Between the inspired work coming out of Telltale Games, the return of old classics thanks to digital distribution, and the seemingly endless parade of Nancy Drew and Agatha Christie mysteries, fans of the point-and-click adventure seem to have limitless options at their disposal. It’s in this climate that LucasArts decided to bring their nearly 20 year-old pirate-themed masterpiece The Secret of Monkey Island back from the depths.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a direct port of the 1990 PC classic, but with two big improvements: a graphical facelift brings some gorgeous hand-drawn art to the forefront, and voice talent has been provided for every piece of dialogue in the game. For veterans of the original release, these two additions alone make the purchase a no-brainer. But what about for those new to the franchise?
Old school point-and-click gamers have long touted the original Monkey Island as being one of the greatest adventure games ever made. Now, almost 20 years later, those words ring as true as ever. The early days of LucasArts saw the production of a dozen or so classic adventure titles with a distinct sense of humor and charm, and Monkey Island was chief amongst them.
As the player, you’ll fill the shoes of pirate-wannabe Guybrush Threepwood. While attempting to prove his pirating skills in an effort to land a seafaring gig as a bucaneer, Threepwood gets tangled up in trying to save his love interest from the ghost pirate LeChuck.
Over the course of 10-12 hours you’ll explore two pirate-infested islands, get introduced to cannibals who don’t eat red meat, battle a feisty pack of piranha poodles, and become intimately familiar with the expression “how appropriate, you fight like a cow.” If you have a good sense of humor and a love for challenging gameplay, The Secret of Monkey Island is downright sublime.
But wait, there’s more! As an added bonus for those of you old enough to remember playing Monkey Island the first time around, a quick swipe of your finger will send you back in time to the days of chunky pixels and MIDI sound. That’s right — at any point in the game you can check out the vintage 1990 presentation with little more than a swipe.
Not only does The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition mark the return of a beloved classic, but it also marks a first for iPhone gaming. While a variety of game genres have made their way to the iPhone, this is the first time a point-and-click adventure has made the jump. Of course being first has its advantages and disadvantages. While it’s hard to not get excited about the thought of additional adventure titles making the move to the small screen, it’s all too easy to see the mistakes that were made by being the first out of the gate.
The biggest issue we had with the iPhone version of Monkey Island was the controls. Rather than tweaking them to better compliment the platform, methods of controlling the action seem to be ported directly from the PC version. The logical choice would have been to use the touch screen to tap on whichever object or direction you wanted to select. Instead they have you dragging a cursor to the locations you want as you would with a mouse. And while you can control the cursor from anywhere on the screen, it’s still far less intuitive than just clicking on the object you want.
Other problems crept up as well. Hovering the cursor over an object and double tapping would usually tell the game to switch to a default action command. Double tapping on an open door would close it. Double tapping on an object would look at it. When this double tap worked, it worked well. But the double tap was a really hit and miss operation. Some objects would respond to a double tap and some wouldn’t, with seemingly no rhyme or reason behind the difference. Eventually it just became easier to select the action from the action menu despite this being a far more cumbersome maneuver.
Technical issues aside, the iPhone version does offer up something that its PC and Xbox 360 counterpart do not: portability. While the gorgeous hand drawn art might not be as detailed as it is on the big screen, the convenience of putting a pirate in your pocket is just too handy to ignore. Once we got used to the control issues we couldn’t help but feel there was something downright magical about getting this much game onto an iPhone. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition truly represents a landmark moment for iPhone gaming.
The puzzles are brilliantly constructed and challenging. The story is engaging. The writing is laugh out loud funny. For years people have been trying to convince me that The Secret of Monkey Island might just be a perfect game. With the exception of some less than perfect iPhone controls, I can find little reason to argue with that summation.