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I enjoy reflecting upon my experiences with my Granny Molly. She died when I was only eight years old but I have beautiful memories of her tucking me up in bed and telling me brilliant stories about living in wartime Glasgow and the day she was saved by a bowl of porridge (true story). Thinking about her bedtime stories fills me up with a warmth and sentimentality.
The Monkey Island game series transports me back to a similarly innocent and cosy place. It summons up within me a warm nostalgia that goes beyond Pokemon cards, Tamagochis and any other tat that I accumulated during my 90s childhood. When I was a little girl, maybe about five or six years old, I remember sitting on my dad's knee watching him play the terribly grown up game of 'Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck's Revenge.' By today's standards the graphics were quite primitive and pixelated but even so it was pretty to look at. I was mesmerized by it, particularly its detailed close-ups of its characters and its interesting cut-scenes. Sometimes I would try to help my dad solve the puzzles but it was clear that it was above and beyond my five year old intellect. I therefore contented myself by letting my dad work out the game, watching the action play out and meeting all those weird and wonderful characters which Guybrush came across. Through Monkey Island I got to be close to my dad and I was introduced to a fantastical world of pirates and adventure.
'The Secret of Monkey Island' was released by Lucasarts in 1990 and received a positive response from gamers and critics alike. Within gaming history it was quite a breakthrough, particularly due to its humour and gameplay and it is quite often considered one of the best video games of its time, if not all time. I personally believe that Monkey Island's popularity is largely a generational thing, achieving cult-like status amongst small pockets of people around my age and above. I would hardly expect your average 21st gamer to have any clue about Guybrush and co. I was actually delighted to discover that my flatmate, about the same age as me, also shared an appreciation of the game and was the one who alerted me that a revamped special edition had been produced for the Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2. I was particularly interested about playing the Secret of Monkey Island, the first game of the Monkey Island series, as I'd never played it before (My dad only had the second of the series). It was therefore with much excitement and anticipation that I downloaded and began to play this game...
*~I'M GUYBRUSH THREEPWOOD, MIGHTY PIRATE!~*
Whilst I'd never played the first game, the game style and characters are instantly recognizable and I am quickly transported to my nostalgic 'happy place'. The story follows the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood who, in his quest to become a true swashbuckling pirate, becomes tied up in a whole other adventure. He falls for the beautiful and vivacious Elaine Marley, governor of Melee Island. However, not long after their meeting she is snatched away and kidnapped by the zombie pirate LeChuck. LeChuck harbours a sinister, unrequited love for Elaine and Guybrush must save Elaine from the clutches of this evil buccaneer...
I won't mention too much about the story as it is essentially what drives the whole game and if I give too much away I'll ruin it for you. The story itself is brilliant and provides the gamer with a modern twist (or to be precise, 1990 twist) on the romanticized stories of pirates. Set on fictionalized islands within the Caribbean, it is jam packed with 'piratey' and paranormal themes, as you come across fellow pirates, a voodoo queen and some other rather colourful characters.
The characters have great personalities. They don't merely serve as instruments of the story to help Guybrush progress through the game - they ARE the story. Guybrush himself plays the goofy underdog who, you can never really be convinced is a true pirate, but his lovable and quirky character means that you champion him all the way through. Elaine on the other hand is feisty, fiery and strong willed and although Guybrush feels the need to rescue her you do wonder if she really needs saving. Or maybe she does? LeChuck is a rather dastardly villain. Undead and formidable, he has managed to frighten pirates into joining circus troupes just to avoid sailing the Caribbean seas.
The assortment of characters Guybrush comes across throughout the game are an absolute joy. There is Stan. He sells second-hand boats to the pirates and has the persona of a pushy if good natured used car salesman. He's quite annoying but makes up for this with the humorous conversations he has with Guybrush as he tries to force his sales patter down his throat. Larger than life, I could always imagine someone like Jim Carrey playing him in a life action version of the game.
