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Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Yo ho ho and a lot of old ROM.

All such nitpicks pale, though, when you consider just what a truly great game Monkey Island is. Returning to it after almost two decades, it's a thrilling vindication to discover that it really hasn't aged in any of the areas that matter. It's still a brilliant juggling act between gameplay and gags, with neither element overpowering the other. Indeed, in many cases the puzzles are the jokes and vice versa, forming a perfectly paced adventure romp that lets the player get their teeth into the puzzles without slowing down its rattling good yarn with needless gameplay flab.

Some parts are slightly less successful than others - collecting all the sword-fight insults feels more of a grind than I remembered, while the deliberately confusing maze sections aren't much fun - but on the whole it's a game that never allows your smile to droop. Even when you're stumped by a puzzle, there's always some surreal background detail, deadpan wordplay or wry observation from Guybrush to make you laugh.

Of course, if you've played the game before, it's unlikely that you'll be stumped by much. In this regard, it's a victim of its own success. Despite not having played the game for years, I still found it all came back to me as I played through, with solutions that were once arcane now unexpectedly popping up fully formed, subconsciously summoned from some warm fuzzy pit of memories. Should you get horribly stuck there is a new hint system - called up by holding X - which prompts you onto the right path, yet it says a lot for Ron Gilbert's mastery of game design that even this diminished challenge didn't stop me from absolutely loving my belated return to Monkey Island. Like re-reading a favourite book, or watching a cherished movie for the umpteenth time, there are simply too many pleasures to be found in the construction of the thing for a lack of surprise to spoil the party.

The scene in Elaine's mansion, for instance, as Guybrush undergoes a bizarre series of off-screen battles, presented to the player only through non-interactive action prompts, is perhaps one of the most audaciously staged comedy moments in gaming, certainly in the stuffy environs of the adventure game. The fact that we never see the tremendous yak, wax lips, heavily armed clown or army of gophers makes them far funnier than any sprites could ever be, and yet the Python-esque skit also leaves you with an array of useful - if inexplicable - items essential to the upcoming puzzles. It's a joyous example of the game-maker's art at its peak; gags and gameplay working in symbiotic harmony for no loftier purpose than your entertainment.

"And then they had the nerve to cast Orlando Bloom as me!"

So too for the moments where the game breaks through the fourth wall, calling attention to itself as a game, making sly references to other LucasArts projects or poking fun at the standard clichés of adventure gaming. Saving Guybrush from a watery grave, for example, flies in the face of gaming lore, requiring an action so simple yet so logical that you get the dual satisfaction of an expertly delivered punchline and a puzzle overcome in the same click. It's the game's genius in microcosm; constantly operating on multiple levels as an enjoyable adventure game and wickedly witty post-modern comedy, a double-decker sandwich of chewy, nourishing fun.

If there's one major complaint with this special edition, it's that it doesn't really offer much to justify the "special" part of that title. The game itself is special enough, of course, and the makeover is more than enough to make the re-release an occasion to cherish, but once the game is beaten there's nothing to mark its place in gaming history. I'm usually the first to complain when a game offers concept art as a reward, but for something as influential as Monkey Island such artefacts would actually have value. Maybe even a short video documentary on the game's original production, or how it was remade? A commentary from Ron Gilbert? Something from Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman? Any extra material would have made the return of Monkey Island more of an occasion, a celebration even, but in their absence you're left with a rather slim bare bones experience.

These bare bones form the skeleton of a truly marvellous game, however, and one that everyone should play. While it would be nice to have a more robust package, simply having such an unmistakable classic back in active circulation where new players can discover its dazzling inventiveness and giddy humour is victory enough. With any luck, they're already working on a similar reinvention for the sequel, LeChuck's Revenge.

Few games can stand the test of time with such confidence, and whether your interest stems from its genre-defining significance or its reputation as an unforgettable game, you won't be disappointed by time spent on Monkey Island. Anyone who disagrees probably fights like a cow.

9 / 10

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About the Author

Dan Whitehead avatar

Dan Whitehead


Dan has been writing for Eurogamer since 2006 and specialises in RPGs, shooters and games for children. His bestest game ever is Julian Gollop's Chaos.


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