The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (2010, original 1990)

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (2010, original 1990), created by Ron Gilbert, written by Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer and Orson Scott Card, developed and published by Lucasfilm Games

In 2010 Lucasarts games published a remastered version of its beloved classic adventure The Secret of Monkey Island. This version included high-resolution graphics, an enhanced soundtrack and full voice cast. And it's also a bit of a hit and miss as far the quality of the remastered art goes. You can play the game using the original pixel art, but sadly enough you can't, at least with the official version, play the game with new voice acting and original art.

But, before you even start playing the game and if you aren't willing to go through the hassle of using fan-made tools of converting the game into a ScummVM version with voices, you can protect your eyes a bit by installing a mod that alters the appearance of Guybrush into something more tolerable from what the Special Edition originally has.

So technical things out of the way, the story of the Secret of Monkey Island is a pretty simple one. You are Guybrush Threepwood, a young pirate wannabe, who washes to the shores of Melee Island, where he aims to make his piratey dreams come true. In order to do that, he needs to go through the three trials of sword fighting, treasure seeking and thievery.

And then there's the little case of the dreaded ghost pirate LeChuck, who has eyes for the stunning governor of Melee, Elaine Marley. This one-sided affection ends up him kidnapping the governor, which in term leads Guybrush to follow them to the mysterious Monkey Island.

As a game, The Secret of Monkey Island belongs to the rare breed of old adventure games that are very playable even today. Unlike many other old games in the genre, there are no dead ends and the puzzles are mostly fairly logical. Some bits of it feel a bit tedious, especially if you've played the game more than once. The insult sword fighting for an example is something that is fun for the first time, but during the next playthrough, it is a part of the game that does feel more like work than fun.
Overall though, it still is a game that holds up. It doesn't feel dated the same way like most of the Sierra catalogue does, as Ron Gilbert wanted  the Monkey Island designed so, that the player would feel it is a fair game, not something that goes out of its way to deceive you in order to pad the length of it by sudden deaths, death ends or illogical puzzles.

The best additions the Special Edition brings to the table are the voice acting and the remastered soundtrack. Originally the third game in the series was the first to be voiced and as luck has it, the cast of it returned to this remaster as well. The music is also fantastic.

It's not all great though, as the biggest issue I have with the Special Edition is the graphical overhaul, which is at times flat out lazy and unfinished looking. Some scenes have gained a lot of additional details, making them feel more alive, but some scenes, especially many of the scenes in Monkey Island itself look more like concept pieces or rushed and sketch-like. Some of the best scenes, like the hell scenes, suffer greatly from this in comparison to the fantastic original pixel art.

Then there's the problem of character art, which takes an entirely different direction from the more realistic take of the original game. Here, the characters are more cartoonish, but in a very ugly manner, which shows in both, game sprites as well as close-ups. The model for Guybrush is the biggest offender with, so like I said, do yourself a favour and use the fan-made mod to change the character into something more toleratable.

it really is a shame, that the quality of art is a stumbling block in this game. The original pixel art is very good and even when the remake is following the direction of it, it often fails to capture the essence of it. These shortcomings make the end result feel a bit lazy, though I do assume the art is rushed because the Special Edition itself was most likely rushed with a very tight schedule.

As I said though, if you are willing to tinker a bit, you can turn Special Edition into the Ultimate Talkie version, which uses the original pixel art, making it far more pleasurable experience. And the voice acting is pretty damned good as well, so remastering it wasn't all wasted effort.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is available through Steam and GOG.


  1. That voice acting is not available in classic mode is indeed a disappointment. The special edition of Monkey Island 2 is much better on all levels. Not only did they implement speech in classic mode, they also had dev commentary from Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. It’s a shame that they never updated the first game to the same standard.

  2. Yes, it's a shame that the SE was never updated to the same level with the MI2 SE. The fan-made workarounds do help a bit if you are willing to do the conversion yourself, but in an ideal situation, there would be no need to jump through hoops.


Post a Comment