The Secret of Monkey Island SE

Right. Hands up everyone who doesn’t know what The Secret of Monkey Island is.

Bloody kids today, don’t know they’re born, when I was your age, etc.

For the benefit of today’s ill-educated youth, The Secret of Monkey Island was one of the great adventure games from the heyday of LucasArts, in a time when they made a lot of great adventure games and before they switched over entirely to churning out crappy Star Wars tie-ins. It was well written, it was very funny, and it was also – on occasion – punishingly obtuse.

The Special Edition now downloadable from the Xbox Live marketplace is that game, only with shiny high def graphics and new audio, including fully-voiced dialogue. In fact, if you don’t want the shiny high def graphics and new audio, a press of the Back button gets you the old blocky VGA graphics and AdLib-style music. You can flip back and forth at will. It’s fun to do if only to see how bad things used to look.

PICTURED: Some pirates.
PICTURED: Some pirates.

You are Guybrush Threepwood, wannabe pirate and proto-swashbuckler, who comes to the island of Mêlée in order to seek your fortune. During the course of your adventure you will seek wondrous treasures, learn the art of insult swordfighting, battle the undead, meet a dodgy used-ship salesman, and (eventually) get the girl.

The screen, by default, is free of clutter, with just A and B button prompts at the bottom of the screen (which will most often correspond to “walk to” and “look at” respectively). A press of the left bumper brings up the verb list, with the right bumper displaying the contents of Guybrush’s apparently bottomless pockets. Compared to the mouse control of the original, this is a bit on the clunky side. The thumbstick isn’t an adequate substitute, and the game does suffer a little for it, especially on one puzzle where taking too long to do something means you’ll have to restart the puzzle from scratch. It’s not an insurmountable problem, but it does sometimes annoy.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure of the old school. What that means is that you will need to pick up everything that isn’t nailed down, because at some point you might need it. It also means that you’ll probably get quite frustrated at times because you can’t work out which particular arcane combination of items is required to solve a particular puzzle.

"Plunder Bunny!"
NOT SHOWN: Chunky VGA original.

Every time I got really stuck in this version, I found myself remembering that I had previously got stuck at all the same places in the original, which probably says more about how far I’ve come in the last 19 years than anything else. One problem this version also shares with the original is that there are a couple of items which are quite hard to see against the background. Remember to check the ground near the chickens. I shall say no more. Just remember:  chickens.

There is, however, a quite clever hint system built in to this version. Holding down the X button will show a hint on screen. There are three levels of hintage, culminating in a bright yellow arrow pointing you in the direction you need to go. It’s also impossible to die, except for one puzzle where it’s just extremely unlikely, so perseverence will generally see you through.

In many ways this is the ideal remake. Not only did they pick a great game to refurbish, but should nostalgia get the best of you and you start to think that the original was better than this, a simple button press grounds you back in reality.

This may not go well.
This may not go well.

It’s not a very long game by today’s standards; it’s possible to blow through the whole thing in less than three hours (and there is an achievement for doing so) but you’d miss out on a great deal of the funny dialogue if you did this. The best part about LucasArts adventures was always the writing, and that has certainly held up well.

I’m not 100% sold on some of the new art style, and some of the voice acting is less than stellar (commonplace when American voice actors try to do “English” accents) but overall it really is the best of both worlds: a game with great writing which now has great graphics and sound to go with it. I hope it does well, partly because I think it’s a great game and partly because it might lead to other classic LucasArts adventures getting the makeover treatment.







4 responses to “The Secret of Monkey Island SE”

  1. Lorna avatar

    I also thought that the voice acting was a let down, one of the few big gripes I have with it.

  2. Darach avatar

    I’m only just getting started with this, and as someone who missed it first time around, I’m really excited about it. 🙂

    *makes mental note – “Chickens”* 🙂

  3. Cameron_who avatar

    I can’t help but think that the only thing this game has going for it is nostalgia. Although I’m probably biased because I hated monkey island back in the day and I still hate it now.

    A lot of my friends have blasted through it again already and loved the news graphics and everything but I can’t see anyone who didn’t play it through years ago wanting to play it at all. It’s just too clunky and frustrating to attract anyone new.

  4. Simes avatar

    You don’t think that anyone new would have played through it if they’d come across it years ago? Doesn’t that then mean that technically nobody should have liked it at all?

Leave a Reply