The team of Ron Gilbert (Deathspank, Maniac Mansion), Tim Schafer (Psychonauts, Brutal Legend), and Dave Grossman (Sam & Max Seasons 1 and 2, Pajama Sam) is a team the likes of which will never be seen in gaming again. The trio created the Monkey Island series, one of the most heralded adventure series ever seen. These developers created not one, but two games with fantasic story, great setting and dialogue, and just an overall wittiness to them. Last year, LucasArts took that first title and gave it a complete makeover for a modern release. About a year later, we see this release, which takes their second title and duplicates the makeover process, bringing in brilliant new audio and graphics. LucasArts went one step further with this release, adding Mystery Science Theater 3000-esque commentary from the development trio. You take all of these improvements and place it all at a $10 price point, and you have a title that adventure fans shouldn’t miss.
The core of Monkey Island is the SCUMM core of twelve verb interactions with objects and people, something that has become the standard in the adventure genre. As such, it’s unnecessary to go over the basics, as if you’re reading this website, chances are you’ve played an adventure game before. Where there is a difference is that for those playing the game on a console, the control scheme is quite different. Original PC players had a ‘block’ of verbs that made it easy to choose what you wanted to do with the mouse, and LucasArts has done a better job in this title to allow players to better control what they can do. Rather than use the first Special Edition’s control scheme, which set the types of actions a player could do to the D-Pad, Monkey Island 2 has players hold the right trigger and select what they want to do to a particular object. All of these actions are filtered by the type of object the player is interacting with, so you’ll never be trying to talk to the wad of spit on the wall. It’s certainly better, but it’s not ideal; I still want a mouse and a verb block, but there’s far less to complain about this time around, control-wise.
Controls aside, the core gameplay is the same, and it is a quality title. There’s been some improvment in the genre since this game was released, so there are some puzzles that feel archaic. There’s a lot of back-tracking, which I’m not particularly fond of, especially a puzzle on Scabb Island where you need to trap a rat; the string to set off the trap is not in a place one would expect it to be. Things like that aside, Monkey Island 2 is solid in this aspect, but those who never played the title the first time around might find themselves stuck without use of the help system. The help system does have some glitches, though. In a puzzle to obtain the clothing of Largo, the de-facto despot leader of Scabb Island, I had forgotten how to complete the puzzle. Repeated queries to the help system, whose hints are supposed to get more and more specific the more times they are requested, would not give me the answer to the problem at hand. It was more than a little frustrating, but, still, it’s incredibly nice to have an in-game hint system at all. Combine that with the object highlighter that shows you what objects you can interact with, and impatient players will mostly not have to refer to a walkthrough to complete the game.
The biggest changes to the Special Edition of the title come in its aesthetics. Even compared to the original Monkey Island: Special Edition, LeChuck’s Revenge has some gorgeous graphics. Guybrush animates more smoothly, other character models look better, the environments are more detailed and stylized, and even the overworld seems to be a little bit more detailed. I thought it was just the fact that I’d played the original Special Edition in standard definition, but even going back and swapping between the two, LeChuck’s Revenge certainly wins the graphics battle. The game’s audio is also top-notch, with new voice acting and a completely redone score. All of the players are brilliant and even minor characters like Wally the Cartographer play their roles well.
All of that audio fosters some of the best dialogue and story that the genre has ever seen. Guybrush and his repartee are absolutely brilliant alongside a cast that’s just as slapstick and absurd as he is. Not to spoil anything (as if it’s not obvious by the game’s title), but the title follows Guybrush as he fights against LeChuck, whom he defeated in the first game. The core story is fairly straightforward, but it’s all of the little things in dialogues and puzzles that make the game worthwhile. Alongside the new audio and visuals comes something that I would like to see more games take advantage of: a commentary track.
During certain scenes in gameplay, if the option is enabled, players can tap the left bumper to get commentary from the creators about the game. Those who are truly interested in gaming and the adventure genre will find certain things, like the discussion of iMUSE music, to be fascinating. More casual fans will like the discussion of some of how some of the jokes came about. It’s a fantastic concept, although I really would have liked a video walkthrough of the game with just one commentary about the game and its puzzles. Don’t get me wrong, the commentary track is fantastic, although first-timers won’t want to listen to many of them, as they overlap with the story sequences of the game.
All-in-all, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge is a worthy purchase for fans of the adventure genre, comedic games, or anything that’s come afterward from Hothead, Telltale, or Double Fine. It’s true that I don’t like the excessive backtracking and certain obtuse puzzles, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that this game is worth far more than its $10 price tag. It’s better than the great majority of modern adventure titles, although it still falls short of Day of the Tentacle, my personal favorite. Still, until a Special Edition of that comes around, this is far more than simply a good hold-over: it’s a must-have.