The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review

Few companies can define an era in videogames quite as perfectly as Lucasarts did in the 1990s with the adventure genre. Every new release of theirs brought considerable advancements, from voice-over “talkie” versions on CD-ROM to 3D graphics. When we look back at the string of hits that came from this company, one thing stands out consistently: These games are all riotously funny. This nearly flawless iPhone upgrade of The Secret of Monkey Island is just as clever as we remember.

Generally, games have gotten bigger and more aggressive, or smaller and more accessible, but they have not developed a better sense of humor. Not only are the settings and puzzles in Monkey Island amusing, but the characters are witty in a way that we haven’t seen in a long time. They speak with the absurd awareness that they are videogame characters and can do ridiculous things, so you should just accept it and play along.

One standout experience typical of the humor in The Secret of Monkey Island is the sword fighting, which is not based on timing, but rather on witty put-downs. One character will throw out an insult, like “You fight like a dairy farmer!” and your job is to match it with an appropriate retort, like “How appropriate. You fight like a cow.” This level of quality comedic writing is found in every single line of dialogue in the game.

The moon was much bigger back in the old pirate days.

Sword fighting is a highlight, but it’s not the whole game. In this type of adventure game, you use a series of commands to navigate your way through the world. Your character, the nerdy pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood, can move around, talk to characters, pick up items, and manipulate certain objects in the environment. Your actions in the game are propelled by a vast amount of dialogue and filmic storytelling techniques, like cross-cutting.

Throughout most of the game, you’ll be exploring locations like Melee Island and Monkey Island, often with a clear goal in mind that must be achieved in the most ludicrous manner. Since the convoluted puzzles can take hours to solve on your own, the game provides you with a very useful hint system. Just by shaking the device (in frustration, perhaps?) a gradually more specific series of hints will appear on the screen.

Also, a particularly satisfying save system means you can exit out at a moment notice, and find your game autosaved right to the line of dialogue at which you quit. You can even save your progress in separate slots. These hint and save systems take out the frustration factor completely, and let you enjoy Monkey Island’s story, graphics, and sound design without any hang-ups.

As for the presentation, we were blown away. While you can look back at the original graphics with two swipes of your finger across the screen, you’ll want to keep the brand new art style front and center. Characters are much more detailed, even if they don’t animate much, and the backgrounds are bright and beautiful. Most of your view is taken up by these new visuals, hiding your inventory and action commands behind icons in the lower portion of the screen.

Aye, ’tis a fine ship. Nice bottle, too.

We were also surprised when we heard Monkey Island’s incredible new voice work. The cast that voiced these characters in later installments have returned to give them new life in this special edition, and we were especially happy to hear the voice of Yakko from Animaniacs, Rob Paulsen, perform as four minor characters. Even the MIDI soundtrack has been upgraded to a full-on orchestral score. Most iPhone games we tend to play with the sound off, but here, headphones to help you pick up every word and note are a must.

With so many drastic improvements to a hilarious, entertaining game, we can’t help but be slightly disappointed by the lackluster control scheme. Instead of tapping on an object to select it, you have to laboriously drag your cursor around every time. At least during dialogue, you can directly click on your desired response, but this should be an option for the rest of the game as well.

Our theory for this choice is that you have to be able to drag your cursor over items in the environments to see what they are, but that would not be possible if you could just tap on them to select. This annoyance doesn’t ruin the game at all, and we got used to it after a while. However, it would make moving through locations much easier if the “tap to select” option was included throughout.

Look out behind you!

The Secret of Monkey Island is a truly memorable experience, whether or not this is the first time you’ve played it. The new graphics, voice work, hint system and autosave make a great game even better, and even though the controls are not a perfect fit for the iDevice, this special edition is still a Must Have. If you want an incredibly entertaining adventure game that is a big step beyond any other on the iPhone, you must buy this game.

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