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LucasArts' Secret History: The Secret of Monkey Island: Second Opinions30 Jun, 2008
Okay, so screw that guy. What does everyone else think?
Maniac Mansion introduced me to Lucasfilm Games, but The Secret of Monkey Island made me a fan. This game epitomizes the LucasArts adventure game. It has a fantastic story, great humor, witty dialog, and great puzzles.
In this game, you really felt like you were a part of the adventure. There were other pirates walking on the island, which brought a bit of realism to a game that I hadn't seen before. The characters that you could interact with were all part of a puzzle, but the beauty was that some of the characters such as the men of low moral fiber could either be used as a solution to a puzzle or skipped altogether, and either way you could still complete the game. The greatest thing that this game ushered in though was the option to choose what Guybrush had to say. Unlike Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, these options weren't merely solutions to puzzles, they were part of a conversation much like those you would see in movies or even partake in real life. The conversations also allowed the game designers to create some really funny jokes.
That's the beauty of Monkey Island, and the game that sets it apart from the others. This game is really funny. There are few games whose humor stuck with me so much that I would remember the jokes fondly among my favorites in any medium including television and film. But, this game definitely did just that. "How appropriate, you fight like a cow" has become one of my all-time favorite quotes. The way it was used in the game was genius, especially the conversation with Captain Smirk after he taught you the second insult. His reaction made me giggle with glee when I was a little girl, and I still laugh at that to this day, even though I've seen the joke many times by now.
Michael Land did a tremendous job on the music here as well. The theme song to The Secret of Monkey Island is one of my all-time favorites, right up there with the themes from Raiders of the Lost Ark and Back to the Future. I really wish that they did make the Monkey Island movie rather than Pirates of the Carribean, as I would have loved to have heard a fully orchestrated version of the song on the surround sound speakers in a movie theater.
The Secret of Monkey Island was the first adventure game I ever completed. I first read about it in issue #2 of Amiga Power, and became mesmerised by the promise of being able to play a character in my own little movie. I needed this game, but unfortunately it required a 0.5 megabyte RAM upgrade in order to be played! There was nothing I could do. So I obsessed about playing it, re-reading the review over and over, waiting for my birthday to come around so I could get the upgrade.
Finally, when the day came, I amazingly (and this has never happened to me since) wasn't disappointed. In fact, if anything, I was even more blown away than I'd imagined I would be. From the moment I heard the opening plinks and plonks of the xylophone and saw the 'LucasFilm Games' logo appear at precisely the right moment, I fell absolutely, head over heels, in love. I sat listening to the buoyant, joyous music and, enthralled, watched the entire opening credits (and doing so became a ritual every time I loaded the game, feeling it would be sacrilege to skip them). Then came the opening conversation (the first time Guybrush Threepwood was introduced to the world!), and it was simple, earnest and funny; a perfect description of the game I was about to play.
I remember finding myself on the moonlit pier of the beautifully and romantically realised Mêlée Island and, attempting to introduce myself to the interface, did the first thing the developers had intended me to do: LOOK AT POSTER, I told it. "Vote Governor Marley", Guybrush read, "When there's only one candidate, there's only one choice". The tone was set and the game continued from there. It was almost a spiritual experience, I couldn't believe I was seeing something actually smart, clever and genuinely funny in a computer game. I felt like I was playing a movie. My favourite movie. It was like Indiana Jones and Star Wars rolled into one.
It's important to remember that, back in those days, adventure games were almost entirely made up of dry, humourless, unforgiving experiences. I'd tried plenty and they'd all promised me the same thing; the freedom to lead my character through an exciting and entertaining adventure, but only SOMI succeeded. It created a wonderfully welcoming universe, filled with little surprises and nice touches, if you were attentive enough to observe them. Every single character, for example, had a perfectly rounded personality that could be appreciated in just a few lines of dialogue -- without the need for a tedious back-story (much in the same way a character like Dr Hubbard in The Simpsons can)! Even today this is a rarity. The presentation, the characters and the overall sense of fun completely engulfed me, and I loved every minute of it.
This was an adventure game, no, a computer game, that had charm, wit and personality. An adventure game that didn't take itself too seriously, but at the same time didn't fall into the easy trap of being self-referential or fourth-wall busting, either. No, this was a genuinely fun adventure that stayed true to its storyline and characters, while letting you feel you were part of the fun. I'll never have that experience again, but I'll always cherish SOMI. After all, you never forget your first love.
