Rather embarrassingly it’s taken over 20 years to get around to playing any of the Monkey Island point and click adventure games. To be fair though, the first entry to this series was released in 1990, the year after I was born and the gaming bug didn’t hit me for several years yet. The more I heard about the series though and it was overwhelmingly positive, I knew I had to play at some point (even if just to prevent further incurring the wrath of people who seem to think that all gamers have to have played all the classic games in existence). Then of course, it ended up sitting on my ‘to play’ list for god knows how long. The thing about older games is that when you want to go back to play them, whether you loved them as a kid or not, is that sometimes it can be a pretty disappointing experience. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the game wasn’t excellent in its own right or that it wasn’t an important entry in the history of gaming, but the truth is that many games just don’t age well. In fact games that you used to think were good might actually find to be pretty much unplayable when you go back to it decades after the fact. The Secret of Monkey Island by Lucasfilm Games (as LucasArts was formerly known as), however, is not such a game. In fact, it really was love at first click. I might even venture that it’s now one of my top 5 favourite games of all time. Not bad for a game almost as old as myself.
I should note that this is not really a full review. As I’ve mentioned before, the nature of my job means there are limits on how I freely I can discuss games by big publishers. So normally I wouldn’t have written a piece about this game at all, but I’m making a special exception because I loved this game so much that truth be told I’m hard pressed to find many negative things to bring up about this game anyway (a lot of it feels like nitpicking or to do with the age of the game, which isn’t really much of a criticism). So I won’t be talking about the flaws about this game, but take it as read that they do exist of course as I’ve yet to find a game that doesn’t. Think of this more as a recommendation or an explanation of why I enjoyed this game so much than one of my full reviews.
I should also be clear, the version I was playing was the remake from 2009 with enhanced visuals and audio. In addition to a few tweaks to the game’s interface such as bringing up a menu for actions rather than having a list of the possible actions at the bottom of the screen at all times, the most significant changes were the improved graphics, a new art style and of course the addition of voice overs in this one, so you can hear all the awesome dialogue now too. You can also switch between the updated visuals and the original at any time, which is a nice touch and seems to be greatly appreciated by those who played the game way back when. Switching between the two shows you how faithfully the game was re-imagined and how much it retained the charm of the original, while adding its own beautiful cartoony art style into the mix (somewhat similar to that of the third game in the series) that’s truly a pleasure to look at. Still, much as I loved the updated graphics, there’s something very special about seeing the game as it was back in 1990 when it would have looked amazing to the people who played it.
What I really loved, though, more than anything else was the incredible story and writing. The story, strange as it is, is absolutely mesmerising, hilarious and engaging. You’ll find yourself in the most ridiculous situations doing the most ridiculous things and you’ll take in stride because it’s Monkey Island! The game clearly doesn’t take itself very seriously and doesn’t expect you to either. And it really is by far one of the funniest games I’ve ever played (my boyfriend can attest to my annoying, almost constant stream of laughter while playing this game). SMI also has a cast of memorable characters that you’ll actually want to interact with and not just because she happens to be the character you need to talk to start a quest. I found that I couldn’t help feeling affection for Guybrush Threepwood, the main character of this adventure and his infectious over-abundance of enthusiasm. The villain, the zombie ghost pirate Le Chuck and Guybrush’s potential love interest Governor Marley are also memorable additions. And then there all the side characters who make up the rich tapestry of the game. Every single character has clearly been lovingly crafted and have their own quirks, personalities and a plethora of side-splitting jokes. Yet silly as the story is, it doesn’t feel flimsy or just there to support the one-liners. The world the game presents feels real and living, albeit one that defies all possible logical and physical rules. Its unique and over-the-top story about Guybrush who despite ‘look[ing] more like a flooring inspector’ as one character puts it just wants to be a mighty pirate, save his possible girlfriend and find some treasure had me hooked from the very first time the words ‘I’m Guybrush Threepwood and I’m a mighty pirate’ were uttered. It really goes to show that you don’t need complex storylines and locations or flashy graphics for a game to be completely immersive. This truly a feel good game.
In terms of gameplay, as SMI is a traditional point and click it’s mostly about exploration and puzzle solving. Though you’d be mistaken in thinking that it was all about simply combining objects in your inventory and clicking on random things in the environment. There’s a lot that of course, but there are some genuinely inspired concepts like ‘insult sword fighting’. Also like most point and click adventure games the controls are pretty simple. You left click to move somewhere or to interact with an object by bringing up the action menu and selecting the one you want to use (in the updated version). It’s easy to get the hang of and very accessible. It also leaves you more time to focus on where the real difficulty lies: the puzzles. This game is clearly a product of a time where there were fewer thoughts about making a game easy to make it accessible to everyone. Some of the puzzles are hair-tearingly confusing, which is why I found the new hint system in the remade version to be most welcome (even though most of the time you’ll want to kick yourself for not figuring it out sooner). It’s not all about pixel hunting or luck either. Sure you might occasionally hit on a solution randomly by combining random items in your inventory or in the environment, but most of the time you really have to think through the puzzles, which makes it so much more rewarding when you finally figure it out. At the same time, although it’s a pretty challenging game, it never feels like it’s trying to punish you.
I can’t express how glad I am to have played this game, because it’s rare that you find something that you just know in your gut straight off the bat is going to be something special. And The Secret of Monkey Island didn’t let me down. I’m now on number 3 (The Curse of Monkey Island) in only a few weeks, so that should tell you how obsessed I am with the world of Monkey Island. I only wish there were more on the way, so I could continue my adventures with Guybrush forever.