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An Hour With: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition

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The second special edition complete re-mastering of the Monkey Island games came out last week, and I thought since we’re not going to be Wot I Thinking it, it’d be worth having a quick look at and seeing how seaworthy this once-flagship of the genre is with its new lick of paint. Because… well, I’ll go out on a limb here and say that, for a sub-section of our readership, it’ll be their favourite adventure game of all time. Possibly the last great classic adventure they ever played. It’s certainly mine.
How can I say that when everything from Day of the Tentacle to Grim Fandango to The Longest Journey came years afterwards? Well, for the obvious reason – it was the last of the great adventures which appeared on the Amiga. After that, no-one bothered bringing them across. So for anyone who didn’t immediately jump from the Amiga to the PC in the UK – as in, anyone who didn’t have a grand to blow on a PC – it was the last one they got. When the graphic adventure was at its heights, when it was clearly pushing the edges of gaming.

(That said – go read the comment thread. My chronology is weak here. It is the last of the Lucasarts classics that got exposure in the UK in such a way.)

So I’m got enormous levels of nostalgia for Monkey Island 2. I liked it so much at the time that I played all (I think) eleven discs of it with a single-disc drive, swapping it as required and dealing with hilariously slow-frame-rates when it tried to load things. I also remember something awkward about it, even at the time. Even then, I wasn’t the sort who’d replayed games often – but even trying to replay Monkey Island 2 (when I eventually got a hard-drive) frustrated me. Half-remembering the solutions to problems proved more frustrating than simply not knowing them. Realising you forgot to pick up an item on the other side of the island, demanding another long rambling trip made it not particularly fun. It was a one-time-only trip for me.

However I also thought “that’s fifteen years ago”. What do I recall now? What would I make of it?

And the Special Editions… well, they’re really something special. The graphical remix is charming, but the way there’s an elegant zoom from that update to the original with a single button press was joy enough to make me drag in delightful fiancée for her to gape at it. Another button press to bring up the developers discussing the game. And chatting to Joe Martin – whose review is where you should head if you actually want a proper opinion on it as a game – reveals that controls are tightened up from the last special edition and the timing of the spoken dialogue is improved in a way which the lines just flow into one another. Plus, a development art gallery and all that.

Really, if you’re looking for a nostalgia trip or a curatorial experience of a period classic, you couldn’t ask for better. I wish that other games of the period – perhaps outside of the adventure – could have a similar treatment.

However, as a game, I didn’t like it much at all.

I liked it for the nostalgia. I liked it for the sense of humour. I liked it when I remembered the puzzles’ solutions – and I worrying managed to recall the way to deal with everything in the opening Largo Embargo section. I suspect this may have something to do with my first games writing regular was writing the Q&A section in Amiga Power, so having to recite this sort of detail for people who were struggling to exist in a world before GameFAQs.

However, every single time I couldn’t immediately recall a solution, the game lost its charm for me. It wasn’t that it was difficult. It was that it was awkward. I half had a solution, and could see the problem… but what was I missing? Well, I’m missing the one sole stick on the island, several rooms away. Finding myself in Largo’s room, knowing I have to stick the bucket on top of the door but the game even simply refusing it as an idea – even in a “No, I can’t do that yet” – until I remembered I have to fill it with mud. Mud from the swamp! The only place on the entire island where you could get something to dirty up Largo’s clothes. Not the sand on the beach. Or the soup. Or even dirty water. Yes, it had to be the mud or it won’t just do, and there’s no way that bucket will go on top of that door.

It’s just stupid.

You may say I’m damning this for just being an adventure game.

You’d be right. I’m totally damning it for being an adventure game.

Or rather, I’m damning it for being this sort of adventure game. I think the actually even-more-artificial approach of Resident Evil holds up better. Hell, I fear the mini-game approach of your average rendered adventure holds up better, in terms of tying meaningful actions on the player to a predictable outcome. “I want to get this door open” = “I have to beat this bloody sliding puzzle game” at least makes some rudimentary sense on its own terms. The second you wander into these kind of special-cased designed puzzles based on real-world elements, you quickly become ludicrous. Old Man Murray’s skewering of Jane Jensen is brutal (and brutally funny), but it nails a fundamental. If you’re presenting a world which should have an obvious solution with an in-world element, the game’s fiction breaks. In other genres, it’s the atmosphere breaking of only being able to jump over certain walls (ala APB) or having unbreakable doors in a world where everyone has bazookas (ala most things). The difference is that in this classic adventure set up every single interaction in the world is based on this nonsense.

Not that I wouldn’t necessarily buy it.

Especially for the seven quid they’re charging, I would actually consider buying this. For the nostalgia and the extra materials – but mainly because I know if I play with a walk-through at hand, I’d get all the good stuff about the game. When everything about the game is something to be side-stepped, something has gone terribly amiss. I can’t mourn this sort of adventure. Everything that’s splendid about it was absorbed by the RPG (characterisation, plot, etc) with everything that was bad (its ludicrous puzzles) replaced with actual entertaining interaction. Because that’s the thing about the adventure game. It’s the one genre whose mechanics really were never part of its its core appeal. I mean, did we love Monkey Island for that fucking monkey wrench puzzle or attaching a banana to a metronome… or did we love it for the Cartographer/You do open heart surgery in here? or the every-relationship-I’ve-ever-had-redux of the Marley/Guybrush reunion? C’mon. Be honest.

In conclusion: No, I won’t be trying to steal Walker’s adventure-game-reviewing freelance away.

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Kieron Gillen

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Kieron Gillen is robo-crazy.

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