Unlike a lot of the Monkey Island fanatics, I never played the first game when it was first released. No no, I played "The Secret of Monkey Island" only two years ago, after being exposed to much more advanced technology and gameplay, to the Halos and Metal Gear Solids of the world. But you don't find me writing news posts about those games. It's Monkey Island I'm singing my praises to.
I played the game at a point of my life where I was heading towards the edge of a cliff, a point where I was so depressed I had to go to hospital: I was ignoring my schoolwork, I'd shut my friends out of my life, I couldn't eat because food tasted like dirt in my mouth and no amount of sleep was enough. I couldn't even write or draw to make myself feel better. It really was the pit of hell. And then one day I decided to finally play that legendary first Monkey Island game. My family watched my mood go from down in the slums to mild amusement to genuine happiness to full-blown maniacal laughter. To say I loved the game would be an understatement.
A lot of Game Designers are arguing, these days, about the concept of linearity vs. non-linearity, but I think Monkey Island solved this issue in 1990: the design gives the player the freedom to solve the puzzles in whatever order he wants, but that it gives him the same story. The differences are minor: a scene might play-out differently, but the end result was the same. Smart? Very. Genius? Probably. A lot of people label "The Secret of Monkey Island" as a classic adventure game, but it's just a classic game, period.
But it wasn't just the design that made it so unique; "Monkey Island" one of those projects where the creator was lucky enough to be working among fellow giants. Ron Gilbert shaped the architecture and groundwork of the game - the non-linearity, the no-death principle, the fact you could always finish the game, that it always made sure you had a goal in mind - and he wrote the story, but he had Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman on his writing staff. Those two could (and can still) write lines that can tickle you or sadden you, scare you or calm you, with an unfaltering elegance. The lines flitted between plays on words to treading the line between the wacky and the norm. Schafer and Grossman wrote two-thirds of the dialogue, and probably more than 90% of the most-quoted lines. There was also the artwork, done by talents ranging from Tami Borowick to Steve Purcell, and the music (especially the title theme, composed by the always amazing Michael Land); all combined together, they added that extra layer of polish to the game.
It could become morning, and then night again, and I could still be telling you about how much I love this game, and why it is so special. If I ever started a Game Design class, this would be compulsory. You can't become a good rock songwriter without knowing the guitar, and you can't become a great Game Designer without understanding the principles behind Monkey Island. I'd been depressed and miserable before I played this game, but I played it and, for a while, it made me happy. And that happiness made me start getting my life back in order. I wouldn't be alive today if it hadn't been that good.
Monkey Island... It's hard to believe that it's been at least 10 years since I first played it. I remember getting the demo to The Curse of Monkey Island. After finishing it, I was suprised to see that there where 2 other games in the series. I remember finding the Lucas Arts Volumes II in a local toystore shortly after that, and being super happy. (It's really hard to get anything Lucas Arts from that era, especially in the Netherlands.) It included the fabled Monkey Madness disc, which included both part 1 and 2. The first time I played it, I was blown away. The adventure, the comedy, the beautifully rendered backgrounds, the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle...
This truly is adventure gaming as it was meant to be. The dialogues are sharp, the puzzles are witty, and the jokes are head-on. Even after all this time, I can still play this game and be amazed. I think part 2 is slightly better though, but this one shall allways have a place in my heart as the one that started it all.
Too bad a part 4 was made though... That kinda ruïned things for me... Wasn't there a movie made out of this game?
There is something which takes a person back in the original Monkey Island. That trademark opening screen, Lucasfilm Logo and all, seems almost eldritch, hinting at new epics and stories yet to be told, a rival of the Indy Jones's of the days gone before. Then the classic song breaks out, displaying a panoramic view of the slumbering island, and a player feels the stirrings of age-old adventuring spirit.
Mr. Threepwood, then, takes the role of adventurer. Naive and cowardly, we can assume his backstory is not an issue. His playful ignorance allows him free reign over Melee island, and thus, creates the core element of adventure games to follow. Wandering about the misty woods and craggy cliffs of Melee island, Guybrush stumbles upon all sort of rugged folk, dealers in the occult, and vicious cutthroats, who train him, prepare him, educate him to the reality of the world. The Innocent awakens, Guybrush is the Pirate Siddartha.
