There aren’t many games like this out there. As far as adventure series go, few can match Lucas Arts’ 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. Here’s my review.
On a particularly fateful day, young pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood sailed out to the ruffian-infested city of Mêlée 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 Mêlée 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 life… or perhaps he was motivated more by his quest for…
THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND!!!
If you’ve ever played a Lucas Arts point ‘n’ click adventure game, you’ll 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. It’s 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, it’s 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 can’t 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 it’s 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 ‘em 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. It’s an immature and entertaining addition to an already well-made game.
Of course, it was made in the year 1990, so don’t expect the greatest graphical presentation you’ve ever seen. In fact, get ready to shield your eyes at some of the “special effects” (wavy lines that kind of look like smoke) or the “lighting magic” (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 characters’ 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 that’s 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 aren’t in the game. Sadly, the sounds didn’t hold up so well and are so vague and hard to come by that they aren’t 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 can’t 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 haven’t 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. It’s almost entirely mouse operated, with the only exception being saving, and another nice touch is a light-up feature for any available options. It’s a very nice layout that isn’t bogged down with complexity.
The Secret of Monkey Island isn’t perfect. It’s ugly, it’s primitive, and it’s a bit too small. However, it successfully started an amazing cult series for good reason and it’s a great way to waste a few days. Also, it starts a few inside jokes in the later games that you’ll only understand if you see them here. It’s a collector’s item and a classic, plus it’s available with its first sequel on one CD in Monkey Island Madness. Definitely worth going bananas over.
Hey, did you really think I wouldn’t include at least one corny monkey joke?