Also available on: Xbox 360, PC
Genre: Point-and-click adventure
Release date: July 23, 2009
Until recently, one could be forgiven for thinking that we'd seen the last of Guybrush Threepwood. The previous console generation wasn't particularly accommodating to the mighty pirate, with his last outing Escape From Monkey Island proving that the dwindling point-and-click genre never really survived the transition from 2D to 3D.
The news that LucasArts was resurrecting the iconic Monkey Island franchise for both a sequel and a remake was greeted with surprise, elation and just a dash of scepticism from its undying fanbase. Fortunately, the episodic follow-up Tales Of Monkey Island successfully recaptured the essence of the series and proved that there's life in the old seadog yet.
Released in the wake of Tales, The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition was always going to do one of two things: honour and celebrate the legacy of its predecessor, or stamp it with an ugly black mark. Thankfully, it does the former... and it does it in style.
The iPhone version was always going to be more challenging for the developers than its PC and Xbox 360 counterparts; so it's good to see that the team have really gone that extra mile when optimising the game for the handheld platform. The title has been perfectly tailored towards the system's strengths, with an innovative touch-screen interface and a motion-activated pause menu.
For anyone yet to sample the joys of Monkey Island, the game's storyline is as follows. A young wannabe-pirate named Guybrush Threepwood arrives on the Caribbean island of Melee in search of his fortune. After meeting with the pirate leaders in a squalid bar, the aspiring swashbuckler learns that he must complete three trials before they will accept him into their fold: master the sword, steal the governor's idol and unearth some buried treasure. Unfortunately for Guybrush, the fearsome ghost pirate Le Chuck, who doesn't take too kindly to aspiring pirates, hatches an insidious plot to eliminate our hero.
What follows is a gripping tale of swashbuckling adventure, romance and razor-sharp wit, with a healthy dose of puzzles to reason your way through. But what made the original Monkey Island so groundbreaking in its day was its engaging protagonist. The title raised the bar for interactive storytelling though the medium of video games, and that revolutionary blueprint has not been tampered with in the Special Edition.
All of the dialogue remains unchanged, along with the characters, locations and puzzles; so most of the alterations effectively pertain to presentation and interface. The sound and visuals have been given a complete overhaul, with the original VGA graphics replaced by colourful hand-drawn backdrops and well rendered character models somewhat similar to 1997's Curse Of Monkey Island.The soundtrack has been similarly revamped, conjuring nostalgia for the original score while impressing as a brand new take on it.
The voice acting is impressive for a handheld title, but only series mainstay Dominic Armato sounds like anything other than a stereotype. The supporting cast deliver serviceable performances but Armato's tones really emanate zeal and passion towards the source material. After twelve years in the role, it's hard to imagine anybody else voicing Guybrush Threepwood.
Changes to the interface are more functional than aesthetic. For instance, the verb table used to carry out commands in the original is nowhere to be found, with all of Guybrush's actions and inventory tidied away into neat pop-up menus, accessed with a tap of a digit. This system serves to maximise the entire screen of the iPhone, compensating for its limited size.
There can be few complaints with the game's control system. The cursor follows your finger's trajectory across the screen, rather than moving directly under it to prevent items from being obscured. Double-tapping certain objects will see Guybrush carry out the most obvious action to eliminate the need to access the action menu every time you need to open a door. Movement can be a little ropey, but this is never too detrimental to the overall experience. The downside is the amount of time it can take to carry out a command using the menu, which leaves you at a disadvantage on those rare occasions when the game calls upon your reflexes (such as swiping the meat from the seagull).
Purists may scoff at the radical changes that the game has undergone, but they need not fear. Swiping two fingers across the screen transforms the game to classic mode, restoring the original graphics. Not only does switching between the two modes provide an injection of nostalgia, it highlights exactly how much work has gone into the new version.
The original will always remain a classic in every sense of the word, and this slick remake does both the game and the iPhone justice in terms of fulfilling their potential. It's difficult to come up with further criticism of such a competent reworking, but for the sake of nitpicking, it's a little odd to see that the characters remain completely static when delivering their dialogue. Even the original had the technology to support lip movement and gesticulation during conversations, so there's absolutely no reason why the cast should stand there like dummies in this version.
Minor gripes aside, The Secret Of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a triumph, which successfully proves that point-and-click adventures really are the perfect fit for the iPhone. Titles of this calibre will surely do the genre's resurgence no harm and we can only keep our fingers crossed for more of them (starting with Monkey Island 2, please!). Retailing at just £5 on the App Store, this has to be one of the bargains of the year... and anyone who thinks otherwise should be keelhauled.
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