Even though I said a large portion of what I have to say about Secret of Monkey Island, video game humour generally, and the benefit of re-releasing classic games in my review of the previous Special Edition, here’s some more of that stuff anyway. Because why not?
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge Special Edition (hereafter just Monkey Island 2, thanks very much) is a better remake of a better game. If you enjoyed the first one – in either its original or shiny, high-definition form – you’ll enjoy this even more. If you’d rather boil your own head than play a 90s-style point-and-click adventure… this probably won’t sway you. Yes, the game is better, but it’s better because the jokes are funnier and the puzzles make slightly more sense. The underlying format remains unchanged.
The premise this time around is that Guybrush arrives on Scabb Island an already-established pirate, rich and still very much riding the success of having killed the ghost pirate LeChuck. He’s still a bit of a dope and has managed to sabotage his relationship with Elaine, but he’s doing alright. Now he’s after the mysterious lost treasure of Big Whoop.
This is a much longer game, and the story feels fuller for it. There are three rather distinct islands – the aforementioned Scabb, along with Phatt and Booty – which are all linked together by story beats and even certain larger puzzles. Because these areas feel quite grounded and are generally rooted in real-world logic and rules (despite some of the more slapstick humour and the whole ghost pirate stuff) the quest feels suitably epic – like a real globe-trotting pirate tale, even.
That’s all good, but it’s less the primary selling point of Monkey Island 2 and more a foundation on which to build exquisite jokes and puzzles. Much like in the first game, the writing here is superb, as is the complementary voice acting (aside from the blatant miscasting of Elaine). Likewise the brain-teasers are smart and significantly less esoteric than before, while still working in perfect symbiosis with the script to both set up and execute the gags. Again, the Special Edition gloss does very little to alter the core game, but as the core game is so fantastic it doesn’t really matter.
There are some touches which make things slightly easier on modern players, though. The tiered hint system from the first iteration makes a return, along with a new, more specific form of helping hand which highlights objects that need to be messed with in order to progress. It doesn’t always work as well as it should – it’s often far too vague or overly obvious – but its inclusion is welcome nonetheless. Similarly, and more importantly, the interaction itself has been entirely revised. In place of the cumbersome radial menus is a more streamlined, contextual system which throws up a wheel of verbs appropriate to a particular item. Any action which will elicit a response from the item is selectable directly from that wheel, while anything redundant is just omitted. It’s a much smarter, more effective way of modernising point-and-click gameplay, and a far greater encouragement to play with the new visuals.
Switching from the new style to the old and vice versa is still a one-button affair, but there are fewer reasons to do so now other than simply for comparison’s sake. Purists do get the advantage of being able to enjoy the voice acting in the classic view, which is a nice feature if you’re put off by the new art. I can’t imagine why you would be though, as it’s actually superior here – the static scenes are beautiful, while the character models are a little more enjoyably cartoony. They’re even rotoscoped atop the original animations, which is a lovely addition.
The real selling point of this remake though (at least if you didn’t play the game the first time around) is a fantastic optional commentary, with the superstar tag team of Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer talking among themselves as they play the game. This kind of thing is incredibly rare these days, and it feels like an enormous privilege just to be able to hear these three revolutionary designers have a little chit-chat. It’s full of wonderful anecdotes and witty critique, and while there are some minor issues with how it’s presented in-game, I really wish there was more of it.
Chances are that you already know whether you will like this game or not. It’s important (perhaps even more so this time around) for the same reasons the first Special Edition is important; it is, however, still the same game that was released in 1991. I wholeheartedly recommend it, for the commentary if nothing else, but ultimately how well you are able to tolerate this kind of design is directly proportional to how much enjoyment you’ll be able to glean from the overall experience.
Still, though. YouTube the “I… am your brother!” scene at least.