A very good remake of a classic graphic adventure
As a child, I discovered computer games at a very early age. I was lucky enough to be born and raised during an era where the Amiga was still a popular platform for the purposes of family entertainment. With the benefit of hindsight it’s quite clear that my parents, my mother in particular, took a great deal of interest in my learning and the development of my problem solving abilities, and this was reflected in the video games I was provided with at the time. Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis; The Secret of Monkey Island; Monkey Island 2: Lechuck’s Revenge and Adi Junior were amongst my earliest gaming experiences prior to my discovery of the Super Nintendo, and to learn during E3 2009 that LucasArts were to remake one of my favourite puzzle adventure games from my childhood left me ecstatic. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a faithful remake to the original 1990 release and still holds up today as graphic adventure gaming’s very finest, though it is not without fault with its release on the Playstation Network.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition recounts the tale of pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood, a new arrival to the game’s opening location of Melee Island, who is instructed early on by pirate leaders to complete three specific trials in order to prove himself as being ruthless, brave and clever enough to bear the pirate moniker, though in traditional storytelling fashion the game sets sail in pursuit of uncharted territories through the completion of this initial objective. In part thanks to the game’s humour, which is highly reliant on video game in-jokes and pokes at popular culture, its story is not taken too seriously and is not designed to obstruct your enjoyment of the puzzle-solving and the excellent script. With this 2009 envisioning of the original tale (released in 2010 on the PSN) the game has received a significant visual and auditory overhaul to impress in a modern environment; all the original game’s environments have been hand-painted and modified to satisfy a 1080p widescreen HD display; each character Guybrush meets during his quests is now voice acted, and the original score has now been remastered and re-recorded.
Returning players will quickly notice that the SCUMM™ engine powering the original release and other LucasArts releases of the early 90’s has been heavily streamlined. Gone are the nine-option verb table and inventory that previously occupied by the lower half of the screen, with the former now accessible by pressing L2 or through pre-set D-pad commands. By utilising commands such as ‘Pick Up’, ‘Give’ ‘Push’ and ‘Pull’ and highlighting an object with your cursor you may have Guybrush walk to the point of interest and perform a specific interaction, such as ‘Push handle’ or ‘Open door’ by pressing X. Context sensitive actions are available via the O button, simplifying matters considerably as most of them appear to be the most logical means in which to interact with items initially. Pressing R2 will open your inventory of collected items, with the ability to assign D-pad commands to each object for its application to the environment, or even other inventory collectibles (an important point to note in the earlier sections of gameplay). Overall the control system shouldn’t take too long for effective acclimatisation, with perhaps the most difficulty derived from recalling what diagonal D-pad combination produces which action if you’d rather not be continuously pressing L2. Clearly the Playstation 3 controller is less effective than simply scrolling with a mouse, and a more direct method of moving Guybrush would have been preferred, but the scheme in place is a perfectly serviceable compromise.
The game has received a significant visual overhaul, and the results are largely sublime
Over the course of the game you will escort Guybrush across a wide variety of locations, each with their own unique blend of puzzle-solving and dialogue to engage with, and for all intents and purposes the game isn’t excessively difficult, though some of the puzzle design is abstract enough for you to be left scratching your head at times. Whereas you were left out to dry in the original release (excluding, of course, walkthroughs) should this be the case, this new edition has opted to include a three-tier hint system available at almost any time. Pressing and holding the square button will display a hint that points you in the right direction; doing this for the third time will precisely inform you what you need to be doing. It’s a very useful system to help you navigate through the game’s trickier puzzles, and is well-designed in that it is completely optional and therefore not at all intrusive; it can act as a useful hand to hold for younger players getting to grips with the game or can be ignored completely if you intend on figuring everything out alone. There’s even a trophy available for those who stay away from the hint system, and no doubt returning players will reap this reward with little issue.
As mentioned previously, the game has received a significant visual overhaul, and the results are largely sublime. Rendered in the lofty echelons of 1080p, the game’s lavishly hand-painted environments are striking with their attention to detail. In a select few cases there is something new added to old locales, such as the presence of a dock full of ships next to the pirate leader’s bar, where there was once nothing but ocean and the dark sky. An incredible sense of character is conveyed with the updated art style, and the world you traverse in appears that little bit more believable for it. If you want a contrast to the game’s original 256 colour pixellated glory then pressing select renders the game as it was presented in the original CD-ROM release. The difference is stunning, and is a classic example of how far graphics technology has progressed in twenty years, and being a nice touch by LucasArts in general. Less satisfying however, is the character animation, which generally appears robotic and stiff; a walking Guybrush and the facial movements of almost every talking character being standout cases. Only a minority of frames could be allocated to this aspect of graphics design back in the day and thus was perfectly excusable at the time, but with very little changing in this sense twenty years later, despite the much cleaner look everyone sports, is rather jarring and a little disappointing.
Significant modifications have also been applied to the game’s audio, and it is here where I feel this remake stumbles slightly. Refinements made to the original score are effective and further contribute to the game’s sense of a living, breathing world, a very subtle but pleasing evolution from the game’s original releases, so there is no issue here. In fact, my issue lies with the voice acting. Characters are voiced by the original team that worked on 1997’s Curse of Monkey Island (CMI), including emphatic returns for Dominic Armato as Guybrush, Earl Boen as series villain LeChuck and Alexandra Boyd as Governor Elaine Marley. Dominic and Earl have yet to disappoint me in their deliveries, and I remain hopeful that they continue to do so. However the rest of the voice acting leaves me feeling a
little cold; there is a lot of exaggeration and lack of enthusiasm in the deliveries that brings the general level of voice acting quality down a notch or two below the likes of CMI and even the old Indiana Jones games. At times I felt like I’d rather not heard what the characters had just said, and I began to yearn for the days where a simple dose of imagination was all I needed to fill this particular gap. Whilst I could have negated this issue by switching back to the old engine where no voice acting is present, this would be to neglect what is billed as a key selling point for returning players, and here I feel LucasArts have under-delivered. Compounding this issue is the evidence of compression in the dialogue and re-mastered musical scores in the console versions – a result of the file size limitation of the Xbox Live service, and one that seems to have been transferred to the PSN version. PC users will not suffer from this issue, though I cannot speak for anyone playing on an iPod, iPhone or MAC device. Conversations in the game as a whole are my least favourite aspect of this remake, not only for the issues described above but also with the presence of loading times and auto saving that instigate. These interrupt the natural flow of the conversations and as a direct consequence such moments can feel incredibly stilted. Whether this problem is exclusive to the PSN version, or whether it was an issue that developed from porting over the Xbox version, I do not know.
Despite some technical niggles, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition on Playstation 3 is a game I would heartily recommend to anyone looking to experience the heydays of what is comparatively a forgotten genre, though one that is slowly re-emerging and still stands up to modern scrutiny. Returning players will get a kick from the re-imagined world, the voice acting (most of it at least) and all the old jokes and references remaining intact (bar the infamous stump joke and the statue cameo of Sam and Max™), whereas new players should be able to appreciate a niche of video gaming design that hasn’t aged much at all in the past twenty years, this time with the promise of help being only one button press away.
The Bad: Some of the voice acting and character animation can be unconvincing; questionable replay value for returning players.