There arenít many games like this out there. As far as adventure series go, few can match Lucas Artsí Monkey Island games in fame and none can match it in primate-related hilarity. Even in this, its most primitive form, The Secret of Monkey Island is a wonderful title that any vintage PC gamer should hunt down if possible. Of course, you should read on first to find out why. Hereís my review.
On a particularly fateful day, young pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood sailed out to the ruffian-infested city of MÍlťe Island. Even though he lacked courage, brains, physical strength, and a proper understanding of pirate lingo, he knew that some day he would be a fearsome pirate, and thus his spirits were high when he set foot on the looter-friendly soil.
However, young Threepwood was in for quite a surprise. His trip to MÍlťe soon became a quest of unspeakable amazement as a chain of events led him to mysterious Monkey Island. There, he battled forces far beyond the understanding of mortal men using unlikely tools and resources, all for the love of his lifeÖ or perhaps he was motivated more by his quest forÖ
THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND!!!
If youíve ever played a Lucas Arts point Ďní click adventure game, youíll be able to jump right into this one. As you control our puny protagonist Guybrush, you must collect nearly every piece of garbage you come across, no matter how unrelated to your task it may be, and then use it during your quest to solve puzzles and bypass obstacles. Whether this means using a rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle to get past the ::spoiler:: or finding a use for a red herring, you must use your set of nine or twelve verbs (depending on which version you play) in every way possible on everything along your path.
Now, while most adventure games try to maintain some level of dignity in their puzzles, this one holds back nothing. Itís filled with silly slapstick at every turn and packs as much monkey-themed lunacy in as possible. Sadly, the game is kind of short, but it does manage to provide a very nice experience while it lasts. Also, itís difficulty level should get you stuck once or twice, though usually not long enough to get annoying. And, of course, if you go wimp, you can always check out a walkthrough for it.
One of the points that can be taken as either good or bad is that you really canít get yourself killed. While this allows you to try out any option without fear of reprisal, it also costs the game one of the greatest aspects of adventure games: hilarious death scenes. However, a definite plus is that itís entirely impossible to wind up missing a vital item and having to restart your entire game for one mistake. Even when a needed item is destroyed, it reappears exactly where you found it.
There is an interesting side game thrown in as well. At one point, you must take a sword-fighting test, and while sword fighting requires skill and strength foremost, you learn that the true swordsman also uses his razor sharp wit to psyche out his opponent. To train, you have to fight pirates, listening to (and learning) their insults and then swinging Ďem right back at the guy. You also get the chance to counter their insults with a witty counter of your own, gaining these after having them used on you, some of which I hope to get to use someday. Itís an immature and entertaining addition to an already well-made game.
Of course, it was made in the year 1990, so donít expect the greatest graphical presentation youíve ever seen. In fact, get ready to shield your eyes at some of the ďspecial effectsĒ (wavy lines that kind of look like smoke) or the ďlighting magicĒ (objects changing color). However, even in the face of unlikely odds, this game does have a few goodies for your eyes, including a three-headed monkey, a talking tattoo, various creative backgrounds in the tropics, and a cute little idol made by Lemonhead the cannibal. Also, there are occasional cut scenes that show the charactersí faces up close and provide a bit more detail. One is just plain nasty, but the rest are a nice bonus.
While the graphics were weakened by age, the music held up admirably. Combining a fine mixture of funky reggae with pirate sea shanties and island rhythms, this is definitely not your usual musical fare. It does get a bit repetitive, and the sound quality is lacking, but thatís what you get from ancient MIDI. However, an audio CD is included with one of the two game versions, including a few new songs as well that arenít in the game. Sadly, the sounds didnít hold up so well and are so vague and hard to come by that they arenít usually worth hearing.
While the last two features were good, the story is exquisite. This game is truly great for this reason alone. The characters are unique, if predictable, the text is without error due to lack of translation, and the dialogue they use is flawless. The jokes, the puns, and the plays on words flow like wine, and you canít help but grin a few times along the way. Its only weakness would be that it's a bit corny at times, lacking the polish that later games in the series have. Adding replay value to it all is the fact that as you talk to people, you receive many options every time, and unless you choose every possible line, you havenít finished. Of course, the extra ending also adds another play through to it, but even without that I doubt I could have gone through just once.
Finally, we have the controls. Itís almost entirely mouse operated, with the only exception being saving, and another nice touch is a light-up feature for any available options. Itís a very nice layout that isnít bogged down with complexity.
The Secret of Monkey Island isnít perfect. Itís ugly, itís primitive, and itís a bit too small. However, it successfully started an amazing cult series for good reason and itís a great way to waste a few days. Also, it starts a few inside jokes in the later games that youíll only understand if you see them here. Itís a collectorís item and a classic, plus itís available with its first sequel on one CD in Monkey Island Madness. Definitely worth going bananas over.
Hey, did you really think I wouldnít include at least one corny monkey joke?