The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a rediscovered treasure

Posted: July 23, 2009 in Adventure, Platformer

Based in the North Bay, LucasArts is literally in the backyard of San Francisco with another nice spread out here in the city in The Presidio. Over the years, I’ve wondered what happened to many of the games I grew up with from LucasArts such as Full Throttle, Sam and Max, and Star Wars TIE Fighter to name a few. But I always liked one game above others, and that was The Secret of Monkey Island, which was my favorite adventure as a kid. And now with the release on the iPhone/iPod Touch Platform, this is now one of my favorites as an immature adult.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a point-and-tap game and in this edition contains the original and a new souped up version with voiceovers and redesigned graphics and animation that look great on my iPod Touch 2g. The story follows the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate who washes up on Melee Island. It’s here where he is given “The Three Trials”—swordplay, thievery, and uh, treasure huntery—to complete in order to become a full-fledged pirate. The objective is to get through these tasks, but of course, that would be too simple. Along the way, you’ll meet a variety of interesting and funny characters which by the way really contribute to the personality of TSOMISE. There is a wonderful mix of humor that doesn’t try too hard to make you laugh. It just does.

Visually, the game looks great, although they aren’t as smoothly animated as most of today’s high-end games. You’ll venture through bars, docks as well as jungles among other environments and the details are all there from the pirates ships to tropical forests. The voiceovers add a new element to the game and frankly are done very well. Too often voiceovers have poor acting or seem out of place. In TSOMISE, they are nicely incorporated into the game. One additional feature is the ability to switch between the original version of the game with the new higher definition one simply by swiping with two fingers so you can actually compare the visuals. And you won’t lose any progress in the game. To pause a game, you rotate the device to the right and vice versa to un-pause which actually works very well.

I noticed that the new higher def version looks more cartoony which may be a draw to a younger generation, but the original still holds onto its charm for me. You can pinch to zoom in and out to find out for yourself. The new soundtrack is obviously more current and with a high seas appeal, while the original is more old school midi files. And the sound effects in the special edition complete the package.

The controls are straightforward where you simply tap on the spot or person you want Guybrush to move to or interact with, although they aren’t as responsive as I would like. In fact, the controls are a weak part of the game, but still workable. An arrow will appear directing you to a person or item, and then you tap to interact. On occasion, the response can take a few taps before registering. When interacting with a person, a series of actions or responses appears on the screen for you to choose. In the bottom left corner is the Verb menu that provides various actions such as pick up, pull, give and talk to among others. Depending on what you choose, the arrow will indication the selected action. At the bottom right of the screen is the inventory system where you can store collected items. The system is pretty straightforward, but it can be difficult to use especially when combining items since it involves pulling up the Verb menu and unnecessary steps.

The game is about experimentation so you can interact with just about every person, animal and object on the screen without worrying about dying or losing. For me, this adds to the entertainment value greatly because you can relax and simply enjoy and experience the different things in the game. The one thing to keep in mind is that this is a puzzle game at heart meaning you need to discover things and advance in the game on your own. Nothing leads you to next task, although there is a Hint function activated by shaking your device that provides guidance. If you’re still as oblivious as Guybrush, the hint function can also explicitly point you in the right direction.

The interaction in TSOMISE is neatly arranged, although it can be difficult to figure out what to interact with when it comes to inanimate objects. Doorknobs, pieces of wood, and rocks for example all look similar so it can be tough to distinguish between what is useful and what isn’t. But like I said, the Hint function comes in handy for situations such as these. In general, I keep the use of hints to a minimum to add to the challenge.

As I mentioned, there are tasks to be completed which include the standard thievery and treasure hunting, but you soon come up against that zombie-like pirate LeChuck and his ghost crew. There’s also a love interest for our friend Guybrush in governess Elaine Marley who by the way gets kidnapped by LeChuck which starts up a new set of tasks involving the “damsel in distress” rescue. As the game progresses, intro scenes that border on cheesy with voice and all really set the tone nicely. While this game is nearly two decades old, devs of today could learn a thing or two.

Beyond the controls which can be slow to respond and an inventory system that can be less than ideal to use, TSOMISE is an admirable port of a classic. LucasArts really has done a number on this, and I can only hope that it releases other classics in the near future.

Albie Meter: 4.5 Stars (the game is faithfully and effectively adapted to the platform; while the controls aren’t the greatest, the gameplay makes up for that)

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