scene and play the commentary and the game one at a time. A far better way to approach it would be to include a "developer diary", where perhaps these audio commentaries could be stored as soon as they were unlocked, and therefore were available to be played at leisure.
It's minor annoyances like this that are undeserving of Monkey Island, and should have been approached with more care, and indeed, respect.
Still, this is Monkey Island 2 remade, and I'm certainly not complaining. It's an excellent chance to relive the heady days of the point-and-click adventure, where games were written with intelligence, humour and precision rather than large explosions and endless DLC. It's also a good opportunity to introduce a new generation to the genre, and whether you prefer XBL, PSN or Steam, it's dead cheap. Grab it now.
Oh and LucasArts, time to get started on that Grim Fandango remake, thanks.