THAT is what adventure games are about, the gauntlet Guybrush lay down for all others to follow. Trespassing, going about the world, getting into adventures, meeting people. "Walking The Earth", as Mr. Winfield from Pulp Fiction calls it.
I have a theory. All the adventure games which had come before had made the world seem hostile via gameplay mechanics, I.E. Death in virtually every Sierra Game. In the new camp of LucasArts, from Monkey Island on, took out the unnecessary deaths, in favor of making the world seem hostile via art style, design, and dialogue. This allowed greater, more real stories to be told. Even your enemies have something to contribute. Adventure games, particularly the LucasArts ones, took on a style of exposition similar to movies, which has since not been matched by any game. Even the Half-Lifes , the Portals, the Metal Gear Solids of our current day have been unable to achieve that balance so prevalent in the original Monkey Island, the former relying too much on gameplay to move the story along, the latter being nothing more than a glorified series of movies strung together by distant action sequences.
There is also a hidden ambrosia deep within this game, only the wise and observant will see to the core of what makes The Secret Of Monkey Island so unearthly. The game has an eerie feel to it, as though there is something more sinister than LeChuck at work. There are certainly dark parts, the hellish underworld, the stump "joke", which has downright spooky undertones, and even the Voodoo Lady. The feeling I got with the first two MI's was that the whole thing wasn't real, like Guybrush had stumbled into some theme park which was so omnipresent, it seemed genuine. Stan is a prime example of someone who just doesn't click with the setting.
I would like to close on a hopeful note. We may never know The Secret. Dr. Ron "Ronzo" Gilbert has stated he will reveal it on his deathbed, but I take his words lightly, a man so embittered by the inner workings of a harsh industry has no reason to make promises to anyone. However, I like to think that there is no secret, that, as Spielberg said, every good story needs a MacGuffin. I don't let it keep me awake at night, at any rate.
Really, at its heart, an innovative, entertaining, and genuinely funny classic.
Though I played Curse first in 1997, I was interested enough to go back and play the first two games; to see how Guybrush had ended up on that dodgem in the middle of the ocean. Playing Secret was a bit of a different experience, visually that is- there was none of Bill Tiller's artwork, the interface was extremely different (though similar, I later learned, to previous LucasArts adventure games), Armato and Boen hadn't brought their voices to our pirate hero and ghost-zombie antagonist. However, when playing it I realized where Curse had got a lot of its funny, pop-cultured and yet slight dark humor. LeChuck's Revenge plays a lot more on intensifying the atmosphere of the game, making it far darker than its predecessor and is far darker than Curse and Escape, yet you can see where this starts from in Secret. The pop-culture references and ironic humor becomes the classic twist to this game; having the typical conventions of a pirate-based adventure with references to modern culture- the typical car salesman flogging old ships, grog being dispensed via a vending machine. Guybrush's search for the ‘Lost Treasure of Melee Island' ends in him finding an old T-shirt; the romantic pirate themes are proved to be, in the end, completely disappointing to the characters, though funny for the player to discover. Even the title is a McGuffin, none of the characters know what is ‘the secret of Monkey Island', and none find out in the end; though knowing the ironic humor of the game there is doubt whether there is a secret at all.
But even with its dated graphics and non-speaking characters, this game has a lot of atmosphere; more so than some of the platform or FPS games seen today. The world of Monkey Island is an immersive experience; the characters are both well developed and stereotypically funny, with a twist of culture reference. The ‘deep in the Caribbean setting'; adding the mysteriously ominous pirate-adventure environment to the game-though we know that instead we find a dysfunctional piratey community. The game is cleverly devised with clever puzzles and carefully, though many, integrated in-jokes. Looking back, it is easy to see where later adventure games; such as the Monkey Island sequels, Grim Fandango and the new Sam & Max seasons get their balance of story, humor and atmosphere from.'[/font]
I'm still waiting for the Commodore 64 version.
When I was much younger, I was very much the Nintendo fan. Even before I got a NES for my birthday, I remember building a Mario level out of a cardboard box, some paper and a not-so-ingenious system of pulleys and levers to control the plumber himself. 'That'll keep me going for now,' I said. I was that excited. 'No it won't,' said dad - who turned out to be correct when I sat on the box later that afternoon. My only previous experience of games was on the BBC Micro and while Repton holds a special place in my heart, Nintendo was something else entirely. For the longest time, I essentially played platform games. There were a few deviations from that but for the most part that's what games were to me - and Nintendo was king.
