It wasn’t that long ago that the point-and-click adventure genre was considered good and dead, and remakes or sequels of my favorite LucasArts titles from childhood seemed completely out of the question, a pipe dream that would never come true. Things have changed ever since Telltale launched the Sam & Max episodic series, with LucasArts finally realizing that gamers still really cared about these old games. When The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for the PC and Xbox Live Arcade was officially announced early last month, I could barely believe it. Although it is one of the most beloved adventure games of all time, Monkey Island is a franchise that I am not as familiar with, and I was happy to have a chance to start at the beginning again.
Originally released in 1990 using the now-famous SCUMM engine, The Secret of Monkey Island was a collaboration of revered game designers Dave Grossman, Ron Gilbert, and Tim Schafer. The game was instantly embraced for its entertaining story, funny dialogue, memorable characters, clever puzzles, and inside jokes, the staples of most LucasArts games in the genre. The Secret of Monkey Island went on to spawn a handful of sequels, including the recently-released first episode of Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island. Arguably the most prolific adventure series of all time, Monkey Island features oddly-named protagonist Guybrush Threepwood, an unlikely adventurer dead set on becoming a pirate. During his quest, he encounters Governor Elaine Marley and undead pirate LeChuck, as well as stumbling upon the mysterious titular island.
The story may be almost two decades old, but aside from references to Loom and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, the game really doesn’t feel dated. The writing is still great, and the gameplay is just as addictive as it used to be. If this game had simply been released as it was on Steam, as several other LucasArts classics have been, it would have been worth the price. However, Special Edition really sets this game apart and helps keep it from feeling obsolete for younger gamers who don’t remember when pixilated graphics were the norm. The entire game features new, hand-drawn art, which is beautiful; dialogue that was previously unspoken has been recorded by the voice actors from later Monkey Island games. The orchestral score has also been redone, doing away with the MIDI soundtrack. A great deal of attention has been paid to every detail of the game, and it shows.
For old-school purists—or those who are simply curious—the original game, pixels, MIDI sounds, and all, is also playable with Special Edition. Even better is the fact that gamers can switch between old and new simply by pushing a button, with no load times or menus. I found myself switching back in every environment, fascinated by the transition from artwork to pixels and back again. It is very interesting to see how the original game was interpreted via art, and yet despite the graphical update, Special Edition stays very true to its roots.
Aside from the presentation, the other huge addition to Special Edition is the menu system. Instead of having the game’s commands and items at the bottom of your screen, they are attached to the left and right triggers. This leaves the entire screen uncluttered and clean, allowing you to really enjoy the new artwork, but it is kind of strange to have to go into a menu to choose commands or use items. That being said, it also makes the game feel a bit more console-friendly, which can sometimes be a challenge with this particular genre. A three-tiered hint system has been added as well if you get stuck—no more calling the LucasArts hintline!
The only issue I had with The Secret of Monkey Island is that some items and map locations didn’t stand out, even with the upgraded graphics, making it easy to get stuck without knowing that there was a blatant solution available. Of course, this issue is nineteen years old, and there’s something to be said about LucasArts being true to the original by not making everything obvious. It was a little frustrating having to turn to the hint system because I didn’t know a certain place existed, and once I found out what I was missing I felt kind of dumb. Maybe I’m just rusty, since a trademark of early adventure games was having to scan almost every inch of the screen with the cursor to make sure you weren’t missing anything.
There is really almost nothing to complain about with The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. A dream come true for many gamers of the 1990s, this is a remake done right, with the care and attention this property deserves. In fact, if other adventure games get the same treatment, I would likely re-buy all of them just to experience the new graphics and sounds. For gamers old and young, there is no reason not to buy this; at ten dollars, you’re getting one of the best games of the 90s with beautiful new artwork and the excellent voice acting you would expect. Whether you’re a veteran of Monkey Island or new to adventure games, this is a highly entertaining classic that feels new again.