THE SECRET OF MONKEY ISLAND: SPECIAL EDITION / LucasArts / PC
I came into the Monkey Island Special Edition cold, purchasing and playing sheerly because it was dangled in front of my face on a Steam holiday sale for a pittance of a price, and because I'm a Monkey Island mark from way back in the day. So I wasn't aware of any new features of the game or anything. Starting out, my first impression was that the game was pretty lazy ... looked literally like they just took the old game engine and overlaid new graphics and music onto it ... until I fished around in the in-game manual and learned that that was pretty much exactly what they did, but the reason is that HOLY SHIT YOU CAN SWITCH BETWEEN THE REMAKE AND THE ORIGINAL VERSION ON THE FLY AT ANY TIME THAT IS THE COOLEST THING EVER!!!!11!!
Fun Dark Spire-like gimmickry aside, the game is a solid if basic remake, wanting in a few areas but otherwise worthwhile. There's really no new content, just the old game with new graphics, redone music, voice acting, and a handy hint system and autosave feature. Oh, and 2 gigabytes (?!) of digital distribution download plus a connection to said distribution system required.
I really feel that Monkey Island is a game not in need of being remade. The "classic" version included here is actually the original 16-color EGA release; there was a later 256-color release distributed on CD-ROM with digital music that was the first *real* remake of the game (and ported to CD-based consoles with varying levels of quality.) I take it the much uglier EGA version was included for contrast here. I still think the 256-color CD release is the version of choice, due to several weaknesses in this remake.
The new voice acting isn't bad at all - the actors from the later Monkey Island games (Curse, Escape and the new Tales series) come back here to reprise their roles. They all do a solid job, but unlike the later games, the dialogue in this one wasn't written with voice acting in mind, and the comedic timing of the readings just feels "off" to me and less funny than just reading the text sometimes. To be fair, there's places where it's enhanced too - I like how Guybrush shifts from an unconfident tone when picking the wrong insult in sword-fighting, to a confident one when he's winning the fight. The guy who does Guybrush I think has a pretty decent take on the character on the whole and in the way he delivers his lines, but his "friendly computer geek" sound is kinda just a little bit off and distracts me. It was less notable in the games actually written to be acted by him, here it stands out more. Unfortunately, Elaine sounds distractingly like Mother Maggie from Jolly Farm, and for whatever reason the cannibals sound like they share a voice with Stan the Used Ship Salesman, which is just like weird for weird's sake.
The new art is colorful and the backdrops are great sometimes, but on the whole it has kind of a cheap, plasticy, "Flash game" look to it, especially in the character sprites. Because the game is basically built on the old engine, there's no enhanced animation - characters move about stiffly, and in the facial close-ups, their mouths don't move at all. In the infrequent close-ups of Guybrush, he looks like Steve Purcell's original cover art, which is fine ... but his sprite looks like he has some weird Aryan Nation haircut going on and hasn't been out in the sun for quite awhile. He looks more like a Day of the Tentacle character than Monkey Island, really. Judging by the names in the credits, I'm pretty sure LucasArts farmed out all the art in this one to one of those "budget" Korean studios.
The new menu system is also kind of clumsy, and there's a virtual requirement to switch to "classic mode" just to solve a few of the puzzles.
This would all be a lot better if you could "pick and mix" classic and Special Edition elements, but it's all one or the other - either you use the new art and voice acting and music, or you go to "classic mode" and get no voice acting, and more MIDI-like music. I found myself wishing I could have the new art and the new music but cut the voice acting and use the old interface.
This was also a golden opportunity to fix some bits that were awkward in the original game, but LucasArts was commited to basically re-using the original framework in its entirety. Insult swordfighting could have used some editing down or sprucing up, picking around Monkey Island's hotspots could have been better defined, just to name a couple examples. The game also is faithful to the original text to a fault, including the early joke about Loom that's sure to baffle newer gamers completely.
After all that griping I still thought this was a fine package considering I paid essentially $1.75 for it through Steam, but that was mostly due to the ability to play the original game on the fly. I hope everyone took the advice of the original game's ending and didn't pay more than $20 for it, because at that price range I'd likely be feeling a lot more ripped off. I guess this is fine for newcomers to adventure games (especially with the generous in-line hint system), and perhaps a bit more welcoming than old-school sprites and futzing with DosBox or Scumm, but established adventure gamers and longtime fans are better served sticking with the VGA CD release.
* Guybrush and Elaine: A Visual History
* Monkey Island Explorer
* Ron Gilbert replays Monkey Island
* Gameplay Video