Ron Gilbert. Tim Shafer. Dave Grossman. Steve Purcell. All four of these names are familiar to fans of the adventure genre, and all four of them worked on a game released in 1990 for LucasArts, The Secret of Monkey Island. While the four have since gone on to do other things since their days at LucasArts, all have been prolific with work at Double Fine, Hothead, Humongous, and Telltale Games among others. LucasArts has revived the Secret of Monkey Island, one of the first collaborations of all of these great minds, now with redone graphics, full voice acting, and a remastered score. Has it stood the test of time? Yes, it’s still the great game it was when it was released almost twenty years ago, but the remake’s not exactly perfect.
Players take control of Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate!–or at least Guybrush Threepwood, Pirate Wannabe–in his quest to, well, be a pirate. Guybrush discovers that most of the pirates are staying on Mêlée Island™ and are afraid to go to sea because of the dread pirate LeChuck. LeChuck, now a ghost after being told off by Elaine Marley, his unrequited love and governor of Mêlée Island™, has been trolling the waters between Mêlée Island™ and Monkey Island™ and keeping any of the other pirates from going to sea. Ultimately, LeChuck kidnaps Elaine, who has fallen in love with Guybrush, and it’s up to the incompetent pirate to find a way to save her. The plot itself is pretty shoestring, but the dialogue is great; and most importantly, it is very, very funny.
More important than the story itself is how the lines of dialogue are delivered, and Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition gives players presentation in spades. Players who want the classic, no-frills version of the game can play that or swap to the redone version by simply tapping the back button. The Special Edition features full voice overs with some returning cast members from The Curse of Monkey Island and the remastered score. The voice actors all do an absolutely wonderful job and it truly feels like it’s the way the game should have been delivered the first time around. The remastered score is great, as well, and the staff at LucasArts really has done a fantastic job making it feel like a brand new game.
The other major change in the Special Edition is the graphics, all of which are hand-drawn, and do a fantastic job of both looking good for modern audiences but keeping in line with the classic art style of the original. Not only have all the character models and environments been re-done, but the close-ups of characters have been re-drawn as well, including the Loom guy and the dog from the SCUMM Bar. This, combined with the new voice acting, makes good characters like Stan become fantastic characters. The new graphics are all top-quality, but they also give a slight issue to the interface in the game, the only part of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition that’s not quite right.
In completely re-drawing the graphics, LucasArts has removed both the verb block and inventory screen from plain view, instead presenting players with a cursor with a symbol in it, which can be modified either with the d-pad or a menu accessible via the left trigger. Inventory is accessible via the right trigger, but can only be navigated using the analog stick, not the d-pad, as the d-pad will change the action to be used on the item. It would have been nice had LucasArts included a way to use the classic control scheme with the updated graphics, or to hear the voice acting with the classic graphics. Still, the control scheme works for the most part, and a common action (usually open) will be mapped to the B button. The only time the control scheme was anything more than a slight hassle was when dealing with one of the puzzles on Mêlée Island™ that required time-based juggling between items in Guybrush’s inventory, but it doesn’t take anything away from the game.
All of the puzzles and gameplay in the game are absolutely solid and it proves that it doesn’t matter when an adventure game is produced, but the quality of the staff behind it. Gameplay itself is kept intact from the CD-ROM version of the game, which removed some extraneous verbs from the verb table. There’s not a whole lot to explain about the gameplay, as, like many old LucasArts SCUMM titles, it’s become pretty much the standard for the genre at this point. There are some things that have become streamlined since then, especially when it comes to the game determining what to do with a specific item, but it’s still solid adventure gameplay at its core. The puzzles are interesting and varied, and as with most adventure titles, there is no wrong answer anywhere and Guybrush can’t die. Those who haven’t played the game before and who won’t use the added hint system–which is a godsend in and of itself–will get a good ten or more hours out of the game, but even those (like myself) revisiting the game, there’s at least five hours of gameplay.
What it comes down to is that The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the great games in the adventure genre: like Maniac Mansion, King’s Quest, or Sam and Max Hit the Road. With LucasArts providing this remake for a mere ten dollars, there is no excuse for any gamer not to have this in their library. There might be newer games with better graphics and new gameplay elements, but there’s a reason you probably knew at least one of the guys listed at the beginning of the review: they make great games. With all of them having worked on this world-class title, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition would be worth twice the price that LucasArts is asking for it, even if it didn’t have spiffy new graphics and great voice acting.