Whether it’s nostalgia or curiosity towards an era they’ve only heard about, but never actually experienced, gamers seem to have turned their heads towards the adventure genre. A niche segment that proves itself substantial enough to motivate the production of a few episodic series (Tales of Monkey Island, Sam and Max) followed by remakes for famous games (Monkey Island Special Edition and the current title).
While the enhanced version of the first MI didn’t really knock me head over heels, the backgrounds, animations and the general design of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition are much more detailed. From the rooms oozing with anachronism, in which you’ll find soda machines next to anchors, to the holiday villages equipped with everything an American tourist would need (gift shops, antique traders and various elements with themes as varied as they are eccentric).
Other than that, it’s the same content from the original version. With the occasional bonus of developer comments from Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer and Ron Gilbert regarding various steps and anecdotes in different phases of the game’s production or puzzle conceptualization. There’s a bonus art gallery and background illustrations that are unlocked as you progress through the story.
The storyline describes how a few months passed since LeChuck’s (the most fierce pirate this side of the South China Sea) obliteration. You’re Guybrush Threepwood, the same festival of clumsiness and wannabe pirate to serve as the series protagonist since, well, ever.
Dumped by Elaine in a manner cruel enough to conclude with her naming a mutt Guybrush and abused by Largo LaGrande, LeChuck’s first mate, our hero doesn’t just quit when faced with a kajillion ridiculous obstacles. With the plain purpose of finding the legendary treasure of Big Whoop, Threepwood does what he does and resurrects his arch nemesis by mistake, and what follows isn’t all that hard to guess: an almost annoying number of puzzles which defy any kind of logic your parents, teachers and whoever else didn’t use a monkey as a monkey wrench taught you.
Some of the most memorable moments in the series were condensed in this title – the spitting contest, all those Star Wars references or the surreal ending are all solid arguments towards the impressive scores MI2 nailed among critics. Furthermore, the variation in puzzles (which demand intuition, memory, a bit of insanity and a touch of autism) don’t stall too much on inconveniences such as pixel hunting or the reuse of an item for too many puzzles.
I won't lie to you. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is full of obstacles that border dementia. The gaming space is also considerably larger than the one in the first game and sometimes looking for a clue on the three islands that most of the adventure stretches on might seem almost as daunting as the pixel hunts in The Dig. On the other hand, quite a few of the challenges are independent, and thus the chronology of puzzle-solving is pretty flexible. The interface doesn’t hold you back either. It’s clean, ergonomic, ridiculously easy to use and it proves once more that point-and-click is the way to go in adventure gaming.
The initial launch back in 1991 impressed gamers at the time through detailed graphics, in 256 colors no less. Maybe this offered producers more detail to work with on the remake, especially since The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition spawned a lot of controversy regarding the graphics and its subpar quality. In comparison, Monkey Island 2: Le Chuck’s Revenge Special Edition looks awesome. The backgrounds were carefully painted and are extremely loyal to the originals, much like the characters. Still, the technological advantages allowed much more expressive physiognomies, without sacrificing the established cartoonish convention.
Nostalgics who prefer the classic mode will also be able to enjoy the voice acting, unlike the first MI Special Edition. You can tick it off in the menu, sure, but considering that the actors are already the known ones (Dominic Armato as Guybrush, Earl Boen as LeChuck, Alexandra Boyd is the same Elaine, and Phil LaMarr breathes life into Dread) I see no reason why they should.
Speaking of, it’s worth mentioning that Monkey Island 2 was the first LucasArts adventure game that used the iMuse technology. Which basically allowed the use / deactivation of certain instruments or ambient sounds individually, depending on the character’s position on the screen, an effect both interesting and immersive. Imagine nearing a pirate bistro – a corsair nuance is added to the theme. Basically, there are tens of variations of the already-renowned tracks, tied and altered depending on the hero’s placement in regard to certain hotspots.
The music was remastered for the Special Edition, but it is composed of the same scores and songs the original had gotten us used to. The sounds and voices that complement the background are also brought to contemporary standards, although the simplicity and minimalistic concept of otherwise quite suggestive noises will not squeeze the butter out of the surround system you might have.
Therefore, it’s hard to find flaws in this game. Hard isn’t even the word. More like almost impossible. Considering the genre and the storyline consistency, the obstacles and dialogue, I’ll go so far as to say that the new Monkey Island 2 is among the best ten adventure games that were ever made. And the fact that it’s a sequel only raises its merit: it’s one of those few sequels that are better than the original. The sketches in the bonus section illustrate a pretty classic approach to humor, vastly superior to the majority of the competition.
Just as LucasArts took the fans’ complaints into consideration in regard to the briefness of the first title of the series back in ’91, they have now proven that they’re able to listen twenty years later as well. The main complaints towards the first title were the unworthy graphics of a contemporary remake and the lack of voice work in the classic game version. Which essentially means that they fixed the problems and polished this new sequel to the border of perfection.