Anyone who grew up gaming on the PC in the early '90s will most likely remember The Secret of Monkey Island, often hailed as one of the best adventure games of all time. Guybrush Threepwood, the naive but enthusiastic protagonist, and the sinister ghost-pirate LeChuck have been in one another's hair fighting for the affections of Governor Elaine Marley over the course of four games. We went to LucasArts a couple of weeks ago to see The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition, and we spoke with producer Craig Derrick about the game's development.
Derrick explained that the idea began a year ago, when he and members of his team were looking to do something for the fans. They looked at how the series had evolved, especially the main characters, and agreed that the goal was to come up with something fresh and new while staying true to the original. The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition is a graphical makeover with added features, which should definitely please the rabid fans as well as draw in a new audience with its charming story, hilarious dialogue, and mix of interesting puzzles.
The story takes place on Melee Island, located somewhere "Deep in the Caribbean" where young Guybrush is on a quest to become a pirate. Along the way he meets the lovely and sassy governor Elaine Marley, who subsequently gets kidnapped by the antagonist LeChuck, who is dead set on marrying her. Everything that you remember from Monkey Island is there because this remake runs on top of the original game, letting you switch instantly--with the back button--between the classic game and the revamped version with updated visuals and audio. This is by far one of the coolest features that we've come across when it comes to remakes, and this addition lets you compare the two versions and realize what a difference 20 years can make.
Another added feature is the hint system, which would have come in handy before the days of the Internet and walk-throughs on demand. By pressing the X button, you can bring up a hint that will gently nudge you in the right direction. If you still find yourself stumped, pressing it a second time will give you a push. But if you still can't seem to figure it out, the final hint is basically a whap over the head that comes with a bright yellow arrow directing you to where you need to go along with detailed instructions. No in-game penalty is given for using these hints, but there are achievements and leaderboards to consider. However, the hints are also written with the same clever sense of humor, so it could be worthwhile to see what the game might tell you.
Instead of having the lower part of your screen dedicated to verbs, you can pull up a menu and select your command whenever you like, or use the D pad to select one of the preset commands. Like in a point-and-click game on the PC, you control your character and interact with the environment with a cursor icon. In this case it's a circular cursor with an arrow that acts like a compass that you aim at points of interest. You use the left analog stick to move the cursor, and the A button defaults to the walk command. If you hover over objects that you can interact with, the B button will appear with the corresponding verb, such as "look" or "open." The controls might take a while to get used to, especially when you need to click on several items quickly, but they're fairly straightforward.
What stood out in this special edition was the beautiful artwork, which was displayed in our meeting room at LucasArts. Background concept art was mounted on a board, with incredible detail, rich colors, and a distinct style. We were told that unlike in the original game, which was drawn on the computer, the special-edition visuals were all hand-drawn and inserted into the game. Character redesigns and the animations were also done by hand to give the game an illustrated, storybook-like feel. The whimsical art style moves away from the realistic portraits that the original had and suits the game well. All of the characters were redesigned with new backgrounds, so when you're having a close-up conversation, it's not just a solid orange glow behind a pirate's head. You'll notice that instead of his stout, pixelated self, Guybrush's redesign looks more like the lanky Guybrush from The Curse of Monkey Island, which best suited his personality and demeanor. Fans should be pleased with the close attention that was given to many of the game's intricate details, from LeChuck's pirate outfit to Stan's crazy grid-patterned coat. Shader effects and subtle animations make the otherwise static environments come alive, and a procedural technique was used to smooth out the animation. The visuals do not stray far from the original design, but the changes and added features are enough to make the game feel contemporary and new.
Monkey Island's catchy theme song and entire soundtrack were completely remastered, and we loved what we heard from the demo. The music was rewritten and recorded with live instruments so that you get the true tropical-island vibe, with a pleasant blend of woodwind instruments and percussion instead of midi tunes--which weren't bad to begin with. Ambient sounds have also been added, so you'll hear the hustle and bustle of pirates in the Scumm Bar as you walk in, or you can listen to the sound of crashing waves against the dock as you enjoy the view of the full moon. Adding to the audio/visual storybook effect, the voice actors for Guybrush, Elaine, and LeChuck from The Curse of Monkey Island have returned to reprise their roles, and a narrator was also added for the transition scenes. If the game made you laugh out loud when you were reading the witty dialogue so many years ago, having voice actors will definitely enhance the experience. We were eager to check out the insult swordfighting, but that will have to wait.
If what we've covered so far hasn't made you giddy with excitement, those who are familiar with the game from their childhood can also keep an eye out for deleted scenes, such as Spiffy the dog and other hidden Easter eggs. Our time with Monkey Island was brief, but we were impressed with the direction in which it's going. Fans will not want to miss this, and LucasArts was not averse to the possibility of more MI remakes. We weren't able to get a price point yet, but be sure to check back soon because we'll update with more information as soon as it becomes available. The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition is set to be released on Xbox Live Arcade and the PC in midsummer.