My favourite supporting character has to be the Voodoo Lady. Ever since I sat on my dad's lap and watched him play the game I have adored this creepy fortune teller. The Voodoo lady is an exotic and mysterious character who provides portents, offers Guybrush rather vague information and generally frightens the crap out of him...
*~HOLY MONKEY BLADDERS IT'S MONKEY ISLAND!~*
The characters, story and dialogue of this special edition version of this game are exactly the same as the original but it seems that everything else has been given the 21st century treatment.
One of the changes that is most striking are the revamped graphics. As I've suggested before the old style graphics of this game were really quite pretty for the technology available at the time. The attention to detail was great, the stars twinkled and there seemed to be so much life in those pixelated characters and backdrops. The revamped version takes these charming scenes and turns them into breathtaking pieces of art. I spent a good amount of my first ten minutes of the game ooo-ing and aaa-ing at the artwork. The skies not only still have those twinkly stars but now have swirley 'Van Gogh' clouds. There are also complex additions here and there like ships and other little things which the old gaming technology would have been unable to support. It's really very beautiful to look at and I must applaud those who redesigned the game. They have made it look quite stunning without departing too much from the original designs.
The best thing about this special edition is that by pushing 'F10' you can switch between the old version of the game and the new version and see just how different both versions are. Not only have the graphics changed but so have the sounds. When you speak to other characters you can not only view the lines of dialogue but you can actually hear them. They have brought in voice artists such as Dominic Armato as Guybrush who has worked on the newer Monkey Island games. His upbeat and distinctive voice really brings this character to life.
The gameplay of the Secret of Monkey Island remains very much the same. It is still a click and point adventure game with the same verb commands as before. You must use these commands upon characters and objects in order to solve the many puzzles you need to complete to progress through the game. I'd like to think that now I'm no longer five years old that I am now big and smart enough to work these puzzles out. However, the game can be quite challenging at times. Not so challenging as to force you to throw in the towel but challenging nonetheless. Each scenario which you come across forces you to think outside the box. Every conversation you have and every object you come across must be regarded as potentially useful. The game is all about being curious and inquisitive and taking into consideration things you may not have thought were important. After all, who ever thought a rubber chicken would have its uses?
In the new version, they have introduced a hints button to help you out when you really do get stuck. If you press 'h' it gives you a tip on what you need to do next. I sort of feared that this meant that the game had been dumbed down a bit but I would be a liar if I said I did not use that button at some point in the game. Whilst it gives you a great sense of achievement to work out the puzzles all by yourself, the hints button stops you from hitting your noggin against any palm trees when you do feel a little bit stuck.
Now it's is normally quite easy enough to use the verb buttons within the game. In the old version the verb menu and inventory are part of the screen. In the new version, they have got rid of this clutter so you can enjoy the full widescreen experience and only bring up these menus when you need to use them. This only caused one problem and that was when I was trying to combine items in the inventory. Screaming at my computer scream, I did have a small fit when, after several attempts I was unable to combine two items during a timed activity. It was only when I changed over to the old version with the old graphics that I found that I was able to do so. Apart from this niggle, the game play is generally smooth...
As with the original, you rely on working out the puzzles by having conversations with other characters and this gives rise to some fabulous tongue-in-cheek comedy. I even read somewhere they are credited with inventing the concept of humour in computer games. Certainly, right from the outset of the game, you are given a great big dose of funny. Walking into the Scumm bar towards the beginning the part one, you can choose to meet and converse with one particular pirate:
'What's your name?' he says.
''Ha! Guybrush Threepwood. That's the stupidest name I have ever heard.'
'What's your name?'
So much of the dialogue gives rise to a giggle and a meeting with some cannibals left me particularly tickled. After nabbing some of their fruit one of the cannibals greets Guybrush by saying 'Is that a banana in your pocket or are you just glad to see us?' I do love it when family entertainment drops in an adult reference that makes you giggle but swoops over the heads of any innocent child in the room (Spongebob Squarepants have been known to do it on occasion). The rest of the cannibals dialogue is just as funny if not quite as 'naughty' When Guybrush is locked up in a cabin waiting to become the cannibals next meal, their ringleader spends much of his time worried about the detrimental effects eating Guybrush will have on his health. 'Think of your arteries' he tells his man-eating friends, 'cannibals have to watch their saturated fats like everyone else.'
