By jove, they've got it! Last year saw LucasArts remake the original Secret of Monkey Island with gorgeous new graphics and fantastic voice acting. And then, through some arcane form of voodoo, they managed to make it maddeningly irritating to play. A crazed muddle of menus, inputs and berserk design decisions spoiled a game that was never as good as people remembered it being. Forget all of that – Monkey Island 2: Special Edition has fixed absolutely everything, and was a far better game to begin with.
Guybrush Threepwood, as if you didn't know, arrives on Scabb Island, rich with gold and the success of having killed the Ghost Pirate LeChuck. Now he has plans to discover the mysterious lost treasure of Big Whoop.
And so begins the familiar tale. The story-within-a-story structure is as fantastic as you remember, with Guybrush recounting events to ex-lover Elaine while the two dangle from ropes in a pit. It's a much longer game, with many puzzles linking the three islands of Scabb, Phatt and Booty, and while it may not have insult sword fighting, it's packed with brilliant dialogue.
Which is now spoken! The cast from the first remake return, and are all absolutely superb (except for Elaine, who is simply miscast). And this means all those extended jokes from the original, where reams of dialogue allowed sequences to run for a hilariously long time, have all been recorded. Those poor actors.
The graphics are even better than before, with beautiful painted scenes and much more cartoony, enjoyable characters. That they're rotoscoped onto the original animations only makes them more charming. Most importantly, the interaction has been completely revised. Gone is the mess of three-handed controls, replaced by a simple system all on the mouse. Right clicking performs the default action, and holding down the right button down brings up a small wheel of verb options, context sensitive to the item. If the verb could elicit a response in the original version, it will appear as a choice. With the inventory on a middle click, it's absolutely ideal.
Hitting F1 switches you back and forth between the original and the remake, which you'll feel compelled to try for every scene. And (hip, hip, hooray!) you can now choose to have the voices with the classic version. Which means, 19 years later, LucasArts have released a talkie version of Monkey 2!
Also optional is an absolutely fantastic commentary, with Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer chatting as they play the game. This offers some wonderful anecdotes about the game, as well as some witty criticism of its few failings. Plus the story of why Tim Schafer was beaten up in the office.
There's a small problem with the presentation of the commentary. If you have the option switched on, there'll be a giant line of text on the top left to tell you audio is available. Hitting A lets you hear it over the top as you're playing. However, once you've heard it, the game doesn't stop telling you it's available. Silly, but it becomes annoying when you realise that it sometimes updates. That could have been neater.
The only real issue is how utterly awful the added hint system is. It's a proper mess, especially in the slightly wayward middle section of the game, where prompts for what to do next aren't as clear as they could be. Sometimes the game will tell you to do things that are currently impossible, but more often its suggestions are wildly vague at first, then overly obvious.
Nevertheless, this is a real treat. The fantastic Monkey 2, its excellent jokes and puzzles, made gorgeous, with brilliant voice acting, faithful remakes of the original music on real instruments, and the option to play a talkie of the original version. Now if only they'd make a Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition: Special Edition. Because this is exactly the remake the classic game deserves.