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Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review: Secret of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition

By: Samy Masadi

Last year’s special edition remake of The Secret of Monkey Island reminded us of the finest, most charming aspects of the LucasArts point-and-click adventure classics. The remake’s updated HD visuals and sound brought Monkey Island’s roots to a newer gaming generation while providing all the more reason for the current resurgence of adventure titles from the likes of Telltale. A similar remake for the sequel would seem like the perfect follow-up since LucasArts so successfully breathed new life into the original. Yet if the first made us reminisce in adventure gaming bliss, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge now only painfully reminds us why we forgot about the adventure classics in the first place.
After defeating the villainous ghost pirate LeChuck in his first adventure, series hero Guybrush Threepwood finds himself in yet a new quest to find the mythical treasure of Big Whoop. His search for the bountiful booty certainly fills a tall piratey glass filled to the brim with hearty laughs and plenty of grog, but not before he must solve a vast assortment of adventure-style puzzles. Between island hopping and meeting some of the strangest folks in the Caribbean, Guybrush must find the exact wild combination he needs to pass obstacles familiar to fans of ye olde SCUMM engine.

Now the remake of the original woke me up to incredibly challenging, yet utterly satisfying puzzles of the adventure games of old, especially when compared to today’s relatively tame Tales of Monkey Island. Monkey Island 2 largely follows suit, except when it goes beyond the extreme. If the first brought the best of “think outside the box” puzzles, the sequel offers puzzles bordering on “think outside your mind.”

Solving some of the puzzles doesn’t feel satisfying, as you’ll only realize how illogical they really were. There’s simply no rhyme or reason, for example, behind Guybrush needing to place a telescope on a statue. Also, I might get the joke of using a monkey as a wrench to loosen a pump, but the solution only makes sense after the fact, not before. When you have to guess at the solution by throwing every item in your inventory at the problem, you’re not at fault; that’s just bizarre puzzle design. If you find yourself giving up or using a guide, don’t be discouraged: it means you’re still sane and thinking rationally.

Thankfully, the improvements added by the special edition help smooth over the difficulties of the original. Taking a page out of the action menu of The Curse of Monkey Island, the third and best Monkey Island game, the special edition applies a similar radial menu for each salient item or person. Out of the many possible actions, including push, pull, use, or talk, the interface intuitively shows only the ones relevant to a given item, which allows for quicker, more appropriate actions and less random trial-and-error than the action system of last year’s remake.
Far surpassing even the excellent efforts of first special edition, the updated Monkey Island 2 adds gorgeous presentation and voice work that totally enlivens the once stiff, mute pixels. As if part of a living, breathing 2D painting, characters animate smoothly with dialogue that sounds much more natural than that of the previous remake. The voice cast that has stayed with the series since the third game released in 1997, including the talented Dominic Armato as Guybrush, again returns to add great emotional depth to the characters and a level of humor only attainable from their unique line deliveries. On top of the HD reconstruction, both newcomers and purists alike will appreciate the ability to switch between the original and special editions at any time with the press of a button.

As far as the remake’s improvements go however, the title holds to the strengths and weaknesses of the original version. The puzzles are still insanely difficult, and, even more unchanged, the story still ends the same. The references to The Empire Strikes Back, though hilarious, unfortunately fit the fellow Lucas title quite well since the narrative ends on a disappointing cliffhanger. Find and keep an old copy of The Curse of Monkey Island handy, you’ll need if you want the ending and explanations you deserve.

Despite the puzzles and unresolved story, Monkey Island 2: Special Edition still warrants a recommendation, albeit a reluctant one.  The updated graphics, voice-overs, and pure nostalgia that Monkey Island 2: Special Edition brings is worth your hard-earned cash.The special edition beautifully enhances a fantastic, yet noticeably flawed adventure classic well worth the mere $10 asking price.
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