Somewhere along the way, when I was about ten, I got an Amiga for Christmas. I had a few games for it, too, but they seemed to mostly follow the pattern I was used to with Nintendo and so the transition was easy. The graphics were quite a lot better, but I was still more or less running around and jumping on the heads of things. More often than not, when a game deviated too much from that formula, I would lose interest quickly. Also, by this time, the shiny new SNES had arrived. I played it sometimes 'round a neighbour's house and it was amazing. I was fully confident I'd be getting one as soon as I could persuade my parents - but then something happened. Something that, when I look back on it, might go some way to explaining why I didn't end up getting another console until this millennium:
I discovered Monkey Island.
It was a strange introduction - I was around the house of one of my school teachers. My parents were both teachers, too, so they were all friends and I had been delighted to discover that the secret identity of The Boggit, a grouchy hint-giving troll from a magazine called Amiga Action was none other than the husband of said teacher. My dad was there, and he was just showing us a few things he'd been playing lately. One of them was The Secret of Monkey Island. The other was Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.
I remember watching the opening lookout scene from the former, and the Largo-on-the-bridge scene from the latter. I didn't quite know why, yet, but I knew I had to get my hands on these games. They seemed to be doing things with gaming that my 10 year old brain hadn't even stopped to think might be possible, having never encountered an adventure game before. I knew it was special, and this was before even seeing a puzzle - in fact, before I got the game for myself, I had absolutely no idea how it played. I was pretty sure that jumping on heads must be involved at some point but it didn't matter to me. Something about the combination of music, real characters and people who said genuinely funny things was just begging me to get involved.
Of course, I was still in the Nintendo mindset. After sampling the delights of Super Mario Bros. 3 not so long ago, it was clear in my mind that, if I was going to play Monkey Island, I would have to get the LATEST! and therefore BEST! version. Off to the local game shop I went, the following Saturday. I told my dad, 'I want to get Monkey Island 2!' Then, for some reason, something occurred to me - I really had liked that scene with the bridge and Largo. I didn't want to miss out on that, so I added: 'I want to play the one with that guy on the bridge who comes along, and there's the music that went do-doo do dooot, dee de-de daaah!' I always had a good memory for music. Then my dad said possibly the most simultaneously wrong and right thing that anyone could have said in that situation:
'Oh, I think that was Monkey Island 1, though.'
With those words, my dad saved me from a lot of regret about not playing the games in order (despite the fact that, in the end, I DO prefer Monkey Island 2 - but that's another story), and it was The Secret of Monkey Island that I took home to the shop. I devoured it. I can't say with certainty, but I believe that is the first game I ever completed. More than that - it was the first game I ever felt I needed to complete, or that it was even possible for mere mortals like me to finish. In this sense, it was what transformed games, in my eyes, from something that you just muck about with, enjoy yourself and eventually drop when the next one comes along, to something that you explore and savour go back to like you would an excellent book or film.
Then came Monkey Island 2. Then the Indy adventure games on PC. Day of the Tentacle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, Full Throttle, The Dig, Grim Fandango; 6 or 7 years of my life that can more or less be marked out neatly by LucasArts graphic adventure releases and all thanks for the smallest of over-the-shoulder sneak-peeks of Monkey Island - the best evidence of love at first sight that I can attest to.
It's true that now that the love affair with Lucasarts (and by extension the Amiga, and PCs) has cooled down and that I have begun to make up for lost time with Nintendo. Both of them mean a lot to me, now, but I feel that there's an important distinction to make here.
Nintendo gave me the games I played as a kid. Lucasarts, starting with The Secret of Monkey Island, gave me the games I grew up with.
The Secret of Monkey Island is definitely one of my favorite of the Lucasarts adventures. My brother and I laughed so hard the first time we entered the Governor's mansion, and I still chuckle when Guybrush causes the alternate ending on Monkey Island (I don't want to say how in case someone hasn't discovered it yet). One of my favorite things about not only this game but its sequel is how Ron Gilbert and his team managed to load it with so many consistently hilarious extra interactions and secrets that would make you keep coming back to click on everything, talk to everyone, and try everything to find every joke possible. It's all the little touches of genius throughout the entire game that really make the whole thing shine as a classic.
