Review: Monkey Island 1 and 2 Special Edition

Even though Adventure games have lost most of their popularity since the early ’90s, riding high on that genre was Lucas Arts. They brought us The Secret of Monkey Island in 1990 and then a sequel quickly thereafter with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge in 1991. The Secret of Monkey Island games have never been described in a simple way because the games are complex and bring with them humor that you have to experience to fully understand and appreciate.

Few ’90s classic games have received the upgrade treatment to HD in recent years, but in 2009, we received a HD update for The Secret of Monkey Island, and then in 2010 we received Money Island 2 with the same HD treatment. Do these games measure up to our distant memories or should they have stayed in the distant past?

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – Special Edition
Systems: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation Network, Xbox Live, iPhone, iPad, Mac OSX
System Specs: Intel i7 950, Corsair Dominator 6 GB 1600 XMP, Asus P6X58D Premium, Evga GTX580 FTW Hydro Copper 2 x2 for SLI, Logitech G13 Advanced Gameboard, and Logitech G19 Keyboard
Developer: Lucas Arts
Publisher: Lucas Arts
Release Dates: The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition July 15, 2009 / Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – Special Edition July 7, 2010
MSRP: Individual $9.99, Bundle $14.99

The special editions bring us fully voiced characters, updated graphics, new hint systems, remastered music, and new control interfaces. The new hint systems is indeed welcomed by this reviewer. Adventure games are fun, but when you’re stuck because you don’t think exactly like the game designers do, it becomes a chore instead of staying fun. I didn’t have much of a problem when I played the original in 1990, but when the sequel came out in 1991, I was beside myself on what to do most of the time. This is, in part, the reason why Adventure games died out.

The Secret of Monkey Island tells the first part of Guybrush Threepwood’s story, who wants to be a mighty pirate. With one foot put in front of the other, you start that adventure on Melee Island. Many trials and tribulations await, and your wit and creativity must carry you through the complex and daunting puzzles at hand.

The adventure brings you to a bar with three men who say you must complete three tasks to become a pirate. Along the way, you meet a Voodoo Lady, Stan, Otis, Meathook, the love interest Governor Elaine Marley, and the evil ghost pirate LeChuck. After completing the three tasks to become a pirate, LeChuck kidnaps Elaine as part of a dastardly plot, thus sparking your new quest for a crew and enough credit to buy a ship. Once that’s settled, you set sail for Monkey Island in hopes of finding Elaine and defeating LeChuck.

The whole time I was playing the special edition, I went back and forth from the classic to special edition graphics and realized the latter added a whole lot more depth to the world that I had only previously imagined. The art style is similar to how things changed in the third installment of the series, which is good. The cast from the other installments also lend their voices to this game but are only present while in the special edition mode. That’s a good thing, though; it brought back memories when I had to just imagine these voices. The music has also been remastered for this game, performed by a live orchestra whose talent brings this game further into the era of HD.

The majority of people who are going to appreciate the old-style graphics and no voices are those who played it in 1990. I’m not saying newcomers won’t enjoy the classic mode, but I believe they won’t appreciate it as much or for the same reasons as we did when it first came out. The new control scheme is intuitive: gone are the days of going click, Open, move mouse over door, click, Door. This makes for having more fun and less thinking about what action will work in what combination.

The largest misstep I can see with this special edition is that there isn’t a whole lot of additional content. It would’ve been nice to see a commentary or some other extra about the game. Again, the hint system is welcome, but it can detract too much from critical thinking, at which point you might as well be reading this story from a book. Part of the fun is figuring things out, but newcomers maybe too interested in reaching the next part and will thus abuse the hint system.

After I finished playing through this installment, I felt much elation, and the fact I could share it with my kids while playing was a bonus for me. They enjoyed helping out with the puzzles and the game themselves. What I didn’t expect was to see the quality of the new graphics to carry through the whole game. Sometimes when you see a remake, it’s just made to look good in the first few levels and then everything becomes a copy-and-paste job the rest of the way. Thankfully, this isn’t the case with this special edition.

Overall, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a fun trip down memory lane for those who played the original and a new experience for those who are curious about how Adventure games used to be. This game earns its score because Lucas Arts only improved on what was there, and nothing was sacrificed from what made it a classic in the first place.

* Graphics overhaul
* Addition of voice acting
* Music
* Controls
* Hints

* Lack of additional content
* Hints can be too helpful


The next adventure for Guybrush Threepwood mighty pirate takes place in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, proving that there is no true death for a good bad guy. This time, we start the adventure on Scabb Island where we’re quickly introduced to LeChuck’s right hand pirate, Largo. After a subsequent butt-kicking from Largo, you are left penniless and woman-less because Elaine is nowhere to be found. When you enter town, you meet some old characters and many new ones. After hearing their sobering tales of being bullied by this Largo character, you decide something has to be done about him for the good of all—though a little revenge doesn’t hurt.

With revenge swiftly delivered and the resurrection of LeChuck at hand, Guybrush quickly takes counsel with someone wiser and older then he is, the Voodoo Lady. She sends him on a quest to find Big Whoop, a treasure that many pirates have yet to find. Can Guybrush find it? The task is not simple: to find the map pieces that will lead him to Big Whoop, he must venture to multiple islands and complete a great many of tasks in the process.

While making your way across the islands, you find Elaine, but things aren’t so cozy between you two. LeChuck is determined to have his revenge upon you and have Elaine for his own again. Can Guybrush reignite the passion between himself and Elaine? Can he stop the zombie pirate LeChuck? Really, I’m not going to spoil it for you.

The graphics have received the same level of attention as the original. The same ability to cut from the classic and HD versions give a great contrast to not only the graphics but also the audio this time around. The original sequel used a lot more audio with the addition of the iMUSE system, so a lot more attention went into the audio this time around while maintaining the same level improvement.

What I felt was lacking in this game was the ability to use my keyboard this time around. Everything is done with the mouse for Guybrush’s actions and I missed the keyboard when going quickly to a certain action. The hint system is a little less informative, but they included a highlight system. I think this takes away from the feeling of being creative in the game, and taking away that feeling of accomplishment would water down the experience for newcomers, who are just learning why these adventure games were so great.

The greatest improvement in terms of additional content is that Lucas Arts included commentary from Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman. The whole experience was enhanced listening to these gents about why they did and didn’t do certain things, and touching on fan interests. They also included concept art from the game that you unlocked as you progressed through the story. I always find that stuff fascinating, but I usually never go back more than once to it.

The folks over at Lucas Arts didn’t take away from this title, either, and again they receive my praise for it. They’re keeping the core of these classic games and only improving upon them, which this long-time fan of this series greatly appreciates. The ending of this was bittersweet: with the first, I knew I had another waiting for me, but this time, I had nothing else to play. I could go to other adventure games, but they won’t meet the expectations I’ve fostered with these games HD improvements.

Overall, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: Special Edition was good, but the lack of keyboard support took something away for me. That said, the game picked up on the problems I had with the first and changed it for the better. I did feel that this game took away some experiences, so that brought its score down a little. There are things you should be told but you should also learn on your own, and they gave away too much to the player this time around.

* Music, more is better
* Graphics
* Additional Content
* Core game still intact

* Too many hints
* Controls


Disclosure: The writer purchased this game through Steam and bought them bundled. He did not receive any additional content aside from what was included with the games individually. Both games were completed at 100% at time of review. Note about Steam achievements with this game: the writer played these games in offline mode, so his account was not updated to reflect that he’d earned those achievements when his Internet services were restored.


About Brandon Mietzner