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The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Release Date: July 15, 2009


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XBLA/PC Preview - 'The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition'

by Chris "Atom" DeAngelus on June 27, 2009 @ 9:18 a.m. PDT

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a completely re-imagined version of the original that adds updated high definition graphics, a re-mastered musical score, and full voiceover to the classic adventure game originally launched in 1990.

Adventure games are a bit of a niche genre. Compared to many other games, they focus on crafting an interesting and enjoyable story and don't require a tremendous amount of natural skill to play. Some adventure games take themselves incredibly seriously, such as the classic CD-ROM title, Myst, but the titles that are most fondly remembered by gamers are ones that had a sense of humor, such as Grim Fandango and Sam & Max, which are infinitely quotable and fun to replay. The Secret of Monkey Island was one of the best of the '90s-era adventure games for exactly this reason. Its top-notch humor makes it a memorable and fun game to play, even to this day. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition aims to bring this classic title to the Xbox 360 for the first time, complete with updated visuals and brand-new voice acting.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition puts players into the shoes of the friendly, if slightly dull-witted, pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood. He washes up on the shores of Mêlée Island, a small Caribbean isle swarming with pirates. Guybrush promptly tries to earn his way into a pirate crew and is forced to undergo a series of trials to prove his worth. Before long, his adventure spirals out of control, and Guybrush ends up having to thwart the evil schemes of the legendary ghost pirate LeChuck in order to save his newfound lady love. Along the way, he'll travel to ridiculous locations, encounter a host of even more ridiculous characters, and maybe even learn how to be a real pirate.

Playing The Secret of Monkey Island is fairly simple. Players use a small pointer to guide Guybrush around the many varied environments in the game. Pressing the A button on a location causes him to move there, and pressing the B button on an object will cause him to interact with the item. For example, pressing B on a door opens or closes it, and pressing B on a person initiates a conversation with him or her.

However, like all SCUMM games, sometimes the default isn't the obvious answer. Pressing the left trigger brings up the game's verb menu, which has nine different verbs you can use: Close, Give, Look at, Open, Pick Up, Pull, Push, Talk to and Use. To interact with the game world, you select a verb menu option, use it on an object, and if you can interact with it, Guybrush will do it, often resulting in some humorous situations. Some of these interactions are necessary to advance the plot, while others exist just to trigger silly jokes.

In addition to your verbs, Guybrush also has an inventory, which is activated with the right trigger. Most of the things you pick up in the game go right in here, regardless of how silly or pointless they seem. When the right time comes, you can use the items in your inventory to solve puzzles. You can even combine items in the inventory to form new items. Be prepared for some seriously strange stuff here, however, and if you want to figure out how to best use the items, you'll have to think outside the box.  Let's just say that you'll probably never think of a rubber chicken in the same way after playing The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island is built around solving strange puzzles. There are only a handful of moments in the game where you have to be quick on your feet, and only one point in the entire game where it is possible to die, and even that requires intentional effort on the player's behalf. It's basically impossible to fail the game at any point. Your focus is entirely on figuring out what to do next, which generally involves going from area to area, collecting items, talking to the various wacky inhabitants of the world, and using the various clues you get from these conversations to figure out the next step in your adventure. Sometimes the path is clear and simple, and sometimes it involves a bit of creative thinking.

This is all wildly fun is because of The Secret of Monkey Island's top-notch writing. The game is witty, clever and funny at almost every turn. If you've never played it before, do yourself a favor and go in blind. Try to experiment with everything, and use the hints only if you're utterly flabbergasted. There are quite a few hidden jokes, which you'll only find by poking around or doing the wrong thing.  However, for gamers who don't enjoy the wandering elements of The Secret of Monkey Island, the title features a three-tiered hint system. Holding the X button gives you a hint, holding it again gives you a more detailed hint, and holding it a third time will tell you what you need to do, including adding a glowing yellow arrow over important objects or locations. If you ever get stuck, a hint is only a button press away. First-time players may not want to rely on this overly much, since the hints cause you to skip a lot of the game's humorous conversations and text.

The big change to The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is that the game has been given a complete makeover. All of the game's graphics have been redone, with new high-quality animated sprites and improved environments. All of the character artwork has been redrawn in the Curse of Monkey Island art style, which gives the game a slightly more cartoonish feel, but it looks fantastic. The soundtrack has also been completely remastered. In addition, voice acting has been added to the game, with a number of major actors from Curse of Monkey Island returning to voice the previously unspoken lines. For those who want the traditional The Secret of Monkey Island experience, fret not. Pressing the Back button on the Xbox 360 controller will instantly switch the game back to the 256-color CD-ROM version. This is a complete switch, which turns off the voice acting and brings back the old verb bar and classic music. (You still can use the hint system in the traditional mode, though.) You can switch back and forth between the 1992 and 2009 versions at will, which is a great way to experience the difference between the two iterations.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a straightforward port of the classic adventure game. The visuals have been updated, but everything else is basically identical. This is in no way a bad thing, as The Secret of Monkey Island has some of the most clever and hilarious writing ever seen in a video game, and the wild cast of characters remains memorable even to this day. Fans of the franchise will most certainly want to pick up The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, if just to see the improved visuals and hear the quality voice acting. Newcomers may want to be a bit more hesitant, as adventure games can be an acquired taste. If you're willing to take the risk, you'll find one of the cleverest games waiting for you.


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