sunnuntai 22. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - The Secret of Monkey Island - Special Edition (2009)

Genre(s): Adventure
Released: 2009
Available on: PC, PS3, X360
Developer(s): LucasArts
Publisher(s): LucasArts
Players: 1

Regardless of the quality of the final product or the media context, a reboot or a remake of a huge franchise is always hot shit and an extremely valuable news item. Ever since Telltale Games – a company founded by former LucasArts employees – resurrected the long-dead point ‘n’ click genre with their new Sam & Max series, everyone who ever knew anything about adventure games began to speculate whether or not the same treatment would befall on arguably the greatest point ‘n’ click game series of all time; could there some day be a Monkey Island 5 after all? Well, yes, but LucasArts, perhaps to compensate for their former reluctance to accept the new coming of the point ‘n’ click genre, decided to work on way more than just a new Monkey Island game. Under the watchful eye of series creator Ron Gilbert, a new team of aspiring Lucas designers did what fans of the franchise had been begging for ever since the release of The Curse of Monkey Island in 1997 – the first Monkey with voiceover work – and brought back The Secret of Monkey Island as a mid-school remake, to coincide with the release of the first chapter of Telltale Games’ Tales of Monkey Island. 12 years of waiting finally paid off... but not in full, I must admit.

The original prankster’s back in high definition

Dominic Armato : Guybrush Threepwood
Earl Boen : Ghost Pirate LeChuck / Sheriff Fester Shinetop
Alexandra Boyd : Governor Elaine Marley
S. Scott Bullock : Otis / Lemonhead
Cam Clarke : Meathook
Leilani Jones : The Voodoo Lady / Carla
Jarion Monroe : Mancomb Seepgood / Captain Smirk / Navigator Head / SCUMM Bar Cook
Patrick Pinney : Stan
Jess Harnell : Bill Fettuccini / Estevan / Pirate Leader I / Store Keeper / Sword-Head Ghost
Rob Paulsen : Alfredo Fettuccini / Bob / Melée Island Lookout / Ghost Priest

Guybrush Threepwood arrives on Melée Island with nothing on him besides a funny name, a wise-ass, bend-every-rule attitude and a burning desire to be a pirate despite all of his shortcomings. While the quirky young man trains hard to realize his true calling, the dreaded ghost pirate LeChuck stalks the island’s beautiful governor Elaine Marley with the purpose of stealing her hand in marriage. When Guybrush falls for Elaine – and for some odd reason, vice versa – a confrontation with the ghastly scourge of the seven seas becomes inevitable for our young hero.

I’d like to say at this point that this review is written in consideration of those who have played the original game.

The foulest grog joint on Earth, now in HD.
The high definition graphics are interesting. That might sound quite vague, but I can’t come up with a better way to describe the graphical style. To emphasize the “special edition” part, the game is incredibly faithful to the original. The rhythm of movement and speech is the same, to make the transition to Classic Mode – which is of course the original game – completely seamless at any time. Every pixel in the classic has been carefully enhanced and altered to an animated PNG format, which makes the vintage environments look awfully familiar and totally unrecognizable at the same time. The quality of the old-to-mid-school conversion is amazing. Just some very small elements in the environment are changed completely; for example, the small Sam & Max statue on Monkey Island is replaced with an idol of the Purple Tentacle from Day of the Tentacle, probably due to Telltale Games’ exclusive ownership of the Sam & Max brand. However, the Sam & Max trinket is visible in Classic Mode, of course.

The voiceover work is just what you’d expect from the Curse cast. I personally disliked the American chick they brought in to replace Alexandra Boyd (Elaine) in Escape from Monkey Island. Here everything’s set straight again, the game feels safer and more familiar. The first two games produced the best humour in the franchise, and with dedicated voiceover work by a group of Monkey Island veterans who just keep on getting better each year, these games soar even beyond Curse when it comes to the funniest game in the series. I once heard a rumour that Dominic Armato trained for his famous role as Guybrush Threepwood by playing the first two games and saying Guybrush’s lines out loud. That is quite plausible, since his lines especially sound like they come straight from the heart. He’s known to have been a lifelong Monkey Island fan even before he was cast as the mighty pirate wannabe, this must be a dream come true for him... like it is for us other Monkey fanboys, for the most part. The music is vintage, remixed stuff. The original soundtrack wasn’t concretely altered in any way, for which I’m thankful as well. The Monkey Island theme always makes me smile.

