Review: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge SE

July 20, 2010, Author: Ray Willmott

One of the more common questions a videogame journalist will be asked is, ‘What’s your favourite game of all time?’, a question that certainly divides opinion. Whenever you click on This Is My Joystick, we thrust our opinion on you and tell you what we think is right and wrong about the latest game in our cross-hairs, without remorse or pity for those who’ve spent years making it and those who’ve waited months anticipating it.

So, if you’ve read my reviews and seen the marks I’ve given out, you’re probably all wondering what I, as a reviewer, consider to be my standard bearer. What do I consider to be the finest achievement the industry has ever known when every single game is stood side by side?

Coming into this review, I was touting it to be Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, a choice certain to quirk a few eyebrows. However, now that Lucasarts are re-releasing the game for a new audience with a whole host of new features, I feel it is my responsibility as a videogame journalist to at least try to justify myself and determine if those feelings are still relevant today.

So, nearly twenty years on, is this still the masterpiece I remember it to be?

Uncanny acclaim
Love it or hate it, Lucasarts re-released the classic Secret of Monkey Island last summer to critical acclaim. It was a keen experiment to be sure, in an age of 3D graphics and high definition sound, re-releasing a game twenty years old with a fairly niche fanbase and an original marketing campaign mostly founded on ‘word of mouth’. However, it was a successful experiment that allowed retro gamers to relive the game as it was originally intended all those years ago but also introduced the wonders of Monkey Island to a brand new audience with sparkling high definition visuals, and improved background music and sound effects and voice acting. The game did tremendously well, considering it was a re-release and inevitably got the company talking about the sequel which was also eager for a facelift.

Time to cool off!

Monkey Island 2 is quite a different animal to the original Secret of Monkey Island. At the time, the narrative structure of MI2 was unique, as it was one of the first games to start the player close to the games conclusion and have Guybrush Threepwood recollect his adventures to that point to both Elaine, the love of his life, who seems surprised to see him dangling from a piece of rope with a chest in hand and to us, the player, who are slightly perplexed at seeing the nature of Guybrush and Elaine’s relationship following on from the ‘Happily Ever After’ ending of SOMI.

The flashback sequence begins with Guybrush on Scabb Island showing off to a pair of washed-up pirates who are listening to his story about how he defeated the Ghost Pirate LeChuck with a bottle of root beer. Satisfied he has their attention, Guybrush then brags that for his next trick, he is going to find the legendary treasure of Big Whoop. Sick of hearing the same story and indulging his delusions of grandeur, the pirates dismiss Guybrush and direct him to the town of Woodtick to see if he can find someone else to pester with his travelling tale.

However, Guybrush isn’t exactly welcomed with open arms as he enters Woodtick and bumps into local bully, Largo LaGrande. Without giving him a chance to breathe, Largo tips Guybrush upside down, forcing him to plead for mercy and then robs him of the mounds of money he has collected from his pirating escapades. Once he’s made his point, Largo tells Guybrush that he’s in charge and has placed an embargo on Scabb Island preventing anyone from leaving without his say-so. Ticked off from his reception, Guybrush starts to ask around Woodtick and finds out that Largo was in fact LeChuck’s right hand man, and is running things now that the Ghost Pirate has not been heard from. Guybrush, floored by the knowledge, his pride dented and his reputation tarnished, decides upon revenge and searches out the ingredients for a voodoo doll to rid Scabb Island of Largo LeGrande for good!

Based on how the game actually opens, you can tell that Guybrush went on to become a pretty successful pirate in-between Monkey Island 1 and 2 as evidenced by his mounds of money and fancy clothes. It was so bold of LEC to completely change the feel of both games. Monkey 1 was filled with intrepid adventure; you were there to take Guybrush through his paces in his quest of becoming a pirate. It was a game that told us something about our own ambitions and goals and how things can be achieved, even if it is by the most unconventional means. Then MI2 spun that completely on its head. MI2 managed to introduce Guybrush in a completely different way, a man who has accomplished his dreams, who has built up a reputation for better or worse, yet made it seem as if he is still struggling in the rat race of life. The game wasn’t afraid to reinvent itself, it wasn’t afraid to push new boundaries and I appreciated that perhaps more than any other quality it offered.

The purpose of this review however, is to consider Monkey Island 2 as a special edition and not just how it was represented back in 1991. That would only be considering half of a game, as the SE introduces High Definition graphics, adds voices to the cast, gives a directors commentary that can be played over the top of the game, and provides unlockable concept art. The Special Edition gives us a whole new experience for a vintage title.

How much wood could a woodchuck chuck...

Could you walk with two peglegs?
The controls for MI2:SE are much improved over those of MI: SE last year. In the HD remake, control of Guybrush is completely handled by the left analog stick (although sometimes it’s very easy for Guybrush to get stuck on his path and it will take several attempts for the player to move from some areas). By pressing in the right shoulder button, the player can access their full inventory with the ability to drag the item out of the inventory and use it on the environment or on another item, or just to simply manipulate them however the game allows. Some new additions include the ability to press in the Left Bumper, which shows all of the areas the player can interact with in the environment by highlighting them. The player can also hold in the X button and get a hint as of what they need to do next. They’ll first be presented with a small, subtle hint, followed by something more substantial and then if they’re still stuck, they’ll be instructed on exactly what they need to do to solve a puzzle.