Some of the best comedy arises from the sword fights Guybrush engages in. Victory in a sword fight is not so much based on the use of the weapon but upon the insults traded between the two opponents. A pirate must gain the upper hand through their witty remarks rather than their skilful sword work and Guybrush must learn to hone his insults in order to become a great swashbuckler. The Monkey Island series has therefore become rather famous for the humorous insults and comebacks traded during its swordfights...
'You fight like a dairy farmer.'
'How appropriate, you fight like a cow.'
*~A SPOT OF 'PIRATE REGGAE'~*
Today I just need to hear the tinkle of Monkey Island's old 8-bit synthesiser theme tune for me to be overcome with childhood glee. The Monkey Island theme tune is distinctive and memorable. The best way to describe it is 'pirate reggae' and whoever wrote the original is truly a god among men.
The special edition of the game opens with this retro theme tune and old style backdrop of Melee Island before unveiling the new style backdrop with an updated soundtrack using real instruments. I adore the new theme tune, soundtrack and sounds within the game. There was only so much music and sound effects that the original game could support which means that the new version is a lot less quiet.
*~THAT'LL BE SIX PIECES OF EIGHT, SIR~*
Buying yourself a copy of this special edition of Monkey Island is really quite different to buying the game back in the early 90s. The original game was expensive and even once you had brought it home, it was several hours and about a hundred floppy disc installations later that you could finally get round to playing it (ok maybe a slight exaggeration there).
Today you can buy it and download it from a website called Steam and using the Steam software it probably takes about half an hour to download and install.
I bought the Monkey Island Special edition bundle with the first and second game for just £6.29 in the Steam holiday sale. I thought this was rather cheap for such a beautiful revamp of both games.
*~ONE OF THE BEST GAMES OF ALL TIME~*
This special edition update is an absolute dream for any old time fans of the Monkey Island series. With all the effort that has gone into this remake you can tell that those who worked on it hold a true love for the game. They have given it a glossy makeover whilst respecting every aspect of the original.
Even without its special edition update, the Secret of Monkey Island is one of the best computer games of all time. It has characters you really care about, funny dialogue and challenging puzzles that keep you entertained for hours. It's just a shame that it is the sort of game you almost don't want to end. This is why I took my time with the game, exhausting all of the humorous conversation lines and even then it only took me ten hours to finish. This left me wanting more and I can only be glad that there are four other Monkey Island games out there for me to devour.
I would like to think that this glossy update of this 1990 game may open up the Monkey Island series to a whole new generation of gamers, some of whom were not even born when this game was first released. Unlike some modern games, which often encourage kids to be mindless zombies, this is a game which dares the player to use their brain. And if the game is too difficult for some younger children, you can always team up with them to help them solve the problems.
I do find it a rather heart warming thought that just under 20 years after I sat on my dad's knee to watch him battle LeChuck, there could be another little kid perched on their mum or dad's knee as mesmerized by this pirate world as I was...
It is almost impossible to kill Guybrush which makes for easygoing game play - However, I say almost as there is one point where Guybrush is underwater and if you keep him there for more than 10 minutes you will have one dead wannabe pirate ;-)
*~ Thank you for reading my review :-) I hope you don't find it too long. It seems my passion for this game lead to another essay-length review~*
*~Also published on Ciao under username Renza - January 2012~*
Though fan sites were clinging on to the possibility of a new Monkey Island game, all hope looked lost. LucasArts had given up on the point and click genre, instead focusing on endless amounts of Star Wars games. So it was a great surprise when, in early 2009, not only was a fifth Monkey Island game announced, but also a remake of the first one. Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a remake of a game released over 20 years ago now, telling the story of Guybrush Threepwood, who washes up on the shores of Melee Island with one aim - to become a swashbuckling pirate.
It was a fantastic game, full of brilliant humour and inventive puzzles that would become expected of Lucasfilm Games, who throughout the 1990's found fame with not only the Monkey Island series but Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango, amongst other games now considered classics.