However, I find that I don't come back to replay The Secret of Monkey Island as often as other Lucasarts adventures for one simple reason: all the walking. The amount of walking you have to do in this game is absolutely ridiculous, especially in Melee Town. Also, the Monkey Island map screen is almost as bad, because no matter whether you're rowing in the boat or trekking through the jungle, Guybrush is going to move unbearably slow unless you click on the right part of the edge of the screen to indicate you want to move to another part of the island. Luckily, ScummVM can get around this problem with its speed feature, but it did annoy me on my first few playthroughs of the game.
Still, the legwork found in The Secret of Monkey Island is a minor quibble when you look at the far bigger picture of what an epic, enthralling, just plain silly romp the entire game is. The story is hilarious right from the outset, and the loony puzzles and characters keep you coming back for more. I don't think it's the best introduction to the series for someone who's never played a Monkey Island game before. I think Monkey Island 2 or Curse of Monkey Island offers a quicker and more exciting entry into the series, while The Secret of Monkey Island has a much slower pace that requires more patience, and the average player who doesn't know what silliness is in store might get bored and quit. But once you are in the series, I couldn't recommend The Secret of Monkey Island more highly. Almost everything about the game is brilliant, and you'd have to have a pretty strange sense of humor to not laugh falling off your chair at least once while playing this game. It's a thoroughly enjoyable classic, and definitely the earliest of the Lucasarts adventure games that doesn't have some serious drawback that would keep me from wholeheartedly recommending it.
This is really simple. Should someone choose to say this is a bad game, he or she would be automatically ejected out of earth and collapse in grief. The Secret of Monkey Island is as excellent as it gets, and that's not my opinion it's a scientific statement.
Just when adventure games were still being born, this awesome thing came in and started making fun of adventure games. It would point out how silly dialogue trees, or the GRAB THIS-USE WITH THAT-functionality is. All this, just a tiny part of a whole experience sustained by very well crafted storytelling, loveable characters and appealing quests.
This is an excellent video game, an instant classic and as any good classic it's meant to be enjoyed over and over. Everytime spotting and discovering new details. Classic books and classic movies are re-released over time, and I see no reason why such games like this should be any different. Monkey Island MUST be re-released so that new and future generations can visit this wonderful world as we all lucky bastards did.
My childhood obsession was The Secret of Monkey Island for the Amiga 500 and, rather then being the short-lived obsession of a 6-year old, it instead spawned a 2-year odyssey of violence and self-punishment.
Firstly, the violence. I shared the Amiga with my 3-years older brother, who at the time was deeply involved in Kick Off 2 (the football game). As was inevitable, one evening saw us clash over who could use the machine. He was playing his beloved Kick Off at the time, but I was eager to complete the third of the Three Trials. So, when he refused to get off the Amiga, I simply punched him in the face and knocked his tooth out.
The self-punishment involved my idea of making a Monkey Island movie. Even as a six-year old, I was aware that the first thing you needed to make a movie was a script. So, I set myself the task of copying all the game's dialogue. I did this by playing the game, pausing it as each new line appeared, and writing it down on lined A4 paper. It was going well until I got tired of repeatedly misspelling 'Fettucini' and decided to give up the Hollywood dream.
In short, brilliant game, but took me 2 years to finish because I thought that joining the looting party in the governor's mansion post-Three Trials was part of the game. How wrong I was.
The Secret of Monkey Island is my favorite game of all time, second to none with no exceptions. When i list my favorite titles i often say something like "Aside from the Monkey Island Series, which will forever rule for all time, my favorite games are..." and proceed to talk about LOOM, Full Throttle, the Legend of Zelda Series and so forth. This is a position this game will never lose for me, nothing will ever compare to the fondess ive developed for Guybrush and the gang. I know im not alone in these sentimets as well, as look at how many people love for this title has brought together. The Seccret of Monkey Island Freakin Rocks!!!! Shout it from the top of the highest hill in your town, the funny looks given from those unfortunate enough to be ignorant of its greatness alone should make it a wothwhile venture.
I first played SMI when i was very young, i had just finished LOOM and was eager to play another game like it. Fortunately we had gotten LOOM in a doublepack (well technically it was just the two different boxed game sealed within a single plastic seal) with SMI so it was super handy and already installed. We had the original EGA version, which had the rarely seen sunset on melee island and the oh so funny stump joke, plus a couple of less fun oversight bugs (eg: you can throw EVERYTHING into the pot on your way to Monkey Island, including items required to complete the game). My brother who was eight years older than me had already started to play through and had gotten quite far but had gotten very stuck. You can only imgine my joy in being able to finally help him to get through a game he on the other hand was not happy at all :p after completing SMI (with my directions :P) he walked away from the genre completely (hehe).
