The Secret of Monkey Island is a fun, small, adorable adventure game. There’s a lovely cast of silly characters, and an almost coherent story about trying to become a pirate and rescuing a girl from the evil ghost LeChuck.
It’s been almost 20 years since Monkey Island first appeared. In those two decades it has earned a status of legend, heralded as one of the greatest point-and-click adventure games of all time. With this in mind, and seemingly a desire to recapture past glory, LucasArts have completely overhauled the game with new graphics, a new in-game hint system, new interface, and recorded dialogue delivering the well-known script out loud for the first time. It’s a chance to play it all over again, or if you happen to befewer years old than the game itself, to approach it for the first time in a more palatable form. That’s the spin.
Clearly a few die-hard fans are going to get all hot and flustered over Guybrush’s ludicrous new hair, but overall the new graphics are splendid. Lovely, lush, hand-painted reworkings of the original pixel art. The opening cinematic is faithful, familiar, and yet fresh. Alas, the new version’s problems begin just moments after this.
Monkey Island originally used LucasArts’ SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine, where a collection of verbs at the bottom of the screen was used to build a sentence saying what you wanted to do. So Guybrush might USE the BANANA on the MONKEY. He might also pick up, push, pull, look at, talk to, give, open and close. But rather than have the verbs on screen for the new build, you cycle though different cursors, a device more familiar to later Sierra adventures. Except then it was four or five options. Not nine. Nine that don’t appear to follow any sort of recurring order of appearance as you turn the mouse wheel.
You can instead hit Ctrl to bring up a verb box, recreating this point-and-click adventure as a point-and-click-and-keyboard-and-point-and-click adventure. A backward step from a 1990s interface. This is made even more complicated by the inventory only appearing when you press Alt, and the mouse then defaulting to ‘look at’, making the far more useful ‘use’ mysteriously hard to locate. So now building a sentence requires hitting Ctrl, choosing a verb, hitting Alt, scrolling around for ‘use’ (or hitting U), selecting the object, then, if it’s to be combined with another item, doing this again. Argh!
Above: You can even use the classic graphics, should the nostalgic urge strike
Maddeningly, there’s space at the top and bottom of the screen where verbs and items could pop up when you move the mouse there – a device hundreds of adventure games have used in recent years. To choose not do this, to make the new version far more of a faff to play, is bewildering.