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Ungoggled review: Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition


"OLD!" you say. "What do we need another Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition review for?" And indeed, the game was released on XBLA a week and a half ago, and Destructoid's official review came out not long after. And in fact, it was because of that review that I decided to take my first plunge into the Monkey Island series. Now that I have finished it, I bear a warning.

Brad's review is meant for people who have already played through the original game some time in the past nineteen years.

He makes a lot of points, and I don't think I disagree with any of them, really. The game is beautiful (aside from the character animation), comparing old and new artwork is fun, the voicework is pretty good, the music is perfect, and the humor has remained intact. What could possibly be bad about it?

Well, it's the old-school adventure gameplay. Now, luckily, it's not OLD-old-school, where a simple arbitrary mistake like picking up a particular item at a particular time would result in not being able to finish the game. There are only a couple of *game over* moments, and you have to do some particularly stupid things to find them (and ironically, they are rewarded with Achievements).

But what I refer to with old-school adventure gameplay is what I consider arbitrary puzzle solutions and overall poor game design. I will admit, insult swordfighting (which Chad has discussed at length) is probably one of the more brilliant adventure gaming moments I have ever experienced, particularly the duel with the Swordmaster. However, this is a relatively small part of the game, and is as much a result of exceptional writing as it is puzzle design.

The remaining puzzles are sometimes clever, but usually completely random. There will be points where you have no idea what to do. There will be points where you know what to do but have no idea how to do it. There will be points where you know what to do and how to do it, but you don't know why you are doing it. And all of these situations are equally frustrating.

I can provide a few examples. It should be needless to say that these are some puzzle spoilers, but if you are like me and you hadn't played Secret of Monkey Island before, you'd probably benefit from reading them so you don't get too caught up.

There is a small dock in the game with a fish on it that can be picked up, only a seagull nips at you any time you try. The seagull cannot be targeted, so I spent a fair amount of time trying to see what items I could combine with the fish, or what verbs to use on the fish, before I finally gave up and left. I came back later, when the game specifically told me I needed a red herring (thanks to the in-game hint system; more on that later), and was still just as stuck. It wasn't until I just happened to walk to the far corner of the dock to step on a board that had no visual difference from any others that it smacked the seagull into the sky. Let me reiterate: there was absolutely no visual indication given that this board was different from the others, and no other way to figure it out than by randomly moving around.

Later on, there is a room with a few chickens in it. Right next to one of the chickens is a very easily missed feather, which naturally is required for the game to progress. It's a typical pixel-hunting task that was common for old adventure games, and it has never been fun. This one sticks in my mind especially, because the hint system broke on me here. Typically, the player can hold X to view hints. First a vague hint that is generally unhelpful, second a more direct hint, and third a big yellow arrow pointing toward the next objective. In this case, I was on the ship, did not notice the feather, and when calling upon the hint system, I was told, "Now that you have X, you can board the ship." Really? I was already on the goddamn ship!

I'm essentially torn on the game. The writing is some of the best in this industry, and the presentation is fantastic. But the majority of the puzzles in Secret of Monkey Island are solved by randomly combining or using items, pixel hunting, and otherwise illogical means. The only two portions that I truly enjoyed gameplay-wise were the insult swordfighting sequence, and the Journey, which was limited to only a handful of screens and had only one major puzzle, which was spelled out pretty plainly.

And that is what it comes down to for me. I want to be told exactly what I'm supposed to do, and given all of the tools to do so. Only then will I spend the time to figure out how to solve the puzzles. With a game like this, however, you could be unable to solve a puzzle because you neglected to pick up a particular item somewhere, or you didn't find exactly where you needed to click on one of the dozens of screens you'll traverse through. I don't have the patience for this, and if you are relatively new to the adventure genre, then you probably won't have it either.

So if you've already played through Secret of Monkey Island, or you have a glut of free time and patience to endure excruciatingly long walks between locales featuring illogical and arbitrary puzzles, then definitely take Brad's review to heart. If not, then I can still recommend the game, if only for its few brilliant parts and its consistent humor, but be prepared to hammer on that X button for the hints. And when the hint system breaks, don't hesitate to look up a walkthrough online.
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About Darren Nakamuraone of us since 2:29 AM on 11.06.2006

Darren is a scientist during the day. He has been a Destructoid community member since 2006, joining the front page as a contributor in 2011.

While he enjoys shooters, RPGs, platformers, strategy, and rhythm games, he takes particular interest in independent games. He produced the Zero Cool Podcast for about four years, and he plays board games quite a bit when he can find willing companions.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Darren Nakamura knows several people in the video game industry, most of whom are Destructoid alumni. These include:

Anthony Burch, former writer for Gearbox Software
Ashly Burch, notable voice actor
Nick Chester, publicist for Harmonix Music Systems
Chad Concelmo, writer for Golin Harris
Aaron Linde, writer for Gearbox Software
Jayson Napolitano, publicist for Scarlet Moon Productions
Brad Nicholson, former publicist for Uber Entertainment
Alex Ryan, publicist for Kalypso Media
Jim Sterling, notable voice actor

Darren backs a lot of Kickstarter campaigns! If you want to see what he has backed, you can go here. If he ever reviews a game that he backed, that will be explicitly disclosed in the review.

Darren invested in Psychonauts 2 on Fig.
Xbox LIVE:Dexter345
PSN ID:Dexter345
Steam ID:http://steamcommunity.com/profil
Mii code:1257 7687 3747 6405


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