Monday 28 January 2013

The Secret of Monkey Island Review (PC)

Back in 1990, the point and click adventure had a cult following, mostly fuelled by Sierra's Quest series and a few oddball adventures from Lucasfilm Games (now Lucasarts). Ron Gilbert's Maniac Mansion had captured the imagination of gamers with its oddball approach to the graphic adventure by offering a dose of comedy, strange characters and exploding hamsters. But Gilbert had an idea that would make Lucasfilm Games a major player in the genre. Along with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman he would conjure a story of a wannabe pirate, a spectral villain, a beautiful Governor and a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle all combined to make one of the finest games of all time.

The title screen, showing the Island in its entirety, is combined with a fantastic MIDI score that lets you know you're in for something special. It's like the opening sequence of a movie (something rarely seen in games of its time), and when you are first handed control of Guybrush Threepwood, the comedic tone is set instantly as you talk to the island's blind lookout. Straight away the player is sucked in, and wants to see how the story plays out.

The plot concerns the aforementioned Guybrush on his quest to become a pirate. He has a lot going for him (not least his ability to hold his breath for ten minutes), and almost every line that comes from his mouth is a classic. But it's the other citizens you encounter that really make the game. The hook handed Meathook with his talking tattoos, used ship salesman Stan, the swashbuckling Governor Marley, ghost Pirate LeChuck, the fruit-headed cannibals, I could go on. You want to talk to everybody, explore every conversation tree until all dialogue is exhausted, afraid that you'll be missing out on another golden comedy nugget.

Dialogue is not only used for the purpose of characterisation and story, it's also used for the legendary insult sword fighting. By learning insults and their responses, Guybrush is able to build up a dialogue tree of putdowns in order to take on the sword master of the Island, offering a refreshing and hilarious alternative to violence seen in many games (even Mario kills his enemies, you know). It fits in so well with the feel good vibe of the game, and even today, many fans will trade gibes with each other ("You fight like a dairy farmer", "How appropriate, you fight like a cow" being a particular favourite).

Of course, a large part of the graphic adventure is the puzzles, and Monkey Island's range from something as simple as using a cooking pot as a crash helmet to cooking a dish that'll knock Guybrush out for several days. The inventory is full of McGuffins and puns (the red herring being an early example) and each is worth looking at (such as the compass Stan gives you. It always points to his showroom). Even with such a bizarre miscellany, the puzzles remain fairly logical (something the second game would often stray from), but you may still find yourself a little perplexed at times.

All this gushing praise may smack of a reviewer overcome with a nostalgic buzz, misleading potential newcomers into a game that will be of little interest to them. That assumption would be wrong. Despite the game approaching its nineteenth anniversary, it still holds up today. The limited colour palette and low resolution may seem a little quaint, but still retains its charm and makes the world feel genuine.

The linear path progression that runs through all point and click adventures may seem the polar opposite of what gamers of today want, but to dismiss anything so well constructed and fun to play, for that reason, would be foolish. Ron Gilbert and his team (including many who would go on to create their own classics such as Tim Schafer) made a title so fresh, clever and laugh out loud funny that anybody who considers themselves a gamer simply must play it. It's as essential as a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.


Written by Dan Gill

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