There has been a lot of discussion to this point about the latest Monkey Island installment, Escape From Monkey Island. Fans have debated on the merits of the game and how it fits into the series. Since so much has been said about this game in the past, I'm not going to actually review it here. Instead, I'm going to review the PlayStation 2 port of the game in comparison to its original PC and/or Mac incarnation. Yes, Escape From Monkey Island has been reincarnated as almost many times as an evil undead pirate, minus the smell. Take notice that this review may contain quite a few spoilers. If you haven't played the game already… what the hell are you doing here? Go out and buy the friggin' thing already.
First of all, you can see a difference between the PC and PlayStation 2 title without even playing the game. The cover art on the game case is quite different from the PC version. I must admit that I do like the composition of this cover art better than the previous effort, but like the previous cover art, the character designs are simply awful. Guybrush looks overly goofy, and Elaine has a huge, grinning face that only her overly goofy pirate husband could love. This is quite unfortunate, because all Monkey Island box art in the past has been something to admire and drool over. Not this time, friends. Escape From Monkey Island is contained on only one disc, thanks to the DVD format of the PlayStation 2.
The cutscene quality in EMI is simply amazing. Word is that LucasArts used an MPEG2 quality compression, which is plainly seen. The colors are crisp and there are almost no image artifacts to be seen. This does a lot to engage a player more in the game. The quality is so high that it's even more difficult to tell the difference between the cutscenes and the ingame graphics, except for the fact that they're more dynamic. The character models during the game play are also improved, but you can really only see the difference when the characters are very close to the screen. For example, many of the polygons in Guybrush's hair seem smoother and rounded off. There is no anti-aliasing as far as I can tell, but when playing the game on a normal TV, it doesn't really make a difference. Unfortunately, I noticed that the frame rate was quite a bit lower in many of the scenes… at least compared to the game I had running on my computer. This could really be noticed in places where Guybrush was running, but it wasn't a huge problem.
The controls for this game really seem to be made for a console. I found them much easier to use in the PlayStation 2 version rather than using a keyboard on a computer. In contrast to the PC version, EMI uses a character-relative control system by default. This, in my opinion, makes more sense and is easier to control. Still, I had a few problems with Guybrush hitting an object and running off into the opposite location. It can be annoying at times, especially when you are accidentally moved into the next location and have to deal with a few seconds of loading time. One of the most amusing things is the use of a rumblepack (oh wait, I think that's trademarked by Nintendo). If you don't know what this means, it's a vibrating mechanism inside of the controller which activates at certain points in the game. As cheesy of an effect as this may be, it never failed to amuse me since LucasArts has used this in a few creative ways. For example, when the boulders being hurled at the governor's mansion hit the ground, your controller shakes. It also does this during insult arm wrestling, while riding the madly rotating manatee, and when you are hit with one of those blue fireball thingies during Monkey Kombat.
Speaking of which, what about Monkey Kombat? LucasArts stated during an EMI chat that Monkey Kombat was to be made "less troublesome" for the PlayStation 2 crowd. Did they live up to their promise? It's hard to say. While I did find Monkey Kombat much easier in the PlayStation 2 incarnation, it may just be because I've gotten the hang of it after replaying the games about three times. However, when I first played the game, I wrote down all the moves and transitions on a piece of paper. I did that as well with the PlayStation 2 version. My list this time around was significantly shorter then my previous lists. So yes, I found Monkey Kombat much easier, but I couldn't tell you why exactly. I did notice that they now present you with a message when you have learned a new move. Update! I have been informed that by pressing one of the top buttons on the controller, you can view a special chart during Monkey Kombat. This chart is suppose to inform the player of the various moves and transitions.
There are many other minor changes that aren't even worth mentioning here (like the removal of the interactive music piece on the Knuttin Atoll map in which the music changes to a minor key signature as you move towards the island). There is also an improved version of Murray Ball and a new game called Monkey Invaders, which you can read about on the next page. We were told that there was also suppose to be some dialogue in the PS2 port that had been cut from the other games, but I didn't really take any notice of them. Under the game's menu, there is also a section in which you can view the concept art for the game. This is a nice treat for people who are interested in the art and craft of game design. The font apperance is also different, making it easier to read on a TV screen. And yes, the giant monkey head does look different, but I can't figure out what purpose this serves. It almost looks to me as if the giant monkey head is no longer a pre-rendered image, but rather a 3D model. Why the change? I have no idea, but it still doesn't look like the monkey head from Monkey Island 1. Artistic license indeed.
Something about a Monkey Island DVD-ROM sends chills up my curved spine. Overall, I think it's both really cool and slightly unfortunate that this game is better than the PC version. It's really cool because this will expose a whole new audience to the wit and charm of a Monkey Island game while giving them impressive visuals, better controls, and (allegedly) a less annoying version of Monkey Kombat. It's also unfortunate for fans like me, who will always be a PC gamer and not a console lover. It means that we have to live with a somewhat lesser version of a Monkey Island game, but we all have to make sacrifices. This game represents a huge experiment on LucasArt's part. They're attempting to bring their adventure games to a more mainstream audience; one that is considered by many to have short attention spans and a need for pointless violence. Will the experiment pay off? Any LucasArts adventure game fan should hope so. Whether or not you find EMI to be a good Monkey Island installment, I don't think you can deny that LucasArts has delivered a solid adventure game to this PlayStation 2 market.
Review by Andrew "telarium" Langley
Still celebrating his recent 21st birthday...
© The International House of Mojo 2001
Release date: June, 2001
Requirements: A PlayStation 2, duh.
Pros for PS2:
Included concept art
Improved character models
Amazing DVD cutscenes
A possibly less annoying version of Monkey Kombat.
Cons for PS2:
Some slower frame rates.
Controls can still be a problem
Continue to the next page for information about EMI PlayStation 2 easter eggs!