The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition Review

If you've got opposable thumbs, a sense of humor, and a brain that you're not afraid to use, this puzzle-filled adventure is one well worth taking.

Forgoing the history lesson on an almost-20-year-old game, The Secret of Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure in which you assume the role of a wannabe pirate named Guybrush Threepwood. In order to become a pirate, Threepwood must prove himself as a swordsman, a treasure hunter, and a thief, which means you must prove that you can both solve puzzles and move a cursor around a screen--often simultaneously. You can expect to hit a few brick walls when you encounter some of the more baffling puzzles, but the all-new hints system does a great job of pointing you in the right direction if you choose to use it, and the writing is entertaining enough to keep you interested during extended periods of head-scratching if you don't. An option to play the game in its original form or with greatly enhanced audio and visuals is the foamy head on this Special Edition pint of Grog, and you won't want to stop drinking until you can see the bottom of your tankard.

The Secret of Monkey Island is an easy game to pick up, regardless of whether or not you've played this kind of adventure game before. You can use either analog stick to move a cursor around the screen, and when you're pointing at something you want to interact with or a location you want to move to, you push the X button. Other actions, such as "speak to," "pull," "use," and "give," are assigned to onscreen buttons that, depending on whether or not you're playing with the updated visuals, either appear at the bottom of the screen at all times or in a pop-up window mapped to a shoulder button. Items in your inventory also appear onscreen at all times when playing with the original graphics, but they are mapped to a second pop-up window in the new interface. It's great that you can switch between the two modes on the fly because there are pros and cons to both. The Special Edition looks much better and is the only way to play if you want to hear, as well as read, what characters are saying, whereas the original game's interface is less clunky.

Monkey Island isn't a game that wastes any time throwing seemingly useless items and satisfying puzzles at you. Shortly after starting out on Melee Island, you visit a bar where pirate leaders drunk on Grog (a drink so acidic that you have to consume it before it eats through the tankard) give you three challenges to complete; a surly chef refuses you entry to his kitchen; and a hungry seagull makes it difficult for you to pick up what may or may not be a red herring. Before you know it, you're walking around the island with all manner of items stuffed into Threepwood's physics-defying pockets, and you'll spend the majority of your time figuring out how to combine or use those items. Using the "look at" option on an item will afford you an amusing description that often doubles as a clue to its intended purpose. You might still end up solving some puzzles through trial and error, but you'll also kick yourself for not spotting the clues to the puzzle's solution before resorting to that time-tested technique.

This conversation was amusing in 1990…
This conversation was amusing in 1990…

When you're not attempting to combine a staple remover with a banana or wondering how to get past a group of deadly piranha poodles, much of your time is spent navigating dialogue trees with characters that include belligerent buccaneers, cholesterol-conscious cannibals, and a used boat salesman named Stan. Some of the conversations are laugh-out-loud funny, and while the actors' delivery isn't always up to the standard of the writing, the voice work is such a great addition to the game that it's difficult to go back to the original edition. Lengthy conversations with the aforementioned salesman can be a little irritating when you have to listen to--as well as read--his persistent patter, but he's still an amusing and memorable character in a cast composed almost entirely of amusing and memorable characters.

In The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, meeting and interacting with these characters is every bit as enjoyable as it was almost 20 years ago. The puzzles, the humor, and the Caribbean-sounding tunes that keep you company as you ponder your next move continue to defy their age, and even the original visuals still have plenty of pixel-perfect charm. The Special Edition update employs a colorful art style that's more reminiscent of the style in The Curse of Monkey Island (the third game in the series) than other games, but it retains the primitive (but pleasing) animation of the first game. Switching between the two available art styles is something that you'll almost certainly do from time to time just because you can, and it's interesting to see how faithfully and brilliantly such locations as the Scumm Bar and the cannibal village have been updated.

…and it's even better in 2010 because you can hear it.
…and it's even better in 2010 because you can hear it.

It's possible to beat The Secret of Monkey Island in just a couple of hours if you go into the game armed with a complete solution. However, if you take the time to enjoy it and solve the puzzles yourself, it should last you anywhere between five and 10 hours. If you have a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle, two sticks of cinnamon, a length of rope, and $9.99 in your pocket right now, the best advice we can give you is this: Spend the cash on The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and then figure out for yourself what to do with the rest of that stuff.

The Good

  • Plenty of laugh-out-loud moments
  • Inventive, satisfying puzzles
  • New hint system lessens frustration
  • Loads of well-written characters to interact with
  • Look behind you, a three-headed monkey

The Bad

  • No option to hear voice acting with original visuals
  • Special Edition interface is a little clunky