I’m not a great believer in ‘enhanced’ editions of classic content, whether it be movies or games. A case in point is George Lucas’ digitally remastered cinematic re-releases of the original Star Wars films. An attempt to add special effects and new and deleted scenes to three classic films that, to be honest, just didn’t need the extras. Making the picture and sound clearer is one thing, but to try to make a classic piece of cinema ‘better’ by adding superfluous content comes across as, at best naive and at worst, an attempt to cash in on a franchise.
So, has the house of Lucas learned its lesson when it comes to its latest classic re-release?
We will get to that later, but lets go back to an earlier age in gaming, an age where companies like Sierra and LucasArts were releasing classic point and click adventure games for fun.
It was a time where the sight of the LucasArts name on a game was a sure sign of quality. Games like Full Throttle, The Dig, Day of the Tentacle, and many others cemented LucasArts as pioneers of the adventure genre.
Perhaps, the greatest of them all was the seminal sequel to The Secret of Monkey Island.
The game, using the classic SCUMM engine that so pushed the genre forward with Maniac Mansion, followed the adventures of the hapless Guybrush Threepwood as he attempted to find the treasure of Big Whoop while avoiding the clutches of the evil ghost pirate LeChuck.
The game was inspired by Disney’s old Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and in turn inspired the recent movies. A great example of this is where Guybrush is trapped in a cell, with the key in the mouth of a dog just out of reach. This scene was part of the original ride but was used to great comic effect in Monkey Island 2 and then found a place in the movies with scripting obviously inspired by the game. Brilliantly, the dog in the game was called ‘Walt’.
The developers spun a hilarious yarn, with every line full of a wit and charm that most developers would kill to emulate. The writing was of such a high quality that people at the time hoped that it would lead to a golden age of writing in computer games, an age that, aside from a select few developers never really materialised.
With so many classic moments, from the woodchuck confusion to the spitting contest, to well, there really are too many to list.
I won’t ruin the game for you if you are lucky enough not to have played it yet, so I will just detail the first part of the game; The Largo Embargo.
Guybrush finds himself marooned on the pirate haven of Scabb Island, and soon ends up on a quest to create a voodoo doll of the island’s local bully, Largo LaGrande, who is short, nasty and bad tempered. He has upset all the locals by placing an embargo on all ships coming to and from the island and taking protection money from all the local businesses.
On his way to find the ingredients to the doll, Guybrush meets some great characters, such as the local laundry man, who is tone deaf, a grumpy bartender, an hotelier who owns a pet alligator to name but a few.
As well as the great characters and script, there are some great puzzles to be found, some of which are true head scratchers, but importantly all are logical, in their own way. Put it this way, no matter how long you are stuck on a particular part, when you eventually find the solution it will all make sense and any frustration you feel will be with yourself, and not the game.
The graphics were always beautiful, with backdrops that are hard to forget, and great animation. The soundtrack was innovative for the time, with the music changing when different characters entered the scene. I’ve got Largo’s theme engraved in my head for all time, and I like it that way.
So, it is one of the greatest adventure games of all time, maybe even the very best, can LucasArts possibly release an updated and upgraded version without trying to make it (shiver) ‘better’?
The answer is an emphatic ‘yes’.
Monkey Island 2 for iPad features completely redrawn, high definition graphics, a new soundtrack and full voice acting thought. If that sounds like your idea of video game hell, don’t worry. With a two fingered swipe across the screen the game magically transforms into the original version, pixels and all.
It’s a stunning thing to see the game transform before your eyes, and it is fitting that the action is performed with a swipe, as with one swipe LucasArts deal with the problem of people not liking the new style or the voice acting.
I must also mention that there is an option to have the voices added to the old version, as well as an option to have subtitles in the new version.
Those who skip the new version altogether are missing out, as the new version is nothing short of spectacular.
The backdrops are simply beautiful, and completely come alive on the iPad’s big screen. Lush landscapes and creepy locations really look magical and stay true to the spirit of the game. The new character designs are great, and Guybrush himself is a far more thoughtful redesign than the upgraded version from the recent update to the original Secret of Monkey Island.
The voice acting throughout is superb, and most of the voices are spot on from what you might have imagined from the original. Largo is a highlight, as is the ghost pirate himself, LeChuck.
You will spend just as much time laughing at this game as you do figuring out the puzzles.
I played the original on the Commodore Amiga, which was on eleven disks, so the very lack of disk swapping is a kind of joy that only other Amiga owners will understand.
There are two control option, one where you drag your cursor, which I default for the old version, and a superior option where you just touch where you want Guybrush to go, which is set as default for the new version. Both are good, but the new controls are the ones to go for, even if you plan on playing through the original game.
The game records your progress on the Pirate Performance screen, which keeps stats on time, items used and hints used for each chapter.
The hints system is intelligent, with the game giving you very sweeping general hints at the first few times of asking, and only giving more direct solutions after repeated requests.
Holding down two fingers on the screen also highlights all interactive objects on the screen which is handy for checking if you have missed a vital clue.
There are also unlockable art stills from the developers, as well as a great developer commentary that is optional thought the game.
The original developers of the game talk about the development of the game, as well as what they think of this new version. It is really insightful and a great addition, especially when you realise that certain scenes that have stuck in your memory of the years are barely remembered by the people who created them. Its cool, interesting stuff.
This is the game that will make you glad you bought an iPad, as it is such a natural fit. The combination of jaw droppingly beautiful graphics, and an awesome soundtrack along with the fantastic, classic story and witty script mean that this is the definitive version of a classic adventure game.
The inclusion of the original in its entirety, selectable with a simple, magical swipe, is worth the price of admission alone.
Overall then, LucasArts have learned their lesson and this feels like the kind of game the iPad was made for and one can only hope it heralds the arrival of games like Grim Fandango.
This should be considered an absolutely essential buy.