What comes to mind when you hear the words "Monkey Island"? If it's nostalgia for one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games of the early '90s, then The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was made specifically for you. This title is the latest HD remake of an old game to hit the market, and as far as I'm concerned, if the price is reasonable, these HD remakes are a welcome addition to the gaming world.
What we have here is a perfect re-creation of The Secret of Monkey Island, replacing the pixelated and text-heavy style of the early '90s iteration with sleek HD sprites, full voice work, updated music and a head's-up display that doesn't consume half of the screen at any given time. For anyone feeling the need to replay the old classic, this is easily the best way to go, and for any newcomer, the game still stands as a fine point-and-click adventure.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition puts you in the shoes of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood as a newcomer to Melee Island, which is a haven of sorts to pirates. The story touches on just about every single pirate stereotype you can think of, including swordfights, saving the damsel in distress and cannibalistic natives. Supporting the adventure is a wonderful sense of humor that will keep you laughing through your entire journey, and while the story isn't particularity inspired, the writing and bizarre puzzle solutions will keep most players going until the grand finale.
Odds are that most players will be able to finish the game in six to eight hours, and if players are ever stuck, there's a lovely little hint button that tells you in large green text what you should try to do next. Unfortunately, as a point-and-click adventure, side quests are virtually non-existent; I can only think of one that manages to change the ending a bit, and even then, it only altered a few lines of speech. You also won't find any replay value here, simply due to the nature of a point-and-click adventure. Once you know how to solve a puzzle, the sense of mystery vanishes into thin air.
The biggest noticeable change is the graphics. Gone are the 256-color palette and low-resolution drawings, and in their place are rich, vibrant HD graphics. However, something that may bug fans is a dramatic change in the art style. Characters have a significantly more cartoonish appearance about them, which fits the game because it can get quite absurd at times. The change was likely made to give the game a similar appearance as Tales of Monkey Island, the series reboot that is currently being released in episodic form on the PC and Wii.
The new look suits the game, but somewhere along the way, somebody forgot to make some of the animations look good. They generally look fine, but you'll occasionally see some incredibly choppy-looking animations, which really stand out like a sore thumb when compared to how great the rest of the title looks. All signs point to the developers trying to re-create the original title frame by frame, but while you could get away with bad animations in the 1990s, it looks pretty bad to use that same animation on a shiny new sprite in 2009. The walking animation for most characters is also pretty shoddy, with characters sliding all over the place. There was one instance late in the game when I saw a character turn around and walk off the screen without ever moving his legs. These little problems start to pile up and take away from the initial beauty of this HD remake.
If the game's new look and feel bothers you to the point that you want to turn it off, simply press the F10 key to toggle between the HD and classic modes. The switch is completely seamless and allows players to play Monkey Island at any time, both as it was back in the early '90s and as it has been reimagined in 2009.
Monkey Island's audio reworking is almost perfect. The music has been taken out of the era of MIDI bleeps and bloops and into the modern realm of a full orchestra backing. It's not something that people are going to remember as an amazing soundtrack, but it does its job pretty dang well. The biggest audio update by far is the inclusion of voice actors. The original title relied entirely on text to deliver the story, and the dramatic switch to total voice work was necessary for this remake to work, and it's been executed nearly flawlessly. From the used boat salesman Stan to the cannibals, almost every voice actor delivers a fantastic performance, with only a few lines here and there sounding a little off.
The final big change is the handling of the game's interface. The original title devoted about half of the screen to commands and inventory. Monkey Island: Special Edition fixes this by keeping these commands off-screen and the inventory only pops up when a button is pressed. While the new inventory handling is fantastic, the handling of the command structure leaves something to be desired. In the original title, there were roughly nine commands at your disposal at any given time. Monkey Island: Special Edition tries to map all of these to three mouse buttons and some keyboard strokes that nobody is going to remember (i.e., the Pull command is mapped to the S key on the keyboard).
As a picture-perfect remake of the original title, the game doesn't teach you how to use the command system. This makes sense, since the original title had every command at your disposal on-screen at any given time. Then I realized that scrolling the middle mouse wheel allows you scroll through the commands and remap what the left mouse button does. Changing commands is really a matter of luck, unfortunately. The game will usually map the suggested command to the right mouse button, but before I discovered the middle mouse button's functionality, there were several instances when I reverted back to the classic mode to solve a puzzle because I found that head's-up display easier to work with. That's not to say the new system is bad; it's an admirable effort to try and condense it, but without providing any instruction on how to use it, it's going to leave many gamers scratching their heads.
That deals with everything that changed in this remake, but what about the actual game itself? Does a point-and-click adventure from the early '90s hold up almost 20 years later? In short, yes. Monkey Island is one of the point-and-click adventures from the glory days of LucasArts adventure games. The original title — alongside greats such as Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit The Road, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis — was one of the best point-and-click games ever released. It had incredible writing, a great sense of humor and managed to craft an amazing experience out of pointing, clicking and watching results. Everything that was great about the game 20 years ago is in this remake, and it's all just as good, if not better than it was then (the added voice work really sells some of the jokes much better than text).
For $10, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a fantastic remake of a classic game. The changes are mostly for the better, and beyond some questionable animations, audio glitches and rather hidden command system, this is truly a fantastic title. If you can get past those flaws and the usual pitfalls, chances are that you'll find something to enjoy. Existing fans will find a well-crafted remake of an old favorite, and new players will find a great point-and-click adventure for a very reasonable price. Even if you only discovered Monkey Island with the recent series reboot, this is a fantastic way to go back and find out how the series began.Score: 8.7/10
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