It has been since December 2021 that I touched a Monkey Island game: The Curse of Monkey Island. What better way to celebrate the exciting upcoming release of Return to Monkey Island next week than to replay all the other games? Or at least the most revered ones, The Secret of Monkey Island and its successor, LeChuck’s Revenge. Both got a “special edition” fresh coat of paint, just like Day of the Tentacle Remastered, which you might or might not like: we’ll see in a bit what’s so special about the special edition.
I honestly can’t believe LeChuck’s Revenge is 31 years old, stemming from 1991, when EGA was barely shoved aside by VGA, and that 256-color scenery of the original game wowed us all with its perfect blend of pixels and usage of masterful dithering techniques. If you do decide to play in the “old” mode, the added bonus of compatibility on modern operating systems and the speeches (the “talkie” version!) persists, including the classic Lucasfilm SCUMM control bar that takes up almost 1/4th screen estate. That very same “old” mode holds up surprisingly well. What other game from ‘91 still makes your jaw drop simply by looking at it, and by hearing its iconic Roland-enabled synth tunes?
Compared to Monkey 1, number 2 steps down from approaching puzzling in a serial way and instead relies more on item sequences that can be found on multiple islands at the same time, where the player is given the freedom to chase whatever lead they think is interesting. While this sounds superb, it also makes the game a lot harder, leaving Guybrush—or at least its controller—often flabbergasted as to what to do with a rusted saw or ornamental oar you happened to pick up along the way.
In Day of the Tentacle, that freedom is reflected in the three different time zones where you have to swap items. I found those puzzles to be less menacing, as most of the time the items themselves provide hints or the subtle clues from the characters’ expressions or contextual location. In LeChuck’s Revenge, that was much less the case. Aside from the well-known obnoxious monkey wrench problem, who on earth picks up a dog or sticks a banana on a metronome? We had to look up almost a dozen hints, even though I played this game twice before. The more we got stuck and gave up, the more we felt we were just following a script and not really playing, which is a bit of a shame. Sure, that one is on us. Not every game should be constantly throwing hints towards the player, like in Dexter Stardust. Still, we found some of the puzzle design in Monkey Island 2 to be… bad. Gasp!
Addendum: I just found out that by pressing
H, a hint appears that gradually unfolds like the Universal Hint System. I wish I’d known this earlier! There is no mention of this “hidden feature” in the controls dialog. Monkey Island 1: SE does mention it, I wonder why this changed?
I know LeChuck’s Revenge is universally hailed as the best Monkey Island game in the entire series. I love the jokes, the graphics, the music, the pirate theme, and some puzzles. But if I’m being objective, I think I’d choose Day of the Tentacle over this any day. Sorry Ron.
As for the special sauce in the Special Edition, one obvious change is the graphics. They tried to emulate the colorfulness and cheeriness of the original and largely succeeded in doing so. I found the new graphics in this SE to be vastly superior to the new graphics from Monkey Island 1 SE, especially Guybrush himself. I found myself regularly switching between old and new mode, just to marvel at both works. Some changes are very odd though: the telephone helpline in the jungle of Dinky Island is now answered by a guy instead of a girl—why?
Again, as with Day of the Tentacle, you might prefer the SCUMM interface over the new one, as a constant eye on items as a reminder might help in solving a puzzle. Since Guybrush picks up so much junk, and most of it stays there during the entire course of the game, the old interface doesn’t really help either, as it also requires a lot of scrolling. Yes, there are a lot more red herrings in this one. The SE layout, with its subtle changes, do make the game a bit easier: the wheel menu where you pick your actions from (Talk to, Open, Push, …) only provide valid options. That is, you don’t need to think “should I push this thing?”, select PUSH from the SCUMM bar, and click on the item. Right-clicking on it simply reveals if you can or cannot push it.
The developer commentary also returns, like in other remastered LucasArts games. While I enjoyed hearing what Ron, Dave, and Tim had to say about some scenes (it’s not present on all of them and disabled in classic mode for some reason), it sometimes felt like they were forced to talk about certain sections of the games. “Oh yeah the thing with this thing. Huh. That was something, huh?” Okay… Was this worth listening to, I wonder? Dexter Stardust’s commentary was much more enjoyable, as the dev spoke with more enthusiasm and revealed how the game came to be.
Some islands require more work than others. In Phatt island, you’ll end up meeting the local ruler (not governor Marley), and that room is very vibrant and “interesting”. It triggered our “ooh we should do something with this or that!” adventure sense—incorrectly, it turned out. The only thing worth investigating is a stupid book, which seemed like a missed opportunity for at least some well-placed animated jokes.
Scabb island, the one you start on, contains that classic Monkey 1 vibe, as it’s nighttime and contains a bar (and the Voodoo Lady, of course). Booty island, on the other hand, is completely different: bright colors, a jungle to “explore” (not really, but still), Stan’s Previously Owned Coffins, and of course the Mardi Gras festival. In your quest to hunt down four map pieces, you know you’ll eventually land on a fourth island, but that one was over before we knew it, and contained too easy puzzles for a change. Weird.
I can see why this game gets a lot of love, but at the same time, I honestly think there are better—and by that, I mean non-Monkey Island—adventure games out there. Pacing issues and ridiculous puzzles redacts from the overall experience, which was still very much enjoyable, just not as exceptional as I remembered. Nostalgia can be a bitch. While my evaluation of this replay does sound harsh, the masterclass in environmental design and overall atmosphere cannot be overstated. I’d rate it between 4 and 5 and will give it the benefit of the doubt.
Let’s hope for the best for Return to Monkey Island!
Verdict:/5 It was amazing!