The Secret of Monkey Island revisited
First posted on 07 May 2011. Last updated on 01 March 2013.
The Secret of Monkey Island was originally released by Lucasfilm Games (now called LucasArts) in 1990, in a deliberate attempt to move adventure gaming away from relying solely on fantasy themes by embracing the world of piracy instead. The game's strong sense of humor and clever puzzle design helped to launch a series of sequels which would continue to this day (notably, Telltale Games' Tales of Monkey Island). Whereas other adventure games at the time relied heavily on inventory puzzles, The Secret of Monkey Island innovated with a puzzle that had you matching insults to comebacks thanks to a set of verbal barbs written by author Orson Scott Card. The game even parodied adventure game conventions in general with a zany sequence where Guybrush would solve a number of ridiculous puzzles off-screen without the player's help.
Almost 20 years later, LucasArts has revived and paid tribute to a classic with its 2009 release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. It contains all the charm of the original and more—while it is possible to play the entire game in a classic mode with the pixelated graphics and synthesized sounds of the original, you can toggle back and forth between the original version and the new version redone with high resolution visuals, voice acting, and a symphonic score. Interestingly, the remake follows the original game frame by frame: characters sometimes turn sharply at 90° or switch between poses with few frames of animation between them. The almost realistic close-ups of the characters in some scenes have also been replaced by much more cartoony versions of their likenesses, with Guybrush's likeness re-imagined in the spirit of his incarnation from The Curse of Monkey Island.
The new visuals add some interesting details to the scenes of an already polished game—with water, fire, and ghostly effects making many screens sparkle. The biggest creative improvement over the original, however, comes from the addition of voice acting and the personality it lends to the script: the laughs and nonverbal responses of the characters are interpreted much more conversationally than are otherwise possible with text dialogs only. Dominic Armato returns as Guybrush to sound out the famous pirate as a more boyish and less worldly-wise version of his self than in later games of the series. In some cases, the voice acting adds a new twist to an established scene, such as when Guybrush asks a pirate why they all talk so strangely, and the pirate drops his accent briefly to tell Guybrush to just play along and not spoil the fun—undoubtedly as a nod to the unexpected ending in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Even insult sword fighting takes on some additional flavor when Guybrush spits out his comebacks with confidence or uncertainty depending upon whether or not you have used them properly. The redone score helps bring some scenes to life more dramatically, such as when Guybrush boards a ship with a pirate playing violin that can finally be heard with all the precision that the instrument itself provides.
The interface follows in the pattern of classic LucasArts games, such as Maniac Mansion: Day of the Tentacle, in having a default action for the right click. While selecting other verbs otherwise can require proficient use of the mouse's scroll wheel or memorizing keyboard commands, you always have the option to go back to the original interface, which is also the only means the game provides for skipping through dialog, pressing the period key in classic mode. Looking at all of its features, this remake accomplishes all the functionality of the original and beyond, and it serves as an excellent entry point into the world of Guybrush Threepwood for gamers who are new to the series.
Video game remakes are nothing new. Sierra was remaking its adventure games as far back as 1991. More recently, portable consoles such as the Nintendo DS have seen a number of games ported from the PC paying tribute to their originals. Online gaming services such as the Microsoft Xbox Live Arcade have given developers incentives to revisit old intellectual property and bring an old beloved game over to a new generation. Still, it is rare to see a developer having the courage to innovate by refining the graphics and the style of a classic game while still letting the game to be played in its original form if this is so desired, which makes the comparisons between the 2 versions obvious and allows fans to enjoy the team's new offerings at their own discretion. Hopefully, the revival of this classic franchise will show that there is a place for adventure games in the modern market, so that developers can bring back old fans of the genre while establishing new fans for their games.