Monkey Island: Not As Good As I Remember

When I finally got around to ditching my old ‘dumb’ phone and upgrading to a considerably smarter iPhone 4, I approached the App Store with all the excitement and fervour of a kid in a sweet shop. So many games! And so cheap! I immediately purchased Angry Birds (if only in an attempt to beat my girlfriend’s high score), which was quickly followed by Cut The Rope, Tiny Wings and various other casual ‘pick-up-and-play’ games that I’m sure most of the iPhone-owning population already have. However, what I was REALLY excited about was replaying some of the classic games of my youth, and The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition was right at the top of the list.

Ever since I’d heard about the re-release of this Amiga classic, I’d been hankering to play it. I loved the humour of the original game but I never managed to complete it (I had to give it back to the friend I’d borrowed it from), so I was looking forward to playing through the whole thing.

Initial impressions were very encouraging – the controls have been handled well, and I love the way you can swipe the screen to switch to the original graphics (I have to say though, the original graphics look positively Stone Age compared to the update – it’s really remarkable just how far games have progressed over the years). The opening was just as good as I remember, in particular the fourth-wall-breaking conversation with the “Ask Me About Loom” pirate, and the dialogue in general was pretty funny. I also really loved the incorporation of a hint system, which I found completely invaluable, particularly as some of the later puzzles are frustratingly obtuse. In fact, I found myself relying more and more on the hints as I went on, mostly because of the frustrating and time-consuming backtracking on Monkey Island itself.

Which leads me to the biggest problem with the game – the need to comb every inch of the screen, pixel by pixel, to find every last object. I suppose this is a general bugbear with the whole of the adventure genre, not just Monkey Island, but I found it particularly frustrating. Perhaps because this is one of the earlier examples of a graphic adventure it suffers more than later entries from ‘frustratingly tiny object syndrome’, made worse by the small screen, but I practically gave up after spending about half an hour combing every inch of Monkey Island only to discover there was a tiny object I’d missed (I think it was some gunpowder).

Which brings me onto the awful map screens. These were utterly dreadful in the original, and the iPhone’s small screen makes them even worse – where is the fun in trying to guide your one-pixel-high character towards a one-pixel-high pirate/monkey/boat? And moving between locations is SO SLOW! I could just about put up with it on the relatively small Melee Island, but watching tiny Guybrush crawl his way painfully slowly across the four screens of gigantic Monkey Island was enough to make me weep. And don’t get me started on the maze sections. Maze sections have NEVER been fun in ANY game in the history of mankind, and Monkey Island serves to enforce that rule.

Thankfully, the dialogue and general imagination of the game kept a smile on my face for the most part – I particularly enjoyed the conversations with Herman Toothrot and the Storekeeper – and the voice acting is generally very good. I have to say though, it didn’t tickle my ribs quite as much as it did when I was an adolescent – I guess that just goes to show that something you find funny as a 15-year-old might not necessarily float your boat as a 31-year-old. I mean, I used to collapse into tiny, gibbering heaps of laughter when watching Bottom on BBC2, but I caught an episode again recently and found myself stony-faced throughout all the fart gags and mallet-based testicle whacking. Ah well, c’est la vie [shrugs shoulders].

Oh, and I finally got the reference in the title of my co-author’s blog. I did always wonder where that came from…

[As dictated by Lucius P. Merriweather. See The Mantelpiece.]