The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (Steam, 4 ½ hours with strategy guide)

This was part of my backlog for a long time. I’m glad I finally played it. It’s funny in the way that things were funny in the 90’s.  I realize that this game might appeal to my generation (millenials) more than to the next generation (Gen Z), but there’s something to be enjoyed here no matter what. The colors are vibrant, the music is fitting, and the jokes generally work. There have been complaints from other gamers about the remastered graphics, which I can understand. My take is this: it’s still an improvement over the SCUMM engine original, but a more refined coat of paint could have been applied to some of the rough edges of the graphics. All told, I recommend this game. 

You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who wishes to be a pirate on Melee Island in the Caribbean. That’s the only plot to start out. Right away, you’re greeted with comedy, in that none of the characters you meet can pronounce your name properly. The island is brimming with pirates, many of whom are at the bar drinking “grog.” The governor of the island is a woman named Elaine, and–wouldn’t you know it–after you meet her, you fall in love with her. Of course, what old-school video game would be complete without a damsel in distress? Elaine gets kidnapped by the ghost pirate LeChuck. It’s up to Guybrush to save her.

So yeah, the story is a little cliché. But you come to The Secret of Monkey Island for the witty dialogue, not for a brilliant storyline. After you drug the guard dogs at the Governor’s Mansion, they appear dead, only for the game to pause and say that they are merely sleeping, and no animals were harmed in the making of the game. You come across a tribe of cannibals who would normally eat you, but they’re trying to cut back on their red meat consumption. One of the cannibals says to another, “Do you know how much cholesterol is in one of those things?” The jokes keep coming, and while they are funny, don’t expect to laugh at every little thing.

This is a very American made game (developed in California), and I imagine some of the comedy doesn’t play as well internationally. I can’t imagine a game of this era, with this much Western humor, coming out of Japan. It’s a nice change of pace for the era, when almost every video game did come out of Japan. At one point you buy a ship (with a line of credit), and you have to haggle for it. It really feels like haggling. You have to exhaust a lot of dialogue options and get the salesman to agree to a price you can afford. I’m guessing that if you are from a country where you don’t haggle for a car, this segment might be difficult or even seem a little crazy.

Needless to say, Guybrush saves Elaine. The ending sequence does away with a lot of the difficult puzzle solving so you can save the day without much of a struggle. For getting through the puzzles, I do recommend a guide, because many bits are un-intuitive, a flaw of many SCUMM engine games. My best advice is: If you have five hours to spare, perhaps enjoyed reading Treasure Island, and like silly jokes that played better in the 90’s, you can’t go wrong with The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. If you consider yourself a gamer, and read up on gaming, listen to gaming podcasts, etc, this game is going to come up pretty frequently. So I’m glad I can say I played it, and now I get all the references to it.

4/5

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