What SMI did for me is it let me know that just because i never had the twitch-tastic ability that platformers and shooters required, it didnt mean that i sucked at Video games. After years and years of only ever seeing the end of a game by watching my brother or cousins show off their fancy reflexes, not only was i able to complete one on my own but i managed to do so with one my seeminly pro-gamer bro couldnt. Perhaps its a terrible context to put it in but that was the first time i ever managed to "beat" him at anything and if for no other reason Monkey Island will always have a place in my heart.
At least four or five times a year i replay this game, aside from the other excellent LEC adventure titles, i cant think of another game or series i can say that about. I absolutely love this gameand enthusiasitcally reccommend it to everyone.
The Secret of Monkey Island Rocks!!!
I'm guessing that like many people, The Secret of Monkey Island was my very first taste of Graphic Adventure games. I was lucky enough that when my family bought our first computer in 1994, Monkey Island (CD version) came packaged with it, along with the fantastical Loom game. I was enchanted, from the very first notes of the swelling orchestra over the titles to the disbelief I felt at the end of the game when it told me to turn off my computer and go to bed (it was 1 am, as I had stayed up late on a school night to complete it and wondered how it knew). When I first played it, being young, I got stuck rather quickly without a clue what to do. I had no idea how these types of games worked so although I enjoyed what I played, I left it untouched for a year. It was not until a friend of mine lent me a PC games magazine that had a walkthrough in it that my true pirate adventuring began.
I tried to use the guide as little as I could but I was so engrossed by the story and characters that I wanted to go through it as fast as I could. It was like no other game I had played before, where I was once only accustomed to console games with the aim of beating the clock, getting a high score and challenge my reflexes, this game was about taking the time to explore and challenged my mind. It was like playing an animated choose your own adventure book, or even watching a movie. Although some of the more adult jokes went over my young naive head, I will never forget how hard I laughed when Red Skull the cannibal asked if that was a banana in my pocket or if I was happy to see him. I now realise it was a reference to a movie but I didn't know it at the time and rushed over to my friends house tell him this and the many other quote worthy lines. I use to save it just before all the best parts to show friends when they would come over.
Some times I wish I could treat my brain like a computer and delete certain memories so I could experience this game for the first time again, but then I think the best part of SOMI was that every time I replayed it (which has to be in the double digits at least), I got a joke or a reference I hadn't before. Even just recently when I played MI on my DS thanks to SCUMMvm I found a scene with Guybrush and Gov Marley I had not before witnessed. It was just after you escape the drowning thanks to Sheriff Shinetop, I had always left the idol mission to last for some reason and never before seen the exchange between the two before the Gov gets kidnapped.
I have so many fond memories of this game, saving up my paltry pocket money to purchase MI 2 upon learning of its existence, insulting my friends while challenging them to sword fights.....aaaah good times. Although the non-Ron sequels disappointed (not so much with Curse), I believe the Monkey franchise to be one of my all time favourites and will all ways have a special place in my heart as my first and favourite. If I ever become a multi millionaire, I'm buying the monkey rights of lucasarts, and then I am going to hire Ron, Tim and Dave to make the Monkey Island 3 we all wanted.
I played Grim Fandango, Full Throttle, Sam and Max, and Day of the Tentacle long before I ever played Secret of Monkey Island, so when I first loaded the game up in ScummVM it was the oldest LucasArts title I'd ever played, and I wasn't expecting much beyond world-class humor. It turned out that the game was a real stunner, loaded not only with the laughs I expected but some really interesting gameplay with a lot of cool variables and easter eggs. The way the conversations have multiple dialogue options that are non-repeatable still really impresses me. I think, now, that the pacing of the game is pretty much perfect, in that there are no puzzles for the first ten minutes or so near the beginning, and the last act has just a few simple ones to keep the plot's climax moving.
The Secret of Monkey Island is a landmark in the history of computer games. True, Maniac Mansion came before it, the second game may have been better, MI's humor would probably not work in a talkie game, and this game had some of the most horrible traits that plagued adventure games for years to come. But most of the time, it was a game that made you forget you were playing a computer game. For better or for worse, Monkey Island (and Mêlée Island) are places in Ron Gilbert's head, and this infantile, smart-ass, fantastic place was exactly where computer games were supposed to be back then (and several years later, where I was supposed to be). Is this where we should be today? Probably not, but that doesn't mean we can't cling to it still.