Guybrush Threepwood has one aim - to become a mighty pirate. Arriving on the shores of Melee Island however, he becomes entangled in a strange series of events that leads to him in need of both a crew and a boat - the governors daughter has been kidnapped by the evil ghost pirate LeChuck and it is up to you (as Guybrush) to stumble throughout the game in an attempt to rescue her. There are surprisingly few pirate games out - which is quite odd since pirate games would have a lot of potential. So it's even odder that when a pirate game finally comes along, it isn't so much a pirate game but a child's view of piracy. It is the romanticised view of piracy based on freedom and exploration, quite apart from the pillaging and raping you'd no doubt come across on a 17th Century pirate ship. It is this however that makes the game, providing loads of humour by not taking itself so seriously. Problems aren't solved with the sword, but the collection and use of items, and talking to the various folk you will come across who may just give you a shove in the right direction. Or, just as likely, provide some hilarious yet utterly useless dialogue.
A big problem with modern adventure games is that they are too easy. Play Tales of Monkey Island and you may enjoy it, but it becomes too straightforward. The brilliance of the point and click genre comes from the frustration at roaming around for ages wondering what the hell to do with a random inventory that considers of a salmon, a bucket and mug of grog. Being originally released 20 years ago however, this game has no such problems. The puzzles aren't as a whole too easy, and likely a couple of them will have you stuck for a while though this is expected of an adventure game - you have to think. All that can be asked for is that the puzzles are logical and thankfully they are. It is logical, for example, to use a kitchen pot as a helmet. It is not logical to use a monkey as a wrench, an unfortunate puzzle you'll find in the sequel to this game that will have drove thousands of fans mad over the years. Compared to Monkey Island 2 the puzzles in this game could be considered somewhat simplistic, but the puzzle design of the original will let old point and click fans have their fun, whilst making it an ideal game for new fans of the genre to start with.
The puzzles themselves are imaginative, ranging from the standard puzzles you would expect to find in an adventure game to the wonderful insult sword fighting. After all, in a romanticised version of piracy, pirates aren't killers, and instead win battles with insults and wit.
All of the above however could be directed at the original game. So the big question is what does the Special Edition do that is different? For a start, the graphics. Instead of the pixellated version of the original, you'll be treated to beautifully hand-drawn graphics that are vibrant and perfectly captures the atmosphere of the original game. There is maybe a case of Guybrush looking a little weird but if you aren't a fan of the new graphics, at the press of a button you can chance back to the original version of the game. It is a genius decision that is remarkable to do, allowing the graphics to instantly change between the old and the new.
The interface of course changes. The old version keeps the original SCUMM interface where the verbs (use, give etc) and inventory are situated at the bottom of the screen, whereas if you are playing with the new graphics you are treated to a larger screen as the interface is accessed via a menu or cycle of commands. The old interface feels a little more natural though the new one won't cause too many problems.
Also new is the voice acting. Dominic Armato has returned to voice the main character, Guybrush Threepwood, along with various other voice actors who you'll recognise from the later monkey Island games. It's wonderful to play an old game with the recognisable voice actors and it's hard to believe Guybrush didn't originally have a voice. However, get away from the main characters and the voice acting isn't so good. Some of the voices feel a little forced - wacky voices for the sake of being wacky, instead of voices to fit the character. There are some gems however - the shop keeper on Melee Island sounded just like I pictured he would for example.
The music of Monkey Island is, as always, magnificent. The theme tune to the series is breathtaking, probably one of the best pieces of game music there is, and there are other tunes you'll find yourself whistling to after you have played the game. The music perfectly encapsulates the atmosphere of the game - it has sufficient depth to draw you in, to add to the game itself, and always feels in place.
The game is available on PC for £6.99 on Steam but the game is also available on the 360 and PS3 via online stores. If you are looking into the point and click genre, or if you are just looking to play a different game, bored of the endless FPS games that seem to be released nowadays, there is no better series for you than the Monkey Island series, and this is the best starting point. LucasArts have provided a game that will please everyone - the new graphics and voice acting will appeal to the newer audience, but there is little for the old fans to complain about due to the brilliant way you can swap between the Special and regular edition of the game.
