Monday, October 02, 2000

Monkey Island: Special Edition PC | 8.0

In a sense, I don't really feel like Monkey Island needs much promotion from me, because adventure gaming was such a huge part of computer game history, and Monkey Island was perhaps the finest example of adventure gaming. When I heard the game was being redesigned with modern graphics, sound and voice work, I was thrilled. Monkey Island was a darn near perfect game, and for that reason alone, I knew the redesign deserved those first three stars. In Monkey Island, you play Guybrush Threepwood; a scrawney little guy who wants to be a fearsome pirate; winning swordfights, hunting treasure and stealing from the rich.

Well, as it turns out, being a pirate is a rather tough business, with some strict job requirements, and after his job interview with the head pirates, Guybrush sets out to prove his worth. Armed with a mastery of insults and the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes, Guybrush Threepwood must learn swordplay, thievery and treasure-huntery even before the end of the game's first chapter (of four,) and then things really pick up.

The evil ghost pirate Lechuck is roaming the islands with his dread pirate crew, scaring all the other pirates into landlubber-hood, and Guybrush will need to travel to Monkey Island if he wants to do something about it. There's also the beautiful Governor Marley to worry about. She seems like more than a mere damsel in distress, of course, but what's her real role in Guybrush's adventure, and what are Lechuck's plans for her?

This stuff is even funnier than it sounds.

Of course, all of that only has to do with the game's storyline. The gameplay may turn some gamers off, since the game uses a point-and-click interface, with much less jumping, slashing, shooting and killing than modern gamers are used to. The majority of the gameplay consists of wandering around, looking at things, pushing them, pulling them, talking to them, picking them up and using them to solve logic puzzles. This is the backbone of the Monkey Island gameplay, and while it may not appeal to the mainstream crowd, there are a great many people who enjoy being able to complete challenges on sheer brainpower alone, and not having to worry about being ambushed by enemies every five seconds. For those who like games that provoke them to thought, rather than violence, Monkey Island is the cream of the crop.

The original Secret of Monkey Island was made using midi music and early VGA graphics. It didn't even have any voice acting. Because of this, it makes perfect sense for the game to be re-made with updated graphics and sound, and this is more or less what was done. I found some design choices baffling, but at least if you prefer the original version to the updated one, you can switch back with a single keystroke.

The graphics and sound of the updated version are of an unquestionably superior quality. The music is very well-done, and the voice acting is pretty nice. The man who plays Guybrush does a good job as always, and some very professional voice actors played other roles, such as Rob Paulson as the ghost Bob, one of the Fetuccini brothers, and a couple of others. That kind of voice talent is almost guaranteed to not sound like they're reading from a script. In fact, the only issue I had with any of the revised sound was that Governor Marley's original actress (from Monkey Island 3) didn't reprise her role, and the woman who does play her doesn't sound British enough, in my opinion.

In graphics, however, this game makes some design decisions that I couldn't really agree with. For one thing, the decision was apparently made to shift the art style of the original from relatively-realistic to the cartoon look of later games; something I never really felt was right for Monkey Island. Monkey Island 3 was fantastic, of course, but I feel it succeeded in spite of the cartoon graphics, rather than benefitting from them.

To their credit, most of the characters still generally carry the same mood and feel that they did in the original; especially in their close-up portraits, the only exceptions, oddly-enough, being Guybrush and the Governor, who look like relatively-bland cartoon characters, rather than innocently-boyish and enchantingly beautiful in a cunning sort of way, respectively, so the damage done by the art shift is minimized most effectively. I just don't feel the shift needed to happen at all.

The third change was to the interface. The interface, originally, was for a sentence-line interface with selectable verbs (push, pull, pick up, etc...) to be at the bottom of the screen, along with a scrollable inventory, while the action goes on at the top. This has been changed to a pair of subscreens for verbs and inventory, which isn't all that hard to navigate, if you're willing to use the keyboard. I admit, this element of the game felt somewhat forced, and a littly clumsy. In practice, it certainly didn't play out as smoothly as the original interface, and I found myself wondering why this change was made, so I looked it up.

Apparently, the interface change was made, because the game designers were unhappy with "the interface taking up half the screen." Fair enough. This gives them the opportunity to use the other half of the screen to show the gamers more scenery in the Monkey Island world, right?

Not exactly. Instead of adding anything where the old interface used to be, the remake has re-done the graphics of Monkey Island, then just centered it, so that it feels like you're watching the game in widescreen format, and there's no fullscreen format to switch to. That might fly for movies that were originally released that way, but in a video game, it really feels like there aught to be something going on in those large, black bars. Personally, I would have put a sentence line interface on the top, and the inventory on the bottom, but I wasn't in charge of the project.
For example, an options screen under the main menu, full of check-boxes, reading things like "Voices on/off," "Music old/new," "Graphics old/new," and "Interface old/new." I only bring this up because I was sort of hoping for it, and because if this feature had been included, I'd always play the game with the first two options on, and the last two off.

In short, as a game, Monkey Island is stellar. As a remake, it's merely good. For this reason, I give it 80%. I was a little disappointed, but not much. In general, I had a good time playing it, and I'll most likely play it again. Many of the lines carry a special wit and humor to them when spoken aloud, so I feel that this remake did add something to the series that wasn't there before, and if it didn't completely fulfill its potential, then at least it gave today's generation the chance to experience one of the greatest video game classics of all time. I think that's a very good thing, so overall, well done.

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