Having spent the previous summer slow-roasting in the 100-degree weather of a SoCali August while discovering the junkie highs of Zak McKracken and Maniac Mansion at a friend's house, I couldn't have been further gone on the impending purchase of Monkey Island in 1990. Another listless school year was coming to its sluggish conclusion, and as a reward for my fine academic performance—namely, not getting expelled or set on fire by other students—my parents had agreed to buy me a copy of the game. Sight-unseen, no questions asked about those lousy marks in Math and Physical Education; they realized that this was as good as things were going to get, and we'd reached a gentleman's accord for a passing grade.
And I was ready. After all, I'd been playing the damned demo for the game at the local Tandy store so often that the louts running the dump had sicced the mad, minimum-wage dogs of mall security on me... twice. Monkey Island had apparently touched on some bizarre, psycho-obsessive nerd of preteen frustration, and I was consumed with reasoning out all the finer points of the play experience: how much bigger did Melee Island get in the actual game, anyway? Where would Guybrush eventually sail, and how? And most importantly, how was I going to play the damned thing, considering I didn't have a PC at home?
I make no provisions for logic or reason at this point. I think I was a dumb kid, despite what the annual Christmas card contents read from the time: Alek is excelling in his studies and has taken up the French horn... and we're absolutely thrilled that he's blown forty bucks on a game that he has absolutely NO way of playing it!
Blind faith. Gumption. Determination. I'd love to find a way to jam these words into this little recollection at this point, but the only descriptor that comes to mind is this, succinctly: dumb, scrabbling desperation. Yeah. Beginning with the purchase of the game at the local Software, Etc. moving brusquely to the hours spent blankly moon-eyeing the box and manual, and moving to the ridiculous attempt to ‘covertly' install the game on the local library's computer, which resulted in an all-summer ban from the institution's Children's Learning Space. Not only was I out on my bid to get jiggy with Guybrush's madcap adventures, but I'd screwed myself out of three months of Oregon Trail, to boot.
Times like these may try a man's soul, but they wreak havoc on a kid's common sense, and so the eventual solution was to strike a deal with the devil: swapping out the PC version of Monkey Island for the Atari ST port with the intention of paying a kid I knew to let me play it at his house on an hourly basis. If there's a hell reserved for geeks, then it's inner circle is soaking in the wild-eyed verminkinder of Tommy "Tumber" Gutwell (Name slightly changed to protect the editors of this fine site), a pig-faced and surly sixteen-year-old whose sole purpose in life was to tell us younger kids that we were dumb, shortly before shoving us into whatever shrubbery happened to be nearby.
Bad choice. Bad, bass-ackwards, lacking choice made in the grip of the fever that only a new Lucas Games title could bring on, and one that culminated with Gutwell taking my twenty bucks and promptly informing me that he was leaving with his family to vacation for a month in Lake Arrowhead.
But also one that convinced his mother, with allied strong-arming from both of my parents in light of the shakedown and—perhaps--some glimmer of realization that her son was a sow-bellied punk with few redeeming human qualities, to leave the house key under the welcome mat and allow me free access to the computer between the hours of noon and five, daily.
And so Alek had his summer, after all. And beyond the transformative experience of playing a game that not only sent his imagination sky-wheeling into new areas of awe at how well-written and funny software could be, he also learned a crucial lesson that remains indelibly etched into his consciousness today... or maybe two, actually.
- Never trust a guy who has a Captain Kirk standee nailed to the ceiling over his bed with your hard-earned allowance money.
- No matter how bad you might want to just smash a window and sneak into someone's house to play a video game, you can probably find an easier way to get in by crying and telling on the person who won't let you in to his mom.
Wisdom to light a candle by.
I'm an unusal Monkey Island fan, because I first played The Secret in the Spring of '99, whilst simultaneously playing Curse and LeChuck's Revenge. I liked them all for different reasons, and which one I played would depend simply on my mood. I would go for Secret if I wanted some quiet "me time" isolation, because of all the Monkey Island games, this one feels most like it's in its own world: the game is forged out of walking in the forrest under the stars, or rowing past cliffs and beaches, or visiting prisoners in isolated walled towns, whilst all around you other characters pass you by on their own business. It's lonely, but it's good lonely. Like being stranded on a desert island with a really good book.