The Secret of Monkey Island is the archetypal point and click graphical adventure game, setting the bar far above the heads of rival games, even games from the same developers, and even games which use the latest gaming technology. The Special Edition version contains the original game in all of its pixelated glory and also the updated version of the game with full voice acting and orchestral score, hand-drawn artwork and new animation built directly on top of the original. You can switch between the original and the new, prettier version at any time, seamlessly from within the game simply by pressing the appropriate button.
~ [ Storyline ] ~
You take control of Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate, wet behind the ears and generally laughed at by pretty much everyone in the game. Guybrush is willing to do what it takes to become a pirate and earn the love of Elaine Marley, mayor of Mêlée Island. An evil ghost pirate by the name of LeChuck has similar designs upon Elaine and the story eventually leads all three of you (and a few others) to the infamous Monkey Island.
The game is full of a wide array of characters, all of whom will have something funny to say at one time or another. The humour in the game is basically a tongue-in-cheek take on the whole pirate shtick we've come to expect from the subject matter, almost amounting to self-parody, further evidenced by constant references to other Lucasarts franchises such as the Indiana Jones series.
~ [ Gameplay ] ~
There are two intertwined gameplay elements in The Secret of Monkey Island. The first is talking to people to gain information, and the second is solving puzzles. A third element which is a complete meshing of the first two is insult sword-fighting, to be discussed below. The first thing you have to do in the game is talk to the three pirate leaders at the SCUMM bar, who will send you on three quests in order to prove your worth as a pirate-in-training. The quests involve talking to people, using items you pick up along the way and then returning when you've completed the quests. This is pretty much the M.O. for the entire game.
Insult sword-fighting is a curious gameplay mechanic. The idea is to learn insults and the appropriate responses to each insult, so that you can retort when YOU are insulted. Every successful retort - or every insult you give which leaves your opponent lost for words - gives your character the upper hand in the sword fight. After three or four successful insults/retorts you win the fight. The insults are mostly pretty funny, and one in particular is mentioned at least once in all subsequent sequels to the game:
Insult: You fight like a dairy farmer!
Retort: How appropriate, you fight like a cow!
The puzzles in the game vary in difficulty, but they never become too hard. If you are familiar with this genre of game (i.e. the point and click graphical adventure genre) you will probably breeze through most of it. The majority of the puzzles are logical and can be solved through the use of thought as opposed to just brute forcing it by using every object in your inventory on every other object/person in the game and hoping for the best, which is unfortunately the only way forward in some adventure games (Discworld, for instance).
The game is played entirely using the mouse, with certain keyboard commands made available in place of using the on-screen commands if you prefer. For instance, tapping P on your keyboard will highlight the "Pick up" option, and then clicking an object with your mouse's left button will tell Guybrush to pick it up. The right-click button will look at/examine an object/person.
In the Special Edition version, if you switch to the updated graphics, there are several extra/tweaked features to make things easier for you. For a start there's a rudimentary hint system consisting of an arrow pointing at your next objective. Handy without giving too much away. The user interface is significantly different in the updated version. In the old game your inventory and commands would be on-screen at all times, but in the Special Edition your inventory is hidden away until you tap "I" on the keyboard. Your mouse cursor, likewise, is basically a compact version of the commands list with icons indicating which command is currently active. The commands can be cycled by rolling the mouse wheel, or by tapping the correspondent hotkey on the keyboard. The most appropriate command is automatically assigned to your right mouse button, for instance if you are hovering your mouse over a door it will automatically select "Open" or "Close", and clicking the right mouse button once will perform the action. The entire user interface has been streamlined and simplified.
