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Secret of Monkey Island HDWho remembers point and click adventures?
That true staple of fantasy video gaming that was so vibrant in the 90’s?

You don’t see as many of them around anymore, which is a real shame. Off the top of my head, I could probably name about 20 first person shooters that have been released in the past year, all of which have grey and brown as the predominant colours, but nary a single decent point and click with this kind of vibrant personality has been released since 2010’s delightful Machinarium.

And the unfortunate part of this story is that it is to be expected. It takes a very special kind of person to enjoy the sounds and charms of the point and click adventure. Not “pants-on-head bananas” special, but special in that you have to possess a love of narrative and, ideally, a sense of humour that revolves root beer with exorcism properties and rubber chickens with pulleys in the middle (an area in which the Monkey Island franchise really cornered the market…in that no other games had such delightfully deranged developers.)

Washed up on the island of Meleè, Guybrush Threepwood, our hero, is overcome with the desire to become a pirate. Along the way, he will trade farmyard based insults with fellow pirates, fall in love with the Governor while stealing from her conservatory and get beaten up by the Ghost Pirate LeChuck. And all this is now available in upscaled remastered graphics! Grog and Scumm has never looked so real! But we’ll talk about that later…

As a lover and veteran of this game in its original form, having received it along with a copy of Lemmings and a Tesco value equivalent to Buzz Lightyear (Larry Spaceface) for christmas ’97, it is going to be very very difficult for me not to get nostalgic about this game, so it would be best to do the bad bits first.

It’s kind of short.

Now on to the good bits! Monkey Island is THE definitive Point and Click adventure. It did something that wouldn’t be achieved again for another 13 with the release of Pirates of the Caribbean, and made pirates cool again. Guybrush is one of the most likeable protagonists you will ever see in a video game and comes out with bust-your-gut laughing one liners that are still funny now, 23 years after release, at the time of writing.

The puzzles are well-integrated into the story, with the first half of the game focusing just on your becoming a pirate (which is done by mastering the arts of swordplay, thievery and treasure huntery), and the latter half an elaborate rescue mission. Modern gamers may deem it a little too difficult to make the connection between gopher repellent and flower obsessed inmates.
Luckily, as those clever fellows at Lucasarts are clearly aware, it is eventually figuring out of these puzzles for yourself that affords such a great sense of satisfaction. As such,they have added a hint system to the remastered version in order to discourage checking online walkthroughs, which hold your hand throughout the entire game and ultimately detract from the principal enjoyment to be had.

The puzzles, once solved, rarely feel unfair either, with only one or two appearing too random to figure out yourself. And it is divided up nicely into four chapters, each with different settings to feast your eyes upon. What elevates Monkey Island above other games in the genre, what makes it so playable, and even replayable, isn’t just the humour. It is how well the humour is integrated, working hard to dull the pain that comes with point and click games. Unlike a series such as the horrifically dated Kings Quest games, getting stuck doesn’t feel like you’ve hit a brick wall. Searching the surrounding area guarantees a laugh or two, as the quirky little details abound in this game. There are more than one Indiana Jones orStar Wars references hidden throughout the game, and you’ll probably feel particularly smug if you notice them.

The remastered version allows you to switch between the classic mode and the upscaled version at the touch of a button.
And therein lies my greatest qualm with this new release. It is an unfortunate reality that new and improved graphics are not as fine a compliment to creative design as they could be. This is not to sound pompous. Many, indeed, most modern games are quite stunning to behold. Look at the Mass Effect series. Look at the most recent Legend of Zelda games. Hell, look at The Unfinished Swan,  which stands as living proof that some recent examples of creative art design far surpasses its predecessors.

Yet, there is an unfortunate belief among designers that smoothing out polygons and dragging everything kicking and screaming into the HD dimension is paramount, and that all games that are dubbed as ‘classics’ deserve this treatment. Which, when applied to PS2 classics such as the Devil May Cry series, works. The difference in graphics is not massive here, and the transition is minor, but ultimately beneficial.

It is a wonderful thing that Monkey Island has been repackaged and brought into a modern context for new and younger gamers.
And it is with great relief to the fans that the option to switch between art styles is present. But this HD makeover is the equivalent of slapping a hi-octane engine and racing stripes to a radiator. It just doesn’t NEED it. The character animations, for a start, are jerky, unnatural and inorganic.

The characters models themselves have all been redesigned for a younger crowd. In an opening scene, Guybrush explores a bar, talking to a number of passive aggressive yet comical pirates. Their mannerisms were stylishly conveyed through their genuinely rugged appearance, which was then flipped on its head through their bizarre musings and comments. In the HD version, they are rosy-cheeked, cartoon characters. Their features are notably emphasized, a single bottle of grog from breaking into song. In short, the dark atmosphere, against which the humour of the game was contrasted so well, is lost. Instead, it takes the one thing Monkey Island is known for, its humour, and bleeds this into the aesthetic, thinking it to be a natural fit when in fact, it dulls the overall effect.

Despite all of these complaints, the option to switch to the older graphics is still present and for that reason, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is an absolute bargain for the casual gamer. It is available for about ten euro, whatever platform you buy it on, although for €15 you can purchase this and it’s sequel too, an option you would be FOOLISH not to take advantage of. For this minimal price, you are getting:

  • An incredibly memorable adventure
  • A slew of humourous witticisms and visual gags from some of the greatest minds in video gaming history
  • A lesson in sword fighting and pirate insulting
  • Information on how to grow a beard for the sequel
  • A pirate with a funny name

Best played on PC or mobile devices, it functions just as well on consoles, though less of a natural fit. This is a game that oozes charm and some of the best retro gameplay you can get. If this sounds appealing, and you like a game that can genuinely make you laugh, then here is a good way to spend the next couple of days.