Seriously, I feel like some kind of traitor by posting an opinion like this, as someone who owns every SCUMM game and would give the world for legitimate DS and/or iPhone versions, but The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition has left me quite disappointed. It’s not entirely the fault of the new version but rather the fact that the flaws of the original seem magnified with the shiny new presentation and without the full benefit of nostalgia.
It’s not bad, though. The voice acting is excellent, bringing great delivery to the old jokes and with some great touches, like the way selecting the wrong riposte during an insult swordfight will result in a different delivery to if it was correct; the new background art is superb, with some nice enhancements to familiar environments – I particularly liked the ships docked behind the previously uninhabited Scumm Bar, for example (see above); and it even controls acceptably with the analogue stick, only becoming mildly annoying during certain sequences that involve time-sensitive manipulation of certain corrosive materials between receptacles.
I also love how you can switch between the old and new versions completely seamlessly, which is a feature that should be in more retro remakes. In fairness, I suppose having to keep the versions in sync was limiting in what could be done to update things, and it is quite technically impressive – I assume that the Special Edition is some kind of new ‘skin’ running on top of the emulated classic version. It shows when you occasionally get overlapping dialogue, presumably when a line runs out of time to run without bringing the two versions out of sync. On a similar note, it’s also a shame that you can’t play the old game with voice acting, but it seems like that’s more of a technical limitation than anything else.
But as nice as it is to see the original Monkey Island looking fresh, I’m not the biggest fan of the new art style. I thought that just flicking between the two versions on the close-up character portraits – compare this and this – shows the new style as really soulless, particularly when there are existing sources of inspiration to use when taking the Monkey Island series in a more cartoony direction.
All this makes me wonder if it really justifies the ‘Special Edition’ tag. The voice acting is the only absolute improvement, there’s no new content whatsoever, and the flaws of the original – my main beef is the to-ing and fro-ing when you’re going from place to place, in particular the arduous walk from the town on Melee Island to the overworld map, which you’ll have to do several times – are still there. If this was a DVD special edition, it would be from the days when ‘interactive menus’ counted as a bonus feature.
Even so, it’s still Monkey Island and I’ve already finished it twice in the five days it’s been out. It’s still very funny, only helped by the voicework, and I’ll be first in line for Monkey Island 2: Special Edition, if only because it’ll be a nice experience to play one that I haven’t finished several times before with the new look.
And, while we’re on the subject, how about those DS and iPhone versions?