Monkey Island 2 Special Edition

Experienced adventurers looking for a review of Monkey Island 2 Special Edition based on weepy nostalgia (which, let’s face it, we’re all victims of from time to time) should look elsewhere. No matter how sacred Monkey Island is, it’s still a game, albeit one that’s almost two decades old. It’s worthy of all the same criticisms as a modern game, especially given that its audio and visual makeover allows it to be presented as such. All of gaming is done a disservice when nostalgia gets in the way of logic.

At their core, adventure games consist of a set of tools, like dialogue choices and items, and a set of environments. At its best, Monkey Island 2 presents players with the subtle audio and visual clues necessary to determine how to combine that toolset with the character’s surroundings. It’s far from perfect, though, and at its worst, it’s a time-sapping guessing game. Sure, using an actual monkey as a “monkey wrench” is hilarious, but it makes no sense, and worse, there’s no logical basis for such a solution.

The very nature of the game causes players to constantly second guess themselves, looking for clues that aren’t there when the far-fetched solution is staring them in the face. Even solutions that are easily deciphered sometimes require players to sift through unrelated lines of dialogue or the dozens of items and interactions useful as nothing more than distractions. An NPC may demand one thing, when players are really meant to deliver something else entirely. All in all, there are far, far too many red herrings present for almost every puzzle, a common trapping of the adventure genre that simply hasn’t aged well. 

Monkey Island 2 was crafted for its time. Despite their recent resurgence, adventure games haven’t been at the forefront of the industry for some time, now. They thrived during an era when gamers had more patience, when they huddled together in front of computer screens tackling riddle after riddle from every possible angle, bouncing ideas off one another and never giving up. Adventure games would hardly have remained so popular for so long if they hadn’t required players to think so far outside the box, and in that regard, Monkey Island 2 succeeds.

It’s not difficult to see why it’s so fervently adored by those who took part in that particular chapter of gaming history. It expands on its predecessor in every way, and the nonlinear narrative often makes it impossible to anticipate what the next step should be. Unfortunately, while this makes the puzzles all the more rewarding when they’re finally completed, it also serves to unhinge the narrative at every turn, and many players will likely prefer the more focused experience of the first Monkey Island. The sequel was designed to be enjoyed over a long period of time, its quandaries puzzled over and its environments and dialogue memorized. Rushing through it nullifies all the magic, though those who are willing to commit their time to the game may still find something to adore.

LucasArts has adapted Monkey Island 2 for the Internet age; like the first Monkey Island: Special Edition, players have access to a robust in-game hint system available at the press of a button. The hints start out vague and become increasingly more descriptive as more help is requested. Thankfully, they often reveal just enough, vaguely pushing players in the right direction and only slightly diminishing the satisfaction of solving a difficult puzzle. Another welcome addition allows players to instantly highlight the interactive objects in every scene. Everything in the new HD version looks so fantastic that few things pop out, so the ability to highlight them goes a long way toward easing new players in.

The snazzy new HD version is absolutely gorgeous, and the overall quality has been improved over the remake of the first Monkey Island game. Each scene is beautifully rendered, and the music has been reworked with real instruments. The entire audio visual presentation has been taken to new heights, and jumping back and forth between the original and the new version really highlights that. Even the voice acting, though it does start to grate after the same lines are repeated ad nauseam, is top-notch. On the Xbox 360, there are literally no load times whatsoever.

The choice between the point-and-click and control stick movement types is nice, but it would be even more helpful if the two modes could be switched between at the press of a button, or better yet, the click of a control stick. Sometimes the movement path is simply too unclear or irregular to be easily navigated using the control stick, while other times that way is simply more convenient. Furthermore, the point-and-click style allows players to slow the cursor’s speed at will, which is often helpful for making specific selections in cluttered environments.

Fans of the first Monkey Island, whether they played the original two decades ago or the remake a year ago, will find plenty to love about its sequel. Many of the most memorable characters return (where did LeChuck get a fortress, anyway?), and the humor is always spot-on. The audio commentary and concept art galleries are nice touches, as well. Unfortunately, the original game’s faults simply can’t be ignored, although the preposterous, fourth wall-obliterating ending goes a long way to explain why so little in the game makes sense. In addition, there is one omission that can’t be forgiven: just where in the hell is the insult sword fighting from the first?

The Rundown

For those experiencing the Monkey Island games for the first time, Monkey Island 2: Special Edition succeeds almost exclusively as a glimpse into gaming’s past. This aspect is amplified by the ability to jump back to the original graphics and sounds at the press of a button, a totally optional feature that die-hard fans nevertheless insist is essential, despite the fact that they probably own three versions of the original game already. For those fans, it’s a blast from the past chock full of nostalgia and other fuzzy feelings. Unfortunately, new players with an ever-growing backlog of games that are begging to be experienced simply won’t have the time to enjoy Monkey Island 2.