Monkey Island Special Edition Collection Review

by on September 27, 2011

Game: Monkey Island Special Edition Collection

Developer: LucasArts

Publisher: Activision

Available on: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Windows PC (Reviewed on Xbox 360)

LucasArts, and the company that spawned it (LucasFilm Games) were once one of the biggest and most recognisable names in computer gaming. The PC Game charts were regularly topped by titles from the company and the developers gained a reputation for quality. Before the company became almost entirely Star Wars focused, they were famous for their graphic adventure games. A string of adventure games both based around completely original IP’s and film franchises such as the Indiana Jones series came out from LucasArts, but one of the most well known of all of these was the Monkey Island series. Over time the demand for this style of game declined and the genre became neglected and near-forgotten, but fans still held out hope for their preferred gaming style.

With the advent of the Nintendo Wii and DS, as well as the growth of downloadable gaming and the independent developer, adventure games made a slow climb back into the public eye. Adventuring elements even began to sneak into other genres such as action and puzzle games. It is only fitting that the company who most personified adventure gaming, LucasArts, should delve back into their archives and release a remastered version of their magnum opus – The Secret of Monkey Island.

The title was a hit and consumer demand meant that its arguably superior sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, soon saw its own Special Edition re-release. Both were made available for digital download across multiple platforms, but now Activision have seen fit to release a retail collection that partners up the Special Edition versions of the two ground breaking games in one package. Does it live up to its heritage?

STORY: Without spoiling too much for those who have never sampled the pleasures of the Monkey Island games, players take control of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood as he lands on Melee Island, with the intention on learning how to be a Buccaneer and to make his fortune. Guybrush is, however, rather soft and not the most ruthless marauder you could imagine. Through a mixture of luck and misfortune, Guybrush finds himself falling for the local Governor Elaine Marley and getting wrapped up in an attempt to kidnap her by the evil Ghost Pirate LeChuck. LeChuck and his zombie crew become the antagonists of both titles and Guybrush finds himself struggling against the powers of the Undead hordes to save his love and make his name across the Seven Seas.

In a nutshell, that is the plot – but be aware that many twists and surprises await both the player and Guybrush as they search for unknown Treasures throughout the Caribbean. The designers of the game were inspired partially by the Disneyland ride, Pirates of the Caribbean, and by the book “On Stranger Tides”, by Tim Powers (which also – rather coincidentally – formed the basis for the latest Pirates of the Caribbean film). Some scenes from the ride itself appear directly in the games, albeit with Monkey Island games playing it for laughs, with tongue stuck firmly in cheek, and that is what has earned the title its place in gaming folklore.

The game contains a regular stream of chuckles, giggles and laugh-out-loud moments, and is one title that attempts to be funny and actually succeeds on almost all counts. Along with parodies and homages to the Pirate genre, there are also a lot of pop culture references and modern influences in the old Pirate world, such as funfairs and Pirate dry cleaners, bringing the story closer to home. It is difficult to extoll the virtues of the story in words, but the fact that the series is still going strong and new games are still being produced under the Monkey Island banner speaks volumes to the strength of the characters and storytelling.

Monkey Island Special Edition Collection Review

GRAPHICS: Since both games were released back in the day of 8-bit consoles, the graphics were due an overhaul as part of the remastering process. That isn’t to say that the graphics were bad, in fact they possessed a huge amount of character and the hand-drawn backgrounds were always clear and bright. Wisely, LucasArts chose to redraw the art assets, whilst staying as close to the original design as possible. The third title in the series, The Curse of Monkey Island was often praised for its cartoon-quality graphics, and as such it was used as the basis for the art style in the Special Edition remakes. The graphical style sits somewhere between the original style and that of the art found in The Curse of Monkey Island. Everything was given a much more cartoony makeover, with swirly clouds and curved landscapes replacing the pixelated and angular ones found in the source assets.

This style works very well as it brings the title up to date with crisp, high definition visuals, but it maintains the soul of the games it is remastering. But in another incredibly wise move, LucasArts included an option where with the touch of a button, gamers can switch between the Special Edition and original games on the fly, at any time. The new widescreen, high definition graphics will morph back into the pixel-based, 4:3 standard aspect ratio and vice versa at any time if required. Not only does this mean that those who dislike the new graphics can still play the game complete with the brand new voiceover track, but fans can switch back and forth to compare the differences and similarities between the updates and the original games.

