Tuesday, December 24, 2013

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition review

    I never was much of a PC gamer. I think my experience was limited to Wing Commander, TIE Fighter, and Knights of the Old Republic. As a result, I missed out on the entire adventure game phenomenon with all of its quirks and qualities. One of the games I missed as a result was the Monkey Island series.

    Most of what I knew about this series was from my fellow gamers' constant comparison of the series to the Pirates of the Caribbean movies. Discovering only recently the series' first two games had been released on Xbox Live sometime ago, I decided to give them a try.

    The premise of the game, for those of us who have been living under a rock for two decades, is Guybrush Threepwood's quest to be a "mighty pirate." A likable young man, Guybrush doesn't exactly inspire people to take him seriously as a swashbuckler. As a result, Guybrush goes on a number of quests in order to impress the local ne'er-do-wells and later the beautiful Governor of Melee Island. Along the way, Guybrush runs afoul of the ghost pirate LeChuck and his crew of skeletal nasties.

Guybrush doesn't look like a pirate, act like a pirate, or have any piratical references. Sounds like a challenge!
    Much like Maniac Mansion, much of the game is built around picking up everything you can and figuring out how to apply them to puzzles in bizarre and frequently nonsensical ways. You need to get into a prison cell? Well, obviously the only way to do so is to get a bunch of foul-smelling pirate beer to melt the lock off. You need to get past a bunch of feral poodles? Well, clearly, the only way to do so involves picking flowers and stewing meat.

    The lack of common sense to any of the solutions was, at times, actually more amusing than genuine puzzle-solving. I admit, however, I made frequent use of the "X" button to give me increasingly more clear tips. A cute feature of the game is the first time you ask for a tip, the game coyly gives you a hint. The next time, it gets a little clearer. The third time you ask, the game just tells you what to do next. Most games don't have that level of honesty.

Insult-based sword-fighting is awesome.
    Guybrush is a likable enough protagonist and his complete lack of respect from the rest of the game's piratical rabble makes for plenty of interesting conversations. You can see Guybrush's role in inspiring characters from Will Turner to Order of the Stick's Elan. I, especially, loved Guybrush's style of swordfighting. Being too small and weak to fight most pirates head-to-head, Guybrush learns to supplement his sword-fighting skill with insults. Some of these are so bad, his enemies surrender immediately.   

    Unfortunately, not all of The Secret of Monkey Island's humor is funny. The character of Stan the Used Ship dealer has a voice so annoying I wanted to reach through time and murder his programmer retroactively for inserting him into the game. Likewise, I didn't much care for the Cannibals of Monkey Island. The game's jokes based on outdated racial stereotypes from the 17th century were eye-rolling rather than hilarious.

    Worse, the interface for The Secret of Monkey Island has gotten more unwieldy with the transfer to Xbox. You can switch back from the original early-graphics version of Monkey Island and the modern updated version at will but this only illustrates the interface is now much harder to use. You have to click on the top of the controller to do the majority of actions and this takes forever, slowing down the gameplay to a crawl. Likewise, Guybrush's travel times between locations feel ridiculously padded and hurt the game's overall enjoyment.
Governor Mallory and Guybrush's romance is delightful to watch. Mostly, because she's wonderfully snarky.
    With the exception of Stan the Used Ship Dealer and the Monkey Island Cannibals, however, I really enjoyed the supporting cast. Governor Elaine Mallory is a nice contrast from nearly every Damsel-In-Distress since video games began and the Dread Pirate LeChuck is a constant source of amusement. Unfortunately, these two characters don't get nearly as much screen-time as I think they deserve. At least in this game. I was also a fan of Carla the Swordmaster and the Shopkeeper, individuals who were a never-ending source of amusement.

    So is it worth it to pick up The Secret of Monkey Island in 2013? Yes, but only because it's ten dollars. The game has a bunch of rough spots and hasn't aged well in certain areas. Likewise, the port to the Xbox isn't perfect. I had to switch to the older graphic style and interface several times in order to get the game working right. I also nearly quit several times because of annoying characters.


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