LucasArts must love me. Over the years, I've bought goodness knows how many versions of Monkey Island games across a range of different computers. I've still not learned my lesson: as soon as I knew an iPhone version was available, I just had to download it. But shall I let you into the real Secret of Monkey Island? It's worth every penny I've ever paid for it and this latest version is no exception.
For those of you who don't know, The Secret of Monkey Island is an adventure game in which you play Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate who has to prove his worth, whilst saving his would-be girlfriend, Elaine from the clutches of the evil zombie pirate, LeChuck. This involves Guybrush setting off on some hilarious adventures and solving some tricky puzzles along the way.
If you're thinking "Pirates of the Caribbean" rip-off, you'd be right... except it's actually the other way round: Pirates owes a debt to Monkey Island which had already been around for a good few years before the upstart Sparrow staggered onto our screens. It's a good comparison, though, because the game contains that same blend of action and puzzles with a slightly manic sense of humour.
Make no mistake about it; Monkey Island will have you laughing. Monkey Island is probably one of the funniest games ever written. There is a genuine zip and humour to the dialogue and banter between characters, whilst the ludicrous situations and strange characters you encounter will also make you laugh out loud. Even something as simple as examining an object can lead to a line of priceless dialogue.
The humour is wide-ranging, from parodying pirate clichés, through visual gags to wordplay. There's so much to keep you amused on almost every screen. The highlight is probably the insult sword fighting where, instead of a physical sword fight, you have to bandy insults and witty ripostes! It sounds silly (it is), but it's fantastically funny.
The graphics and sound, too, are superb and both have been updated for this special edition (although you can toggle between the new version and the original). Presentation has always been one of LucasArts' strong points, and this iPhone version is no exception. Graphics are sharp, clear and crisp. They are beautifully drawn and, even on the iPhone's small screen are incredibly detailed. Sound, too is fantastic. A whole variety of tunes play on various screens and all are brilliantly composed to reflect the game's environment (sea shanties etc.). Everything is suitably atmospheric and adds a huge amount to the game.
Inevitably, game play suffers slightly as the iPhone's screen can make it tricky to spot useful items you need to collect or interact with, since they are so small. You will, however, soon become adept at spotting things, or you can always rely on the traditional adventure game tactic of running your cursor over everything to see where the interaction points are!
The control system, on the whole, has been well implemented. You move your character around and interact with things by means of an on-screen icon. The default icon is Walk To, so tapping a point on the screen makes you walk to that point. However, by tapping another icon, you can access other actions (Talk To, Pick Up etc.) Select one of these and the icon changes so that you can carry out the relevant action.
This system does take a bit of getting used to. The iPhone screen seems to demand almost pixel perfect precision when pressing the screen. Tap in slightly the wrong place and your request is ignored and the default Walk To icon is redisplayed, meaning you have to go through the selection process again. To begin with this is a little frustrating. Persevere, though, and within a few screens you'll soon find that you've got the hang of it. Once you have mastered it, the user interface is a dream to use and it's hard to see how it could have been implemented any better, given the restrictions of Apple's machine.
Of course, many of the puzzles rely on the traditional adventure game thing of finding and then using the right object in the right place, or talking to lots of different people and giving them something they need in return for getting them to do something for you. As such, there can be a lot of wandering to and fro which some might find a little frustrating. Yet, Monkey Island builds in a lot of freedom too. You can concentrate on just solving the game as quickly as possible, you can get involved in lots of irrelevant (but very funny) dialogue with other characters, which adds some variety.
The puzzles are genuinely fiendish and Monkey Island offers a serious long-term challenge. The price for the game might be high, but you are getting an awful lot of game time for that cash. The minds of the game creators must be seriously warped to come up with some of the puzzles they have and this is both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it makes the game challenging and fun to play; a curse because you can spend a lot of time wandering around not really sure what you are supposed to do. No matter how experienced a gamer you are, sooner or later most people will have to turn to the internet to solve a particular puzzle. Normally, I don't like doing this, but even this can't spoil Monkey Island: even if you "cheat" a little, the solution and the way it is carried out on screen will still make you laugh, and help assuage that guilty feeling!
Normally, I would conclude my reviews of iPhone apps by pointing out that there's a lite version for you to try before you buy. Not in this case. At £4.99, Monkey Island might be one of the more expensive games on the App Store, but like all its previous incarnations, it's worth every penny.
The Secret of Monkey Island is a must-have game that will frazzle your brain with its fiendish puzzles, delight you with its excellent graphics and sound and make you laugh out loud the absurd antics and dialogue.
If you're already a fan of the Monkey Island series, you can buy this in complete confidence that it's as good as ever. If this is your first visit to Monkey Island, boy, are you in for a treat!
© Copyright SWSt 2010