Monkey Island 2 Special Edition Review
Not many old things hold up in the present day. Who wishes they could bring back eight-track tapes, shoulder pads or rotary phones? (Quiet, Grandma!) Well not many games hold up either, and not many deserve--or, some might argue, need--a remake. The Monkey Island series may be one of those few franchises solid enough and loved by gamers enough to warrant this kind of treatment; at least that's what publisher LucasArts was gambling on, with the release of a special edition of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. Lucky for them, that bet paid off.
Monkey 2, originally released in 1991, is a direct sequel to LucasArts' hit point-and-click adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island and continues to follow the exploits of not-yet-mighty-pirate, Guybrush Threepwood. Having survived his first foray into pirate-hood, Guybrush spends his time in Monkey 2 hunting for the lost treasure of Big Whoop and boring everyone he meets with stories of how he single-handedly took out the dreaded Ghost Pirate LeChuck. It's classic point-and-click style gameplay here, with lots of looking at, pushing, pulling and using various random items as well as lots of shuttling back and forth among the three Caribbean islands of Scabb, Booty and Phatt. Island hopping is required in order to solve some long, fairly convoluted puzzles and is likely to remind you of your love/hate relationship with Monkey Island and where it originates from.
The general obscurity of the puzzles and slow pace of the game will also remind you that the Monkey Island series was made in a different time; a time when there were fewer games to choose from, gamers spent more time playing individual games, and when LucasArts must have been making a mint from their dollar-a-minute help line. Let's face it--old school game design is just much less player-friendly. There's not much negative feedback to let you know when you're barking up the wrong tree, and the Monkey Island games in particular have about a thousand things you can look at and click on that have no bearing on game progression. On the other hand, that same attention to interactive detail has become a lost art. Few games do it today but back then, an incredible amount of work went into creating amusing verbal responses when looking at things and interacting with people—just for the fun of it. This is a huge part of Monkey Island's charm and in Monkey 2, gamers with the patience to look at everything and click through twenty-five verbal options are often rewarded with hilarious results.
While there's no question that Monkey 2 can be frustrating sometimes in its complexity and has a few “wtf” moments (I have two words for you: “monkey wrench”), the game's charm far outweighs its frustrations. Its considerable appeal is ratcheted up exponentially by the new art style which finally, near-twenty years later, fully realizes the original art team's brilliant concept art. Everything from the characters to the settings has been remade to full-on animated film quality and the game looks spectacular. Of course, if you're not into all this new-fangled art with its millions of colors, you can switch and play the game in its original 8-bit mode at any time just by hitting F1.
In addition to the visuals, the audio has also received a complete overhaul. The game's original Midi music score has been transformed into an orchestral score that brings the experience to a whole new level, as does the voice acting which has also had an upgrade. The original cast returns with Dominic Armato as Guybrush, Alexandra Boyd as Elaine, Neil Ross as Wally and Earl Boen as LeChuck—the latter of which offers up what could be the best villainous voiceover the game industry's ever seen.
In addition to the audio-visual revamp letting longtime fans relive the Monkey 2 experience in a whole new way and introducing a new generation to it, the Special Edition offers in-game commentary by the game's original designers, Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer. At random times during the game, an onscreen message lets you know you can hit the A button and switch to a commentary screen with the three shown in cartoony silhouette, Mystery Science Theater 3000-style. Most of the comments are of a silly, reminiscent kind rather than anything too informational, but considering who's making them, are entertaining and generally worth listening to.
Upon first hearing about the revamp and re-release of the Monkey Island games, many fans of the series were skeptical, afraid of having their cherished Monkey Island memories crushed like so many recycled rum bottles. Thankfully, a year ago the Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition reassured us that our fortune-hunting flashbacks were in good hands and now Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Special Edition sends any fears we might have had left straight to Davey Jones' locker. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge Special Edition is a must-have for adventure game fans and is available now for digital download on Steam and XBLA.