By Marty Mulrooney
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, an adventure game that many gamers still consider to be one of the greatest of all time, has finally been re-released and given the same HD makeover treatment that The Secret Of Monkey Island received last year. However, by attempting to remake a game that remains precious to adventure gamers worldwide even today, LucasArts has not only faced the tremendous challenge of updating a classic without diluting any of the ingredients that made it so special in the first place, but also the task of improving upon last year’s Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition, which split fans down the middle with its bold graphical updates and somewhat clunky controls.
So let’s get all the bad stuff out the way first. Yes, the reports are sadly true. The iconic opening credits sequence featuring the dancing monkeys is completely absent in the Special Edition… and the way the game completely misses it out hurts tremendously. It was just so iconic. Also, there is a slightly awkward moment later in the game when a certain musical number features out-of-sync vocals. However, everything else is present and correct (although there is no longer a ‘lite’ mode). Sure, a line or too may have been changed for copyright reasons (and sometimes an ‘easter egg’ LucasArts character hidden in the original mode’s artwork has been swapped in the Special Edition) but overall this is a hugely faithful representation of the original game.
The original game. In case anyone out there is playing for the first time, Monkey Island 2 takes place some time after The Secret Of Monkey Island. After defeating the evil ghost pirate LeChuck with a spray of root beer, Guybrush Threepwood has finally become a bona fide pirate. Now on the trail of the legendary hidden treasure Big Whoop, Guybrush will soon cross paths with many familiar faces including Governor Elaine Marley, the mysterious Voodoo Lady and of course, his arch nemesis LeChuck, this time returning to life in zombie form.
I would hazard a guess that LeChuck’s Revenge is about three times as long as The Secret Of Monkey Island, making it a fairly lengthy game. It starts off great and progressively gets even better as the game continues onward. Initially exploring the town of Woodtick on Scabb Island (above) is a treat for long time fans: LucasArts have truly captured the essence of what made the island so special all those years ago. It is a promising start that quickly makes up for the missing introduction. And when you finally charter a ship, the magnitude of the game still hits home even in 2010.
A simple click of F1 (much more convenient than last year’s F10) switches between the original game and the updated version: I couldn’t help but grin as I began to play and realised that, unlike The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition, this time the updated backgrounds are practically 100% faithful to the original game. Everything overlaps perfectly and fine detail suddenly leaps off the screen with the click of a button. LeChuck’s Revenge was always a far more detailed game that its predecessor, with the downside being that some severe cases of pixel hunting were created as a result. The Special Edition rectifies this problem and portrays the game world with the fine detail it deserves: this is quite frankly the most gorgeous adventure game I have seen since LucasArts quit 2D all those years ago.
The music has also had a major update, although there are some oddities. The music in classic mode doesn’t sound quite as accurate or as great as I remember (I think the soundtrack has been converted to actual digital recordings now) and the iMuse effects just aren’t as good. For those who don’t know, iMuse made the musical transition between any two screens seem seamless. It still works (on the PC and PS3 version, although I’ve heard it doesn’t on Xbox 360) but it just takes a while longer. To be fair it is a hard effect to recreate digitally and I felt that in the new Special Edition mode, it worked quite well. However, the updated music in the Special Edition mode sounds out of this world and will have you humming along. Other scenes actually have no music at all (whereas they do when you switch to classic mode) yet I actually thought this was okay: it is usually in a screen where the old game had no sound effects anyway. Instead, we are now treated to sounds of sand, sea and jungle.
The voicework here is where Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge truly shines. The new characters are all voiced to perfection (Largo LeGrande now looks and sounds very much like Robert DeNiro!) with highlights including Neil Ross returning as Wally (although he sounds slightly different than he did in Curse Of Monkey Island) and Phil LaMarr as Captain Dread (he also voiced Vamp in the Metal Gear Solid series). Of course, Dominic Armato is back as Guybrush Threepwood and he easily tops his performance from last year in Secret. He has a lot of dialogue throughout to voice and it always sounds emotionally accurate. Also, this is the darkest game of the series (think Temple Of Doom) yet due to Dom’s vocals it is hard not to like Guybrush even when he is doing some pretty mean, questionable things. Alexandra Boyd has far less dialogue as Elaine but still does an excellent job and Earl Boen as LeChuck just sounds perfect as always. You can now listen to the voices in classic mode as well and there are no longer any annoying pauses between lines.
One of the most amazing additions to the Special Edition is the Audio Commentary. When prompted, pressing ‘A’ will allow players to hear the original design team talk about the game in silhouette, Mystery Science Theatre 3000 style. Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman are all living legends in my opinion and to hear them banter about the design of both the original/new game is worth the price of admission alone (I am sure any other Monkey Island geeks will agree). They wisely avoid discussing the controversial ending, instead offering some fascinating insight into their time creating the game: it provides a compulsive listen. The only downside is that sometimes the commentary will play over dialogue when you initiate it too quickly. Luckily, the game autosaves often so you can always go back to a few minutes earlier if you want to play again without interruption. There is also plenty of unlockable artwork: I simply cannot describe how awesome it is! This is Monkey Island heaven.
Elsewhere, the controls have been drastically updated from last year and really feel great. Gone are the tacked on overlay boxes, in comes the Curse Of Monkey Island style pointer. Left clicking will move Guybrush around the screen, whilst right clicking will automatically have you look at an object or talk to someone. Holding the right button reveals any other options (LucasArts have thankfully left in all of the funny dialogue choices, so you can still try to ‘Pick Up’ a lot of people) and pressing the mouse wheel lets you access your inventory. You can even hold down both mouse buttons to highlight hotspots on the screen. This makes the game feel true to its point ‘n’ click roots and had me grinning from ear to ear. Of course, console gamers/PC gamepad owners can also control Guybrush directly now, which works fine. However, I still feel this game is best played with a good old fashioned mouse. The hint system from last year is accessible once more with a click of the ‘H’ button and does a great job of helping players progress without resorting to a walkthrough.
So, it this a perfect Special Edition? Not quite: there are some niggles both with the original version (iMuse, sound quality, some puzzles still insane!) and the Special Edition (missing credits, iMuse, occasional timing issue with puzzles, some puzzles still insane!) Yet when I got to the end section of the game, it really was like going back in time to my childhood as a gamer. Being able to finally hear the anger in LeChuck’s voice and the fear in Guybrush’s makes the final scenes, with their superbly updated artwork and effects, even more powerful than before. This is an amazing game that rises above any small faults. Yet I was torn when it finished: what score does the Special Edition deserve?
The best way I can explain my final score is this: although basically playing a game that is nearly 20 years old, I never once felt bored. The original game is a classic and the faithfully updated artwork and voicework of the Special Edition is just too scrumptious to miss. LucasArts have recently mentioned that they’ve been listening to fan’s complaints (mostly about the missing opening credits) and will be announcing something shortly. Whether they eventually patch the Special Edition or not, I still feel they have taken one of the finest games ever made and updated it in a faithful, honest manner. Playing either the original or the update, I doubt you will find many other adventure games that can match Monkey Island 2’s sense of discovery, adventure and humour, even today. The few missteps in the Special Edition prove negligible. You owe it to yourself to play this game: it is a prime example of interactive fiction (and LucasArts adventure gaming) at its highest peak. A mere patch away from being a perfect 10. Rediscover a classic: one of the greatest adventure games of all time.
9.5 OUT OF 10
AMO will be interviewing Guybrush Threepwood voice actor Dominic Armato about both Monkey Island Special Editions so stay tuned!