~ [ Graphics/Animation ] ~
The original graphics, despite being twenty years old, are still quite charming, although it will probably take a few minutes for your eyes to adjust. The new graphics, rendered in full 1920 x 1080 widescreen, are gorgeous and succeed in retaining the feel of the original game. The Special Edition graphics are all hand-drawn, and are lavishly detailed. It must have been a monumental task to go back and recreate every piece of artwork in the game by hand, and the devotion and care the artists have taken shows. However, the animation in the updated version is pretty appalling. It looks very under designed, stiff and cheap. It's the only problem I really have with the updated version, and as is the case with the twenty-year-old graphics of the original 1990 game your eyes adjust to it after a while.
~ [ Voice Acting/Writing ] ~
The writing has held up well for the past twenty years and still manages to get a giggle out of me despite having played the game to death from the age of the Amiga until the present day. As mentioned before, there are a lot of in-jokes about Lucasarts and its various franchises, and there's a distinct sense that the game has been designed by geeks for geeks.
The voice acting in the Special Edition (which isn't available when you switch back to the old game) is pretty solid, and uses much of the same cast from the later sequels which had voice work from the beginning. If you've played any of the sequels from The Curse of Monkey Island onwards you'll recognise Guybrush's voice immediately, voiced aptly by Dominic Armato.
~ [ Score/Sound Effects ] ~
I quite like the old MIDI-style sounds of the original game, and find them quite warm and charming. The updated Special Edition uses a full orchestra and high quality sounds to complete the game's modernisation, and it all works splendidly. As is the case with the updated graphics, switching back to the old 1990 version will also cause the audio to revert back.
~ [ Replayability ] ~
Now that the game has two distinct and separately enjoyable versions in one place I've found that I enjoy playing through the game more than I did with just the original, and I think it's because I like playing through certain scenes in the game using the updated graphics and voice acting, and others using the old version. Then I replay the game and reverse those decisions the second time, and so on. Having played this game since it first came out in 1990 I had always been desperate to have a "talkie" version, and now that I do I find myself talking to everyone about everything just to hear the voices. There is a fan project which is aimed at supplying the original game with amateur voice work, and despite the release of the Special Edition the project is still ongoing. I don't think it's a waste of time, because the Special Edition doesn't allow you to hear the voices whilst playing the old version (plus I'd quite like to hear amateur interpretations of the lines). If you're interested in this project you can check it out here: http://speechproject.mixnmojo.com/
~ [ Conclusion ] ~
With lush new graphics, and an equally lush new score and professional voice acting, The Secret of Monkey Island has been brought to a new generation which has apparently welcomed it with open arms. Now that Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is to receive similar treatment in the form of a Special Edition I am pleased to learn that adventure games like these are still touching nerves and proving that solid gameplay consisting of good writing/storytelling and engaging, solvable puzzles are the only ingredients a game really needs. The game is currently going for £7 on Steam, and I would highly recommend that seasoned Monkey Island fans and newcomers alike buy a copy.
Two decades after its original release, Guybrush Threepwood's inaugural pirate adventure is set to wow a new generation of fans and bring a smile to the faces of the many Monkey Island veterans.
The gameplay is identical to the 1990 'point and click' hit, with the same story, setting, characters, dialogue and puzzles, but has had a complete visual overhaul, reworked music score and character voices. A hints system has also been implemented.
The game's best feature is the ability to instantly switch between the new style and the original game, although a nice touch may have been to play the original with the new voices.
Controls have also been reworked, though unfortunately not for the better. Combining items (unless I'm doing it wrong) requires you to open your inventory, select item one, only for your inventory to close so you have to open it again to combine it with the other. Telltale games got it right in newly released Tales of Monkey Island, so why not LucasArts? For some puzzles, you may find it more user-friendly to switch to classic mode to use the verb menu.
For the Monkey Island newcomer, there couldn't be a better place to start. At around £7 to download it is laughably cheap for such a classic title. Those who played the original - like me - though should prefer the original.
For the most part, the character voices are excellently done, but those who played the original may be disappointed in parts where a character's voice may not sound how you imagined it back in the early 90's, or the way they pronounced certain phrases may have been different to how you thought of them at the time.
It is available at game download site Steam, and is also on Xbox Live.