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The Secret of Monkey Island: SE Review

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

The Secret of Monkey Island isn't the hardest adventure of all time and it's definitely a walk in the park if you've played any of the Discworld games, but it's still possible to get stuck in the game (though there's only one place where you can actually get into an unwinnable state). If you're having trouble though then the new hint system may be a help as it's able to offer some fairly decent tips, before eventually coming out and telling you directly where to go - which makes it handy whether you want just a gentle nudge or a straight-forward walkthrough. It's likely newcomers will need it at somepoint too, as some parts of the game involve either abstract thinking or some light pixel-hunting.

Gameplay on the whole is pretty slow going - but there's not excessive walking just to get places (at least in the first area). It's just that, as a modern FPS adrenaline junkie, I find it's hard to maintain enough patience at points, with some the conversations dragging on a little and the new audio dialog sounding just a little bit stilted, like it used to be on old PlayStation games. That seems to be due to the fact that the audio of the Remastered version has to be exactly in time with the muted original because the user can flick back with that F10 key at anytime - the audio needs to sync with the flow of the text in the classic version, in other words.

One thing that makes Monkey Island better than most adventure games though is that it's not just a point and click, item mix and match game like so many others. It works on the strengths of the interface - to win a sword fight you need to learn and collect a library of insults and witty retorts, which is far better and more fun than any shoe-horned melee system might have been. It does lengthen the gameplay with a bit of grind admittedly, but it's still continually funny (though still guffaw-funny, not ROFL-funny) to build up an arsenal of comebacks in order to defeat against the Sword Master. Ha-HAAAR - she fights like a dairy farmer!

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There's really not much more to Monkey Island beyond that - the same game mechanic plays throughout the later chapters, but it still draws you back for more because it has the very compelling story. This is something that modern games should take note of - spend less on getting people (I'm hinting at kids who missed the original) hooked on graphics that are easily superseded and draw them in with characters they can understand and adventures they actually feel they want to complete. Playing through The Secret of Monkey Island I wasn't ever slogging on just to see how big the final boss would be - I actually wanted to make sure that Guybrush got what he wanted. And have a few laughs along the way, obviously.

Playing The Secret of Monkey Island for the first time, I was honestly very impressed by how well paced and enjoyable the writing was.
It really hammered home that, though coding a fantastic game engine is very difficult, being a successful creative writer is a much harder and rarer talent to find. The quality of writing here far surpasses that in more recent games, despite the fact that the game is almost two decades old. It's disappointing how far we haven't come and that graphical whizzles with flimsy stories will always sell better than the opposite. It's depressing how deeply ingrained that desire for constantly improving graphics is too; I wouldn't play the pixelerific version of Monkey Island even now.

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I'm so glad they updated it - I missed the original and finally Joe will stop nagging me every-single-day about how I should play it. The Secret of Monkey Island is the perfect antidote to graphical snobs, even though I don't think it's actually suited to sitting upright at a PC and playing for hours at a time. It'd be too much like hard work compared to most games nowadays and the experience is really more suited to laptop gaming, so you can dive in and out of while you sit on the sofa or laze in bed. I just wish Intel 945G graphics on my year-old notebook could run the hi-res version - but alas, it doesn't. Shame on you, Intel! It's hardly graphically challenging by today's standards.

The over-arching question that I've been trying to answer in this review is simple; by today's standards is The Secret of Monkey Island still as people said it was when it was first released? Well, the answer is that if you judge it by the quality of the writing and the deftness with which the game is plotted, paced and assembled...then yes, definitely. By those criteria the game is fantastic, but that doesn't mean that the game on the whole is perfect. There are other things we have to judge it on and the sad fact is that The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition does have flaws.

These flaws mainly come from an attempt to keep the hi-res art and audio dialogue too-close to the original version, so the characters feel stiff and un-natural, but there's also the fact that it's got little replay value and no added content to please long-time fans (would a concept art gallery have been so hard?). That doesn't stop the brilliance underneath shining through though, leaving a game that's witty and accessible and wonderful fun for gamers of all ages. They weren't lying - it really is a modern classic, just a slightly flawed one.

Happy now, Joe?

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The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

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