Reports of the adventure genre’s demise have been greatly exaggerated.
For you youngsters out there, we’re going to take a quick look back at one of the more revered and fondly remembered game subtypes of all time before getting to the game at hand, LucasArts’ recently released Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge. As for the rest of you, I’ll meet back up with you two paragraphs down.
Everyone is familiar with the wildly popular first-person shooter (FPS) genre and, arguably, the current king of the genre, Halo. Fast-paced action, impressive graphics, and lots of killing are the bread and butter of FPS games. But for all its popularity, the FPS genre is a relatively young one (though oversaturated). Before Halo, we had GoldenEye. Before GoldenEye, we had Doom. Before Doom, there was Wolfenstein 3D. And before that, there was… well, adventure games. Back in the 80s to mid-90s, the adventure game genre was the breakout star of the video game industry. Contrasted with today’s dialogue of frame rates, weapon variety, and physics engines, the adventure genre was known for its story, humor, creative puzzles, and problem solving. Text adventure games such as Zork in the 80s evolved into the massively popular graphical Sierra games such as the King’s Quest series. Out of that spawned the legendary LucasArts collection of adventure titles such as Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and perhaps the most beloved of them all, the Monkey Island series. Sadly, the pace of video games sped up as computers were able to handle more and soon, the adventure genre fell by the wayside, with many in the industry all but proclaiming the death of the adventure game. This certainly seemed to be the case until the birth of Xbox Live and the popularity of downloadable content.
History lesson over. Now that adventure games have started rebuilding some traction through nostalgia and an online distribution method, LucasArts has followed 2009’s release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition with the natural follow up, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge (MI2). Updated in much the same way as the original but with even more improvements, MI2 should delight old and new fans alike. Like last year’s game, the graphics have been redone to keep the game from feeling too dated and making it easier on the eyes. It’s a delicate balance of updating versus losing its charm, but like last year’s release, the graphics keep the spirit and flavor of the original. If that’s not good enough, however, there is still the option to quickly switch back to the play style and look of the 1991 release.
A shining bright spot of the Monkey Island series is the voice acting, and all the original voice actors are back to reprise their roles, lending their talents in the remake. It’s wonderful to hear heated, fully-voiced conversations debating the merits of woodchucks chucking wood. Even better, if you do decide you’d rather play the game in old school mode, you now have the option to keep the voice acting going. This was one of the biggest downsides I had with playing in retro mode last time and am grateful for the update. That is not to say that the age of the title doesn’t come out even here, however. After getting used to games such as Mass Effect where you choose the gist of your reply but don’t know what you will actually be saying, Monkey Island is from a time when you read your dialogue options, pick one, and then have what you just read voiced back verbatim. It’s not so much bad as it shows another small way games have evolved over the years.
As with any adventure game, a huge portion of its worth hinges on its gameplay. MI2 is much like any of the classic LucasArts adventure titles in that its puzzles range from straight forward to truly bizarre. Frequently, the correct course of action seems fairly transparent, but there are also many times when random inventory manipulation and a dash of creativity are needed to figure out what to do next.
To that end, another bright spot is the return of the in-game hint guide, cutting out the middle man of sending scores of confounded gamers to their PCs to look up the next step. The hint system will give three scaling hints, starting with a subtle push in the right direction and ending with an obvious “do this next”-esque statement. While the adventure game purists out there may frown at this readily accessible cheat mechanic, it’s none-the-less good to have. We may wish for today’s youth to be stuck going through the painstaking agony of figuring out exactly what to do with that rubber chicken in our inventories, but let’s face it, the dynamics of information have changed and they would just look it up on CheatCC anyway.
The biggest fault I had with the game is its new control system of directly moving Guybrush Threepwood using the left analog stick. In theory, this should make for a better and more modern control scheme; however, it instead often felt clunky and unpolished. There seemed to be invisible obstructions that kept movement from being entirely free flowing and kept Guybrush from smoothly getting where I wanted him to go. There is the option to change movement back to the point and click style, which started sounding appealing to me half way through the first act.
Although the new movement controls aren’t perfect, the quick command options are a blessing, as is the button to highlight any interactive objects on the screen. Pixel hunting is a thing of the past, and I couldn’t be more pleased about it. And Once you’ve moved the cursor to the object you’d like to interact with, a radial menu of available commands opens up for quick selecting. It’s so much more streamlined and polished that you wonder why this wasn’t incorporated before.
All in all, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge is a great update on a classic game in video game history. While it has been enhanced for the better in nearly every way, the ability to just go back to the original game style at any time is a nice nod to the older generation that likes their products left alone. Add in the available MST3K style commentary from the game’s creators, and there’s a lot of bang for your buck here. If you’re already a fan of the adventure genre, you know what you’ll be getting and don’t need me to tell you it’s worth picking up. But if you are new to these whacky adventure titles, this is as good a starting point as you will find.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.5 Graphics
Updated graphics still look dated, but that’s not the point. They are better than the original and get the point across. 3.5 Control
Clunky at times and twitchy at others, but as it’s an adventure game, it isn’t too much of a worry. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The voiceovers steal the show. 4.5 Play Value
Perfect for quick sessions or marathoning through, MI2:SE packs a lot into its package. 4.2 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.