SOUND: When the games were first released, PC sound cards were not very common and the titles made use of Midi and basic internal computer sounds to produce its music. The music was still very good for its time and the catchy themes are well remembered by fans. In the mid-nineties the games were re-released on CD with an updated soundtrack that made full use of sound card technologies, but this wasn’t a huge step forward and some fans found the music actually lacked the charm of the simplistic internal speaker sounds.

Monkey Island Special Edition Collection Review

For the new Special Edition versions, the music and sound effects have been completely re-recorded and updated, with real instruments and obviously clearer, crisper audio quality. The music is deeper and more stirring than ever before, and to the delight of longtime fans of the series, it doesn’t stray far from the original compositions. Add to that the fact that the two titles have now been given full voice tracks for the very first time. The third game in the series saw the introduction of full voices, and the development team of the Special Editions have endeavoured to use the same cast members to voice their respective characters for this re-release. This not only keeps up continuity between all the games in the franchise, but also adds another layer to the first two games that fans have been demanding for years. Of course, some people will never think the voices provided match with those that they always had in their head when playing the silent games, but the cast all do a very good job in bringing the characters to life.

GAMEPLAY: The two titles are point-and-click adventure games, consisting mainly of inventory-based and conversational puzzles. Most people who have played any form of adventure game will know what to expect from the gameplay in the Monkey Island games – being so popular and successful, most other adventure games have always looked to emulate the play style of these two classics. The game has been kept more or less in tact from the original versions, with slight changes made to control methods, in order to suit gamepad control. The first game allows users to move a cursor around on-screen and then with a pop-up circular action menu select interactions to apply to specific areas. The second title has been re-worked even further, and as well as the cursor-based gameplay, users can select direct control over Guybrush, where an analog stick will move Guybrush as they direct him, and then the same pop-up menu can be used to interact with nearby items.

Other additions have been made to the games for the special edition re-releases. Both games feature in-game hint systems where help will be provided as to what objective you should be pursuing next, and hinting at what you should try in order to solve the puzzles. These can be accessed whenever the player wishes in the game and will allow less experienced players to avoid the frustration of being stuck for a long time on a particularly difficult puzzles. Some puzzles are a little illogical, but most have been so well put together and designed, that gamers shouldn’t become stumped for too long in one area. In Monkey Island 2, object highlighting has also been added, where the user can choose to ask the game to highlight all objects on-screen that can be interacted with – just in case they have missed something important. The second game also adds an audio commentary feature, where players can choose to play snippets of audio from the creators of the original games, talking about the development and ideas behind their creation.

Monkey Island Special Edition Collection Review

LONGEVITY: For the Special Edition Collection double pack, LucasArts have added a few new features that weren’t included in the download-only versions of the two (already decent sized) games. Both games included concept art galleries that could be unlocked as you played through the title. However, for the retail version, extended concept art galleries are included, showing a lot of behind-the-scenes designs and art that was produced in the making of the re-masters.

There is also a music Jukebox for each game, where the individual tracks of remastered music are available for your listening pleasure on demand. The most exciting addition though – that might even tempt those who already bough the games in their downloadable form to also buy the retail package – is that of concept art and narrated storyboards that were created for a never-completed Industrial Light & Magic Monkey Island Animated Movie. Players can read the whole synopsis of the film, accompanied by all new artwork that helps bring that story to life. This is something a lot of Monkey Island fans weren’t even aware of being in existence, so it is hugely exciting to see, and a great added bonus.

VERDICT: If you have never played any games in the Monkey Island series at all, this is the perfect package for you. Those who may have previously been put off by the dated graphics and low fidelity sound will find these Special Edition versions much easier to get into. Also, longtime fans of the series will find a lot of interest here – the concept art contains a lot of never before seen art and some very exciting content.

The remastered games are faithful to the originals, but streamline the experience for play on modern consoles and computers. The whole package makes two already-classic games much more appealing to the modern-day gamer, which should also benefit from the current trend for Pirate related content.

There is still life in the adventure game genre, even if we sometimes have to go back to the past to see just what we have been missing. Marry up this great collection with the budget price ticket it has been given and you have a real Treasure Trove of excellent adventure gaming.

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