On our way to the second-biggest monkey head
we've ever seen.
Beyond the audiovisuals, there is much for me to say. I’ll start from the beginning. Let’s take the DeLorean for a brief trip back to the future. In 1990, The Secret of Monkey Island started a series which has spawned two of my favourite adventure games of all time, those being 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island. In 2000, LucasArts replaced the classic SCUMM interface with the critically acclaimed Grim Fandango’s GrimE system in Escape from Monkey Island. The game was surprisingly OK, but suffered from a lacking plot punched full of holes, and some really, really retarded sequences. Telltale Games’ new Monkey Island series Tales of Monkey Island is quite good, but too simplified – perhaps to please younger audiences not familiar with the whys and hows of point ‘n’ click – and it doesn’t really feel like a Monkey Island game, more like fan fiction. The first game is considered – by many others than me – the best Monkey Island game there is, due to its compelling story, great humour, and its straightforward storytelling style in contrast to the “far out”, extremely strange twists in its first sequel. Well, I’m just the other way around. I love Monkey Island 2, I can’t even begin to describe my dedication to the game – I’ll just say that on my personal list of the best computer and video games ever, the masterpiece fits in the Top 5. The first game is far from that brief cavalcade of titles, since despite its greatness, it’s not flawless. This 2009 version is so faithful to the original game that it actually suffers from the same flaws... and introduces a whole new quirk, a crummy user interface which makes some of the easiest tasks extremely difficult to execute.

Classic Mode, of course, runs on the third version of SCUMM – which I consider one of gaming’s greatest innovations of all time. Some agendas in the game are much, much easier to accomplish in Classic Mode. The new engine removes every HUD element from the screen besides an object name and introduces a limited, even more annoying version of the function icon in the original Sam & Max Hit the Road. You use this icon to talk, open chests and doors, pick up items and push stuff. Push? Aren’t the most common functions supposed to be on this “speed dial”? How many times do you actually have to push stuff in this game in comparison to all the times you simply have to “use” or “look at” something? Well, “use”, “look at” and all the other verbs not found from the cursor menu are found in the “SCUMM menu”, opened with L1 in the PS3 version. If you need to use an inventory item, you must first open this menu and select the verb. Then you need to tap R1 to open the inventory and choose the item. Jumble anything up once, for example use a key on a door instead of its lock, and you need to repeat this all over again. This kind of dumb shit practically forces you to do the tricky “free Otis from prison” puzzle in Classic Mode. And it’s just an example!

Well how can I get up and say there are flaws in the original game? What are these unpleasantries, you ask? Well, I never liked the swordfighting sequence too much. OK, it is one of the most innovative ideas conceived in a game, but 20 minutes of hearing the same damn insults while trying to learn some new ones really grind one’s gears – in the console versions, there’s even a Trophy/Achievement that requires you to learn all the different swordfighting insults. To get that mid-value trinket takes time, and patience; I was on the hunt for one single insult for nearly an hour. Then, there’s the much smaller problem of unedited dialogue, which makes some conversations feel like forever, such as the bartering sequence with Stan. I never want to hear the sentence “I think I can live without that particular piece of junk” again. The same goes for “You fight like a dairy farmer” in the swordfighting bit. Finally, just being able to speed up the rowboat on Monkey Island isn’t enough. There’s so much mandatory backtracking going on in the last act of the game, that it would’ve been so nice if they had had the decency of giving the player a chance to make a fast return to any spot on the island that has previously been unlocked, instead of making him/her literally row in huge circles.

