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Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition – The PS3 Attitude Review

Submitted by on Wednesday, 7 July 2010One Comment

We fully appreciate that Secret of Monkey Island looks out of place in the PS3 canon next to all those first-person shooters and third-person adventure games.

Action, blood, guns, modern combat, speed and macho space marines, these are the sort of themes that gamers appear to want. We won’t pretend that a puzzle game featuring a hapless wannabe pirate is for everyone. However, there are many out there who need a break from the standard fare and they’ll find Secret of Monkey Island the perfect antithesis.

It’s not a game that gets you bogged down in story, in fact, the back-story is established within the first few minutes. Guybrush Threepwood, a quirky, naive but very likeable young man, lands up on Mêlée Island with an ambition to become a “might pirate,” It’s never explained how he got there, where he came from or why he wants to be one – he doesn’t even seem to know much about pirates – but you become familiar with Guybrush very quickly.

There are many interesting conflicts within Guybrush’s personality that make him an interesting character. On the one hand he’s an opportunistic narcissist who would happily take advantage of others to get ahead – as he does throughout the game – while on the other hand he’s bungling incompetent who is incredibly shy and easily exploited. He’s generally ridiculed by the other characters and you’ll often find yourself laughing at his lack of self-awareness, but it’s hard not to admire his resourcefulness.

Before Guybrush can call himself a pirate you will have to take him to the pirate elders at the local tavern, who will set him three challenges. The challenges, appropriately, consist of pilfering a mansion, duelling with the Sword Master and finding some buried treasure. All things any self-respecting pirate should be doing with their free time anyway.

This is just the start, you’ll soon find yourself caught up in a mission to rescue Elaine, the attractive governess of Mêlée Island, from the clutches of the ghost pirate LeChuck. You will have to find yourself a ship, get yourself a crew and sail off to the mysterious Monkey Island.

Earl Boen voices LeChuck, you may know him as Dr. Silberman from the Terminator 2

The narrative is all very silly and even pythonesque in places. Designer Ron Gilbert says that his inspirations for the game came from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride at Disneyland and Tim Powers’ fantasy novel On Stranger Tides. Here’s some irrelevant trivia for you: the ride was also Gore Verbinski’s inspiration for the blockbuster Pirates of the Caribbean films and, funnily enough, the upcoming fourth iteration is set to be called On Stranger Tides.

While those films are big budget Hollywood spectacles full of bombast, the Monkey Island games are much more relaxed and slightly geeky, if truth be told. The gameplay is based entirely around puzzles, so your lightning quick FPS reflexes won’t be needed here.

We can’t go into great length explaining the puzzles because we would risk spoiling the game, but if you’ve played a point-and-click adventure game before you’ll know the score. If not, basically the puzzles are generally solved when you say the right things to the right people or when you find and use the right item on the appropriate object. It’s basically a series of logic puzzles.

Characters will tell you what you should be doing or, at the very least, they will exaggerate key topics in conversation in a way that makes it obvious to you. This makes it all sound very simple but it’s really not. Aside from a useful hint feature (new to the special edition), the signposting is the limit to the help you’ll get from the designers. Anyway, you will feel like a cheater if you use the hints.

You may know what you have to do but how you’re meant to go about your business is never obvious. Finding the right combination of items and knowing how to use them requires lateral thinking. For example, there is one puzzle that leads you to buying a treasure map from a dodgy street corner trader, and when you open it you’ll find it only contains dancing steps. you’ve been done surely, or have you? You need to figure out what these steps are referring to and where to use them.

If you have the sort of mind that goes looking for a helmet when you’re asked to find a helmet – so that you can be shot out of a cannon – then you’ll probably find Monkey Island frustrating. If you’re the type of person who realises quickly that there is no helmet on the island, so you should instead find another solid object to fit over your head, then you’ll get on fine.

Insult sword fighting in its original glory

LucasArts do a fantastic job at not reusing the same formulas with the puzzles too often. They constantly try to be inventive. A good example of this is insult sword fighting, it’s exactly as it sounds. It’s not your typical sword fight, you use insults to gain leverage over your opponent. Before taking on the Sword Master you have to build up a repertoire of insults and retorts from the local pirates. Here are a couple of examples:

Insult 1: I’m not going to take your insolence sitting down!

Retort 1: Your haemorrhoids are flaring up again, eh?

Insult 2: I once owned a dog that was smarter then you.

Retort 2: He must have taught you everything you know.

It’s hard to imagine this sort of puzzle arriving in any other game. It’s also a good example of Monkey Island’s humour. Yes, the humour is pretty soft and inoffensive, but Monkey Island is a genuinely funny and endlessly quotable game.

It also has a large cast of memorable characters. You’ll never forget the weight-conscious and very camp Mayan cannibals. They’re facing a dilemma: they think you look tasty but they don’t want to ruin their vegetarian diet. Neither will you forget Stan, the fast-talking used boat salesman with impossibly fast flailing arms. He is a perfect parody of all the dodgy dealers.

We all want Stan's checked jacket

We’ve spent much time discussing what Secret of Monkey Island is and why it has proven to be a cult classic but we haven’t spoken much about the special edition. One reason for this is because the special edition isn’t really that different from the original game. There have been some excellent upgrades, but it mostly stays true to the original.

Better graphics is the obvious improvement. The characters looked like pixelated smudges in the original but now they look sharp and crisp in HD. The team have also created new stunning hand-painted backgrounds making the Caribbean now looks much clearer.

Even if the pixels were very large in the original, it did have its charm. So it’s great that the game has been built on top of the original build so by simply pressing ‘select’ you can effortlessly switch back to the original game. It’s a true fan pleaser.

Voice acting is another new addition to the game. LucasArts have brought in Dominic Armato (Guybrush), Alexandra Boyd (Elaine), and Earl Boen (LeChuck) amongst others to do the voice duties. They’ve worked on other Monkey Island tiles, including the latest Tales of Monkey Island, so they know the series well and they clearly care about their characters. The voices sit perfectly over the original script and they never feel like they’ve been shoe-horned in. In fact, it’s as if they’ve always been there. It’s just a shame you can’t keep the voices on when you play with the original graphics.

The only other change of note for the special edition is the new control layout. The different commands (pick up, look at, use etc) have been mapped to the d-pad and this system is not entirely satisfactory. For a start, there are too many command options so the angles on the d-pad have to be used. Selecting commands at the angles is very awkward; the team could have at least put the most frequently used commands on the easy to hit directs (left, right, up, down). The controls aren’t ideal, but neither are they a game breaker. Just occasionally annoying.

LucasArts may not  have added many new features (as they have with its sequel, out on PSN this week) to Secret of Monkey Island, but they added just enough to make the special edition worthwhile. If you played and liked the original you should give play it. There should be enough here to appeal to new fans as well. If you’re tired of the standard fare on offer in the charts and fancy something more thought provoking and humorous then this could be right up your street.

We should be thankful that we have the PSN. If it wasn’t for Sony’s digital distribution service we wouldn’t get games like this, or other inventive titles such as Flower and PixelJunk Shooter. They pose too much of a risk for publishers to get get a full boxed release. Getting a game on the PSN doesn’t cost much so publishers can be more creative. Without the PSN we’d be left drowning in a sea of FPS and action games. That would be dull, wouldn’t it. Arrggh