|Publisher||LucasArts, Lucasfilm, Disney|
|Platforms||Microsoft Windows (reviewed), iOS, Xbox 360, PS3, iPhone|
|Release Date||Original: October 1990
Special Edition: July 15, 2009
I hadn’t heard of the Monkey Island series growing up, much less point-and-click adventure games. I didn’t know what to expect when I purchased the Special Edition on Steam when I saw it was a LucasArts-release. Boy, was I surprised! I found myself falling in love with Monkey Island‘s creativity and unabashed humor. It was a lighthearted take on the video game medium, one that I was excited to get on board for.
With the upcoming release of Return to Monkey Island later this year, I thought it was fitting to return to this series to review each entry. My hope is that each review will give highlights to prospective players and see if this series would be your cup of tea. If you’re a longtime fan, this series will be a fun walk down memory lane to share your own thoughts.
You play as Guybrush Threepwood, an aspiring pirate who is sent to complete three tasks on Melee Island: Treasure hunting, Thievery, and Sword fighting. Seems simple enough, right? However, there are dark forces that are at work. There is gossip that the Ghost Pirate LeChuck has returned from his base at Monkey Island, and he has his eyes set on the Governor. Will Guybrush, a scrappy young man with barely any experience holding a sword, face off well against the feared Ghost Pirate?
The gameplay for Secret of Monkey Island is standard as far as point-and-click adventures go. You can have Guybrush walk around, observe various objects, and pick them up when applicable. I am not certain if the original version had this feature, but you have a hint guide that can help pull you in the right direction if you’re lost or are not sure what to do next. It’s a feature I’m very grateful to have, especially when I played the game for the first time.
What really helped The Secret of Monkey Island stand out is its unabashed humor. This game is not afraid to not take itself seriously. Guybrush is well-meaning but inexperienced, and it becomes clear that many of the characters he meets think little of him and certainly don’t respect him. I like the idea that Guybrush starts out as a kind of blank slate, with no one really knowing who he is or where he came from. There’s not any real reason why he desires to be a pirate, other than him saying that it’s because it’s something he wants. This makes interactions with certain key characters, such as the Governor, all the more amusing as you can dictate how he responds, with Guybrush still appearing inauspicious compared to everyone else.
That’s not to say these characters are more skilled than Guybrush is. Throughout the game on both Melee and Monkey Islands, the inhabitants you come across can be described as quirky as best, and incompetent at worst. They’re almost pirates and threats in name only rather than any real threat. The exception to this is the Ghost Pirate LeChuck, who is an antagonist other pirates in the game have right to fear. Even he isn’t an exception to the established humor of the game, with him giving some of the best comebacks and pieces of dialogue in the game’s climax.
Humor aside, this game does have a great sense of adventure if not scale. The locations you explore on both islands are not very large, and there’s only so much you can do at each location to help move you along. This also means that the story itself isn’t very long; once you complete all three trials, all that’s left for you is to create a crew, purchase a ship, sail to Monkey Island, and rescue the Governor. To be fair, although it doesn’t sound like a lot to do for players, the developers managed to stretch out these plot points so that you wouldn’t finish each section right away. It certainly won’t be the case if you’re a brand-new player and have no reference or guide to help you along to finishing the three trials.
To put it simply, The Secret of Monkey Island is not a very long game. I was able to finish it in about four and half hours, and others may have even finished the game even earlier if they knew right away what they were looking for. While I do feel the game is short in itself, it nonetheless covers just about everything it sets out to do and leaves the player wanting more. It’s a great origin story for Guybrush, and makes for a wonderful gateway game for new players into the point-and-click adventure game genre.
The voice acting for Secret of Monkey Island is indeed superb, and each actor does an outstanding job with their characters. Some of these characters have the most colorful accents, particularly the inhabitants of Monkey Island. It was clear that this game wasn’t just another game for these performers, but that they had fun while doing it as well, and they didn’t have to take themselves too seriously either.
The music for Monkey Island is dynamic and exuberant, with a full orchestra recreating the symphonized notes this time around. The instruments really helped bring the atmosphere to life, as if you really were exploring these islands off the Caribbean. The leitmotifs range from mischievous, to brash, to light-hearted, and even romantic.
The only issue I had was that because it is a relatively short game, there isn’t a lot of variety when it comes to individual pieces. Each of the overhead views of the islands you’re traveling on will have its own theme, and depending on how long it takes to move Guybrush around on the island, those melodies can get old pretty fast. There are also some locations where there isn’t any music playing, and it gives a sort of eerie, lonely vibe. I’m not sure if that was intentional or not, but I would have loved some background music to help alleviate this.
In all, is Monkey Island worth your time? I would say yes, and even if it ends up not being a game that you’re fond of, I think there are a lot of different elements Monkey Island has to offer that you can respect. It’s lighthearted, relatively simple for newcomers, and funny enough to keep long-time fans coming back. I hope you give The Secret of Monkey Island a chance if you haven’t already, if only to give insult sword fighting a try!
The Bottom Line
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a wonderful gateway into a funny, lighthearted franchise. If you're looking to make it as a pirate, full of laughs and plenty of grog, then you should definitely give this classic a try.