Of course, you can switch to classic mode at any time and use the original point and click interface. This time, instead of controlling Guybrush with the left analog stick, the player will control a cursor that they will need to move around on the screen and press a button as to where they want Guybrush to go. There are also a series of verbs at the bottom of the screen which the player will need to select one and then use that verb on the environment around them, whether it be ‘look at crypt’ or ‘give banana to monkey’. There are also pictures on the bottom right of the screen to indicate your inventory, the player can select a verb, then use it on an item in the inventory to interact with the environment around. It’s your standard point and click affair that you’ll have been used to with the Secret of Monkey Island and Sam and Max, which doesn’t really play well on an Xbox control pad, but you can still navigate the game quite easily, should you prefer to play MI2 for its original face value.

How it all began...

Ye don’t look like much of a pirate to me!
The HD remake really suits Monkey Island 2. I would even go as far as to say that it looks better and more lively than MI:SE. Although I have to say the way Guybrush has evolved has always been a point of contention with me and when compared to his figure in the original to the pencil shaped frame he’s now adopted, I still don’t think he will ever replace my original vision of Guybrush. Yet, this is as good as the game could possibly look and really fits in with the rest of the series.

LEC have also worked their magic on the backgrounds and frankly, Phatt, Scabb and Booty Island have never looked better! You can see that this is all hand drawn and has been a real labour of love for the development team. It’s as if they are finally able to express the vision they originally had all those years ago now that the technology is in place to support it.

You’ll also be able to look at Concept Art, another new feature in the Special Edition, which is unlocked by making a certain amount of progress in the game, whether it be doing some puzzles or collecting a certain item. The concept art shows LEC’s thought process on each character and how hard they worked to get the image exactly right for this new imagining of LeChuck’s Revenge. Seeing the many variations of Guybrush was particularly eye-opening for me.

What’s also great about these Special Editions, however, is that we get to see the game was it was originally intended, and while this isn’t the best port of the original MI2 that you’ll find on the web anywhere, you can really see how this game has evolved. As a port, the sound seems a little off and resistant to today’s soundcards, not accurately emulated to authenticate the original 1991 experience, and the graphics don’t really blur well together when alternating between classic and high definition, but it really gives you an idea as to how you would have felt playing this on your Amiga way back when.

Arrr! Ye certainly don’t sound like much of a pirate!
Unique to this edition is the directors commentary which can be accessed at select times in the game as prompted on the screen. The directors commentary features three of Monkey Island 2’s main designers sat in one room together chewing the ‘Phatt’ on the game. These men are Tim Schafer, best known nowadays for Psychonauts and Brutal Legend, Dave Grossman best known nowadays for being top dog over at Telltale Games and Ron Gilbert who has been working on the recent Death Spank!

Their dialogue is a fascinating insight into how much the industry has evolved in the last twenty years, with all three saying what they felt the industry has become from where it used to be, to what their abilities at the time allowed them to accomplish in Monkey Island 2. They even talk about how certain screens would be drawn and completed but not given a puzzle until much later in the development cycle and go as far as to say the industry has become less spontaneous than it was back then. I also like how you almost unlock certain aspects of the commentary by completing a puzzle and then the designers tell you how they came together on the thought process and explain it in a bit more detail.

Truthfully, their interaction is one of the best points of the Special Edition for me and really catered to the nerd within, although there still wasn’t enough for my liking. Some places you visit in the game, I was stunned and surprised that there was no option to hear a director’s commentary in Phatt mansion or in the Voodoo lady’s House of Mojo. My inner Monkey Island fan would always clamour for more, admittedly, but these are integral scenes within the game that I felt defined much of its charm and the game did not allow Gilbert, Grossman and Schafer to tell us what they thought about them.

Just like the old days.

The voice cast is also back again in Monkey Island 2 and remains faithful to the rest of the series. LEC have once again acquired Dominic Armato to play the role as Guybrush Threepwood, now making him the voice of the intrepid thrillseeker. Earl Boen also returns as Le Chuck and still sounds as devilishly evil as ever before. Alexandra Boyd plays Elaine Marley and Neil Ross returns as Wally the Cartographer.

The music is also very creepy, very dark and uninviting. While listening to the classic version, you can see how much adding real instruments has given an altogether different, perhaps even more sinister atmosphere than before. LeChuck’s theme in particular really fits with instruments. What LEC have failed to replicate is the iMUSE system from the original game. Monkey Island 2 was the first game to feature this, and it basically takes a piece of music for an overall area and then when changing screens, visiting a different part of that large area, a new variation of the same piece of music plays. When the player would leave the area, the music would smoothly fade out and would return to the original melody. Unfortunately, LEC have not been able to maintain that in the original classic version, which, as I alluded to before, probably would not make this the best port possible for die-hard enthusiasts who would only notice a detail like that.

Is it really special?
For me, this was a beautiful journey back to a World that I hadn’t visited in quite some time. It was an absolutely pleasurable experience from start to finish and even though Lucasarts have changed almost everything about the original to make it more in tune with the modern look of the series, I wouldn’t change a thing and would still play it through tomorrow. Monkey Island 2 Special Edition is the remastered version I’ve waited almost twenty years for.

Everything that a fan of the series could possibly want is right here in this small, affordable little package. At 800 points or £6.99, this is one of the best stories you will see in a game this year; it’s funny, it’s dark and its informative. Playing the game through again didn’t make me doubt Monkey Island 2 as my favourite game of all time, it reminded me why that is the case and it still managed to divulge something fresh and new to me that I didn’t already have and can now add to my list of reasons as to why I love this game so very much.

I won’t fanboy you but what I will say is this: If you enjoyed Monkey Island 1 Special Edition, then this is a no-brainer purchase for you. If you hated it, then move along, there’s nothing to see here. However, I still stand by my word, I love Monkey Island 2 enough to proudly consider it the finest experience in the industry, and this Special Edition didn’t insult me, it didn’t disrespect me; it just kept giving twenty years on. That is more than anyone can ask for.


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