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LucasArts' Secret History #14: Escape from Monkey Island The Playstation 2 Port

The PS2 Version

In general, discussing the differences between various versions of the same game makes for a dry read at best, and under normal circumstances could hardly generate enough interest to warrant an entire page worth of material. The reason why I feel the PS2 port of Escape from Monkey Island is an exception to this helping of common sense, however, is because there are actually some pretty unique features, tradeoffs, and additions/omissions between it and the original PC release of the game. To put it frankly, the PS2 version of EMI is an odd duck, and there are some noteworthy things about it you might not be aware of. Here's an overview of all the characteristics (that I'm aware of) that distinguish the PS2 version of EMI from the PC version.

ADVANTAGES OF THE PLAYSTATION 2 VERSION

  • More intuitive controls - Although the Monkey Island series has always been indigenous to the PC, the direct control scheme of EMI made it a natural fit for a console gamepad.
  • Greater space capacity - While the PC version had to fit on two CDs, the PS2 version had a DVD at its disposal, allowing the voice samples and FMV cutscenes, which were heavily compressed in the PC version, to breathe a little more.
  • Re-rendered, allegedly smoother animations - This is something LEC touted endlessly when promoting the PS2 version, stating that there were "9 times as many polygons" in the character models (???) but honestly I've never noticed a difference. The generally blurrier nature of the PS2 version's visuals makes jagged edges around models much less of an issue than with the PC version, however.
  • Force feedback - Pretty minor, but hey, the controller rumbles.
  • Monkey Kombat chart - To make the Monkey Kombat section slightly less irritating, the player can bring up a chart that tracks the moves learned by pressing R2.
  • Two-player Murrayball - While the PC version only lets you play against the CPU, on the PS2 you have the option to compete with a friend if you have a second controller. And a friend. For obvious reasons, Murrayball is unlocked differently in the PS2 version. You unlock it by retrieving the file for "Ryan J. Danzwithwolves" (accomplished by entering in the monkey-pumpkin-bunny combination with the dials) in the Palace of Prostheses, and then selecting the now available minigame under "Bonus Stuff" via the in-game pause menu. Note that the minigame can only be unlocked prior to spraying Deadeye Dave with Pegnose Pete's scent.
  • Monkey Invaders - The PS2 version offers this additional hidden minigame. It is unlocked by completely filling out the aforementioned Monkey Kombat chart for each stance.
  • Concept art slideshow gallery - Which is always nice.
  • Loading music - woot. I guess?

DISADVANTAGES OF THE PLAYSTATION 2 VERSION

  • Severe loading times - As the PS2 lacks a hard drive, the console is forced to read everything right off the disc, which results in some painful load times (which particularly blow in an adventure game, where locations have to be constantly left and re-entered).
  • General choppiness - Probably for the same reason.
  • No iMUSE - This is one of the subtler casualties to the console's reading limitations. The use of iMUSE is either greatly minimized if not removed altogether (with the only evidence against the latter being true being that the iMUSE logo can be seen emblazoned on the game disc.
  • No overlapping dialog - Again for the same reason, multiple dialog lines cannot be played simultaneously, ruining jokes that were predicated on characters overlapping each other when speaking. During the journeys aboard the Dainty Lady, for example, the exclamations from Guybrush and the crew have to be played one right after another, diminishing some of the comedic effect. Similarly, when Guybrush escapes from the bank vault and the off-screen crowd points to him as the robber, you no longer have the effect of multiple people reacting to his incriminating emergence in unison.

WHAT THE HELL

  • Television display accommodations - Some portions of environment backgrounds that were pre-rendered in the PC version are rendered as foreground elements in the PS2 version, probably to allow them to appear more prominently when outputted to a television screen. The most obvious example of this is the sacred Giant Monkey Head, which has more of a brownish color in the PS2 version and lacks the giant Q-Tip key in its ear. Additionally, the in-game text is larger for viewing on a television screen, and is no longer in Weathered SF, the font used in CMI.
  • Extra lines of dialog?! - This is a weird one. Back when the PS2 version was released, there were some allegations of slight discrepancies in some of the dialog between it and the PC version. I can confirm at least one example: when talking to Freddie the stick maker on Lucre Island, Guybrush has an extra question in his dialog tree not present on PC, asking Freddie why he thinks Pegnose Pete would frame him for the bank robbery. Freddie responds, "I have no idea." Maybe a more patient fan than me can one day do an exhaustive comparison of the two version's scripts to uncover more sheer gold like that.
  • Creepy cover art - The cover art for the North American PS2 version is very different than the PC counterpart, and was apparently off-putting enough to Europe that the international versions of the game just uses the PC cover. Interestingly, the PC and PS2 versions of the game spawned separate strategy guides from Prima, each sporting the respective version's cover art, although I can't image there being much difference in content.

Despite some good bonus material, the clear winner here is the PC version, which plays better in every way except maybe controls. But maneuvering Guybrush with a keyboard works just fine, and the PC version offers gamepad support, so... nevermind, the PS2 version really has no advantages. Still, it's a pretty interesting port that's worth a look for the really obsessive fan. If you want to play the game in most ideal way possible, however, I recommend the following: Install the PC version under complete installation to totally eliminate load times on any modern machine, download and apply the patch, turn the in-game brightness all the way down, and crank up some external anti-aliasing settings. You can't really make the EMI experience any better than that, at least until and unless LEC re-releases the game with some more robust resolution options (for instance: any).

-- Jason

OUR ESCAPE FROM MONKEY ISLAND PS2 REVIEW

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.

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.

Here are the easter eggs that we know to be improved or added in the PS2 version of Escape From Monkey Island. Have fun!

Murrayball, the first pong-like game to involve bananas and a skull, is a bit improved on the PS2 version. Namely, you can now play two player Murray ball! To access it, you must look up Ryan Danz's or Rich Sun's uber-names in the Palace of Prosthesis file system controls. In case you didn't know, Danz and Sun were programmers on EMI. Once you look up either of their names, an option for Murrayball will appear under the Bonus Menu.

Monkey Invaders, a clever parody of Space Invaders (unless you're an angry lawyer from Activision... in which case, this isn't the easter egg you're looking for. Move along.) To access this game, you must completely fill in the Monkey Kombat move hint chart, which can be viewed during Monkey Kombat by hitting one of the top controller buttons. After you do this, Monkey Invaders will be available under the Bonus Menu.

There is one additional easter egg that I have not verified yet... in fact, I don't even know what it does! During the main menu, if you press up, up, down, down, left, right, left, right, square, circle, and then start, something is suppose to happen. Let me know if you get this one to work.

Many thanks to LucasArts for helping us out with these easter eggs!

-- Andrew "telarium" Langley, Still celebrating his recent 21st birthday... (Mixnmojo, 2001)

FURTHER READING

The PS2 trailer
Interview with Shara Miller, head of the PS2 port

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