elTee's LSD flashbacks of the early '90s crash with the present as he reviews Lucasarts' special edition of Monkey Island 2.
The Special Edition of Monkey Island 2 is the best thing LucasArts have published since Grim Fandango. Hyperbole? Not this time. I mean, how could they have gone wrong? The original Monkey Island 2 is a stone cold masterpiece, and this is nothing more than a jazzed-up and repackaged version of the same game. And whilst you may be nervous after the soulless remake of The Secret of Monkey Island in 2009, I can assure you that things are different this time.
For one, LucasArts have evidently listened to their fans. That's a headline in itself. Unlike the last special edition, this is a game that feels like it has some heart in it; a sense of pride, perfectionism, and attention to detail.
And you probably want to know all about that, right? Which rooms feel closest to the original, which ones are the most removed? What is everyone's hair like?
No. Leave me alone. You people who argue about that stuff are boring as hell, and you'll get no fruit from me. Nostalgia fuels so much with the Monkey Island games, and they're extremely subjective too. You've already seen screenshots of this game, and watched the new framerate and animations in action - so what difference does another opinion make?
Instead, let me give you a piece of advice: don't play this game with a magnifying glass. Don't flip backwards and forwards between the old and the new, analysing pixels and trying to decide which one you prefer. Just ignore the classic version; you've played it before and it is still untouchable - so play this in Special Edition mode, and forget about it. Treat it like it's a brand new title entirely unbeknownst to you.
You might remember something that you've invariably forgotten.
This game made me feel like I was playing Monkey Island 2 for the first time all over again. Every new location is a beautiful, tempting place. It draws you in - you want to explore it; these are whole new islands, and they feel different too - the weather, the people, the muuuusic. It's hilarious and exciting and intriguing in equal parts. This is definitely the tri-island area that you grew up with - but now the water ripples; clouds float across the sky; Guybrush stands there scratching his head in smooth, fluid, high-definition motion, and it is mesmerising.
Seeing it anew, playing it as though I never had, I found myself pondering the tantalising mystery of this game yet again. What is it about?
I suppose there are two schools of thought. Those who say it's a series of throwaway gags masquerading as post-modernism, and... well, those who see more. Fundamentally, of course, there isn't more - this is a story full of questions without answers. Finding those questions is another extension of the Monkey Island subjectivity; there is no right or wrong. We can all see as much or as little as we like in this game - but as Kesey said, "It's the truth, even if it didn't happen."
You may plan to go looking for answers in the new developer commentary mode, but luckily for the world, Ron, Dave and Tim have not filled this voice-over track with a serious analysis of their game design philosophy, or high context Monkey Island lore. What you will get, in abundance, are behind-the-scenes anecdotes and small pieces of esoteric trivia, and it's very amusing to listen to as well. Crucially, they don't blow the ending. They don't even attempt to explain it beyond a desire to make something that was ambiguous; "seventies-like" is how Grossman describes it. There are no Secrets to be found here.
And what did you expect? Confirmations? The refusal to tinker with that is the game's greatest achievement. Theories are dead space. The ending to the game is an unanswerable question, that suggests there is no point looking for answers at all. There will always be a mystery.
And so, like life, everything orbits around the single, duplicitous moment at the end. The game is the preamble to the question; and like everything in Monkey Island 2, the question has no answer - just two leaps of faith: what is said, and what is seen.
But which of these is true?
Ho ho. The game has its problems too, of course. They are numerous, but minor. Don't focus on them or you'll go bald and your wife will have sex with someone from work. It's not worth it. There's so much more to like here than there is to dislike. It seems almost incidental to say that this is the first point-and-click adventure game I've played on a console without any control pad headaches - and in actual fact, the new direct control is a pleasure.
Then, to top everything else, iMuse is back, and not only back but packing real instruments, and just like everything else this is an homage to the original game. Even if they hadn't, weirdly, botched the music in classic mode, I still think you'd want to listen to the special edition version of the soundtrack on a level-footing with the one in your memory - Jesse Harlin has outdone himself.
If there was any more doubt, the concept art viewer is an out-and-out love letter to the fans (and is even more comprehensive than Rogue Leaders). You'll unlock dozens of images throughout the course of the game, each one shedding a little more light onto the development process.
Perhaps this, more than my pretentious ramblings, is what this game is all about. Everything we ever dared to wish for in embarassing youthful forum threads is here, and it's aimed squarely at us - the fans. Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, Tim Schafer, Steve Purcell, Peter Chan - you'll find contributions from all of them in this package.
At the start of the review I asked you “how could they have gone wrong?” I guess I forgot that this is LucasArts we were talking about.
But I also said that this made me feel like I was playing Monkey Island 2 for the first time. That's why I forgot to be so critical - because it's been twelve years since I've been proud of LucasArts. Twelve years since they did something that made me want to go into a fanboy frenzy.
You may say I'm a fool, infatuated, and starry eyed - and perhaps this is true. But I am proud of LucasArts for this, because they've done something I didn't think they'd ever do again. They've made a game for us.