September 19, 2009

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition – Crush! Frag! Review!


“I want to be a pirate!”

It’s a simple dream, but as Guybrush Threepwood will soon find out becoming a pirate isn’t about having a can-do attitude or a funny name. It requires wit, a sharp sword, a sharper tongue and the ability to solve some very odd puzzles.

Before I go any further, I need to confess something. I never played either of the original two Monkey Island games. I’ve been a fan of the series for a long time now, but I had never heard of it until I was first introduced to Guybrush and friends in the quintessential Curse of Monkey Island. To be fair, I was always a huge fan of LucasArts adventure games. I was a veteran to the likes of Full Throttle, Sam & Max Hit the Road and Day of the Tentacle but I had just somehow miraculously missed The Secret of Monkey Island and its subsequent sequel. I’m not proud of this.


I had always wanted to play The Secret of Monkey Island, but as most connoisseurs of the genre know, tracking down (and being able to afford) adventure games, especially ones that are over two years old, can be next to impossible (or require skirting the law). When I found out a re-release was in the works I couldn’t help but start salivating. Not only would I finally be able to play the game that started it all, I’d also be able to play it with re-imagined HD graphics and actual character voices. But, is it worth it?

Graphically, The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a bit of a mixed bag. The visuals themselves are splendid (not a word I use all that often). The colors are vibrant, the slightly redesigned areas and characters look great, and the improved HD graphics actually manage to balance the “classic” Monkey Island look with a more “current gen” style. Being able to switch between the new and the original visuals at the touch of a button doesn’t hurt, either. It allows purists to play the game exactly how they remember it and lets newcomers see how everything used to be. The only downside to the visuals is the fact that the new graphics have to be matched to animations that are almost old enough to toss back a mug of Grog. So basically it looks pretty, but a lot of the movements are a little choppy.


Another new (and perhaps the most significant) addition to The Secret of Monkey Island this time around is the sound. And by that I mean the actual inclusion of sounds. Most sound effects were extremely limited in the original, or in the case of voice work, absent entirely. This is a HUGE deal. By updating the sound effects and music, and adding a full suite of character voices, this classic piece of adventure gaming has been given a new life. Monkey Island fans will also delight in knowing that the Big Three (Guybrush, Elaine and LeChuck) are voiced by the same actors from The Curse of Monkey Island.

If there is one loose plank on this ship’s deck, it would have to be the lack of any gameplay changes. Anyone who’s ever played the original will know exactly what to do in the Special Edition, because nothing has changed. The dialog is the same (but with voices!), the Three Trials are still solved in the same manner, and the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle is just as indispensable as it was back in 1990. Of course, anyone who hasn’t played the original may find themselves at a loss quite often.


As brilliant and timeless as Monkey Island is, some of its puzzles are beyond obtuse. Thankfully, the developers added a Hint Button. By holding down the Hint Button, a little window will pop up with, you guessed it, hints on what to do next. They start out somewhat vague, then become more obvious with subsequent button presses. Eventually they’ll just tell you flat-out what to do. Sure it can spoil the fun of figuring out the puzzles for yourself, but the hints are never given out automatically. So if you ruin a solution for yourself, the only person you can blame is yourself.

By their very nature the most successful adventure games (read: anything made by LucasArts) are so entertaining, so enthralling, that most players will complete them over and over again just to enjoy the characters, conversations, humor and “little moments” once more. As a member of The Classics Club, The Secret of Monkey Island is no different. Once the credits wrapped up, I was anxious to start up another game and get lost in the seedy back alleys of Mêlée Island (TM), try different dialog options and practice my insult sword fighting skills all over again.


The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition may not have changed much (aside from the face-lift and voicework, of course), but that won’t stop adventure fans from devouring it. Fans of the original will finally be able to play it again without the use of “special software” or gerbil-powered computers, and they’ll be able to enjoy some authentic (and fantastic) voice acting as a much needed bonus. Fledgling scalawags setting foot on Mêlée Island (TM) for the first time will get a kick out of the irreverent slapstick humor.


The best way to sum up the experience for you Monkey Island veterans is this: Watch the intro credits. Watching Mêlée Island (TM) shift from a 16-color pixelated throwback to a vibrant HD masterwork (just as the Monkey Island theme reaches its apex) made me mist up a bit. Chances are it will do the same to you.

So, is it worth it? Aye!



Things We Liked: Lush, updated visuals. Gameplay, storytelling and humor that still hold up even 20 years later. Voices, voices, voices!

Things We Disliked: Some nonsensical puzzles. No non-cosmetic changes. No Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge: SE announcement as of yet.

Target Audience: Monkey Island fans. LucasArts fans. Point-and-click fans. People who like some “Ha-Ha” in their games. Pirate lovers. Grog drinkers. Governor’s daughters. You.

(The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition – Available on The iTunes App Store, PC on Steam and Direct2Drive and Xbox Live Arcade. PC version reviewed. Buy it Now at New to CFD’s reviews? Read our explanation here.)


  1. Hahaha! Excellent review. I can’t wait to play this! (I also haven’t played the original either). This makes the pirate car wash going on outside my work so much more enjoyable. xD

  2. nathonix

    having played up to the point of going into the monkey head, i found a glitch in the puzzle of opening the safe to get the credit note. if you just use the right mouse key for one movement and left key + verb to do the other movement, the safe resets, you have to key + verb the whole puzzle or else you get nowhere. just a heads up.

  3. Thanks! It was great to FINALLY play the original. Good stuff. :)

    And thanks for the heads-up on the glitch. Luckily it didn’t happen in my game.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>