Above all, though, The Secret of Monkey Island – Special Edition is still the very same game that revolutionized the point ‘n’ click experience and the use of humour in games, all the way from macabre, pitch black humour to strange hilarity in the style of Monty Python, to meaty jabs at pop culture. The tricky puzzles are legendary, and logical in a LucasArts way. Like in most of the Monkey Island games that came after the original, the first couple of acts are more or less practice for the final showdown. I’ll always consider Monkey Island one of the worst places to be in any game, and this game portrays the legendary piece of land at one of its worst moments. Not as bad as in Escape from Monkey Island, though... and this version of it is much, much more entertaining than the one in the much hated Monkey 4.

When I was a kid, images of the Navigator Head
freaked me out. He turned out to be a nice guy
after all.
I can’t really say which game is more difficult – as in truly challenging, not Monkey 4-like frustrating – this game or the next one. However, since I love the sequel to bits in any shape or form, I have clashed through it a few more times than this one. I can’t really remember the first time with either of them, so I guess I have to call this a slightly more difficult game from a personal point of view, especially due to the notably long time spent on the titular, puzzle-ridden island. The PS3 version comes complete with a Trophy set of 12; old school players will most likely know what to do to get them by just reading the descriptions, whereas some new ones might have some slight trouble in understanding them. I got all but two Bronzes (90%) on the first walkthrough – the ones I missed were Marooned Everyone (requires you to unlock both endings of the game, which is of course impossible to gain during one walkthrough), and Human Cannonball, which requires the player to finish the story in under three hours. That takes a veteran, since it practically forces the player to memorize the shortest possible routes to travel and the most seamless, non-backtracking ways to crack the many puzzles in the game. Some sort of a hint system is in now, too, but I have no idea how to use it nor have I had the desire to. Who wants explicit tips of what to do in a game that was solely made to boggle your brains a bit? Besides Trophy Whores, of course... but they have been thought of, as well. There’s a Trophy that prompts the player to use as few hints as possible during the course of the game. Ha ha, got ya, fuckers.

Overall this remake (someone yells “SPECIAL EDITION”!) cashes in on most expectations. We wanted modern audiovisuals, we got them. We could’ve done without a new engine, that’s for sure, and there’s no possibility to carry the voiceover work over to the SCUMM-based, more familiar and therefore comfortable Classic Mode, but there are always some necessary evils to go with remakes (“SPECIAL EDITIONS!”) – and that being said, The Secret of Monkey Island – Special Edition isn’t from the bottom end of its kind. And, alongside the sequel’s rem... I mean special edition, I think it’s one of the better point ‘n’ clicks for home consoles. One of the cheapest, too.

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 9.2
Playability : 8.5
Challenge : 9.0
Overall : 8.7


GameRankings: 85.75% (PC), 83.50% (PS3), 87.44% (X360)

Classic Mode is based on the original game’s CD version, which was released in early 1991.

The recreation of the “Loom plug” inspired Telltale Games to conduct a consumer survey on whether or not Loom should be remade as well. Apparently a remake is now under development.

In the box art of the original game, there was a close-up of Spiffy, the dog you could talk to in the SCUMM Bar. This close-up was never seen in the original game, or in any re-release or port. In the Special Edition, the close-up finally appears when you talk to Spiffy.

The original game’s infamous “stump joke” in Melée Forest is removed. In the original game, there’s a stump. When the player examines its contents, the game asks the player to insert Disk #22, and a few more ridiculously numbered floppy disks. The stump joke ends in Guybrush saying he has to skip this part of the game since he doesn’t have that many disks. This joke caused LucasArts’ (Lucasfilm Games at that time) Hotline to flood with angry customers who took it seriously, and therefore became a legend among LucasArts employees. The joke was removed from the CD version of the game. However, the joke returns in all versions of Monkey Island 2 (including its Special Edition) as Guybrush himself has the option to call the Hotline, and in The Curse of Monkey Island, the joke finally comes to a conclusion.

World of Monkey Island has an extensive list of all of the game's numerous references to pop culture.

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