Mention the words Monkey Island to a PC gamer and chances are they'll turn into a blubbery mess over the fond memories and hours wiled away on the series.
Mention the name to a new-age console gamer and watch them screw up their face in confusion. The Monkey Island series is seen largely as one of the most revolutionary titles in the point-and-click genre, with the original title having been released in 1990. What’s that you say, point and click? In a time that feels so long ago now, this is how many games were played. Other titles like the Leisure Suit Larry series and Day of the Tentacle made use of these kinds of point and click commands.
Use/Push/Pull/Inspect/Talk To are only a few of the commands you can use on the majority of objects in the game to progress and solve puzzles. The genre isn’t completely dead, in recent years we have had titles such as the Penny Arcade episodic content that shares the same control mechanism, as well as the Wallace and Gromit and Sam and Max titles. Monkey Island though is truly the ultimate - the crème-de-la-crème of point and clicks.
In The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition you play Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who seeks his fame in becoming a pirate, and in the pirate way of life. Guybrush comes up against considerable resistance from the likes of the great pirate Le Chuck, and meets other great characters such as Mancomb Seepgood. If you hadn’t guessed it yet, the emphasis in this Special Edition is on humour over all else, and as with the original this comes across beautifully. In fact even better now with the inclusion of voice acting to all the figures in the game. This is done very well, and the developers clearly put a lot of thought into casting the right people for the right roles.
The Special Edition brings back the humour and traditional gameplay of the Monkey Island series with 100% accuracy. Those of you who are expecting a new game, or additional content will be disappointed. But those who either haven’t played the original Monkey Island, or simply love the thought of a trip down memory lane will definitely be satisfied. The graphical overhaul makes the Special Edition a pretty great looking game, with all the characters having been reworked according to the original artwork, thus staying very true to the original intent. The environments have all received an impressive lick of paint, so the entire island of Melee and other areas come to life much more vividly.
This goes down well, and it feels really good to see that the developers have taken an approach of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”. An excellent (and relatively amazing) feature for those hardcore retro buffs - or simply to see how far we’ve come - is by hitting the back button on the controller you can seamlessly and instantaneously shift between the original graphics and sound (i.e. virtually none) and the overhauled version.
One of the highlights of the Monkey Island series, and the Special Edition in particular is the humour. The title is simply laden with jokes and quips that will have you chuckling. Be it the insult sword fighting that you need to master, the characters or Guybrush’s lightning wit, it’s all been recreated lovingly by the developers and comes across in full force with the voice acting. An area though that hasn’t been touched are the puzzles. Some are relatively obscure, as with many point-and-click titles, and require a fair bit of trial and error to combine the right objects with one another and figure out exactly what you need to use them on, and in what order. There is some logic to this, and that’s the saving grace, but sometimes objects are hard to detect in the wider scheme of things as they aren't differentiated from non-usable objects.
This was a problem in the original, so in a way its nice to see it still is, because there is no rectifying it without making some broader changes. Fortunately it's no game-breaker, with the original Monkey Island game being one of the easier of the series. If you really get stuck, holding the X button on the controller will provide you with a hint as to what you should do next.
The controls are another area that have been implemented well, but they could certainly do with some tweaking. Due to the Xbox 360’s terrible D-pad it becomes a real challenge to select actions using the D-pad selector, so you will no doubt resort to hitting the triggers to bring up the action selector, which works fine however its not the fastest of procedures. Not to mention that if you are running through a number of actions to see if an object can be used you need to continually open the action list, then the inventory and then select the object. Over and over again.
Overall The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition has made the original Monkey Island an absolute joy to play over again. This is one of the greatest games of all time and the developers have done it justice. The only real criticism we could come up with is that it would have been nice to have some extra content, even if just some Monkey Island gear for your avatar now that this is a feature in the dash, along with the somewhat finicky controls.
Other than that the humour, the graphical style, the hilarious characters and the bizarre puzzles make this nigh on a perfect remake. This really is a must have for almost any gamer, and it should appeal to a large number of age groups. It's a solid glance into gamings proud past, and we certainly hope that there are many more retro remakes of this calibre on the way.