If The Secret of Monkey Island is the Shakespeare of video game canon, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is the Poe.
Although better known for horror, Edgar Allen Poe invented the detective genre. Pretty crazy, right? Without the guy that brought you The Raven, we would not have Sherlock Holmes, Dick Tracy or Batman. While I’m not familiar with all of Poe’s work, The Purloined Letter remains etched in my memory, and it aptly describes the methodology behind point-and-click adventures.
In the short story, a detective solves a crime because he discovers where the criminal hid the purloined letter. The police are aghast wondering how on Earth the detective found it, arguing that they turned the place upside, searching every nook and cranny… but the detective says, ‘Of course, but that’s your problem. You were searching for the letter using your logic. Where you would hide the letter… not where the criminal would hide it. You could not think like the criminal and that is why you failed.’
In Monkey Island 2, I discovered that I’m neither a detective nor a criminal, an incredibly sobering — and childhood-dreams-ruining — revelation.
The Story & Background
The story begins with Guybrush Threepwood recounting his tale of heroism to two rogue pirates. This provides a recap for players, but also sets the stage for Monkey Island 2 as the rogue pirates respond with lackluster, ‘Yes, we’ve heard it before!’ As it turns out, Guybrush hasn’t done much since defeating the evil pirate captain LeChuck, other than brag about how he defeated the evil pirate captain LeChuck.
Guybrush, realizing he needs new stories, sets out to do another unthinkable task, so he’ll have something new to talk about… concurrently however, LeChuck is resurrected and swears revenge.
One of the more interesting things about this game is that it’s the only biological sequel to The Secret of Monkey Island. By my count, there have been 5 installments, but after LeChuck’s Revenge, the creative team moved on and it was only because it was a successful franchise that LucasArts made another.
This is interesting because, in regards to theme, tone, and characters, LeChuck’s Revenge (used synonymously with Monkey Island 2) mirrors Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back… but never had/has a Jedi. It ends with food for thought instead of a neat little bow.
The Ending (Spoilers)
The ending is worth discussing as it’s what diehard fans do ad nauseum — I’ve learned — and it is hard to pinpoint exactly what it means since it does leave enough mystique for it to be what you want it to be.
At the end, after you’ve beaten LeChuck — literally torn his limbs off — he says, “Guybrush, there’s something your parents never told you… I am your brother!” To which Guybrush responds in classic Luke fashion, “No, that’s not true, that’s impossible.” But LeChuck continues, asking Guybrush to ‘remove his mask’ so that he may look at the true face of his brother.
At this, I winced because it’s an inside joke to Star Wars and doesn’t further the plot or characters in Monkey Island. I assumed it was a ruse of LeChuck’s but then it gets stranger still. LeChuck’s head (mask) is removed and sure enough there’s a real human boy beneath it. He says their mother told him to hunt Guybrush down. Now everything feels distorted and this ‘reveal’ seems completely out of character and continuity until the next scene.
A man in a brown jumpsuit walks in and says, ‘You kids are not supposed to be down here.’ The background changes to a carnival/amusement park where two parents are looking for their kids: Chuck and Guybrush — although we never hear Guybrush’s real name.
Suddenly, it all clicks. Guybrush Threepwood is a ridiculous name, something a child would come up with. The fact that the bartender wouldn’t give Guybrush grog, saying it was a beverage for adults. The root beer finale in Monkey Island 1. The child-like love between Elaine and Guybrush that gets glossed over because it’s not something a child would imagine beyond the initial attraction. The wanting to be a pirate. The looting. The X marks the spot. All of it and everything makes sense. You’re a child using your imagination.
And it’s kind of sad. You’ve enjoyed Guybrush and his antics, but it’s all pretend.
Which brings me back to Poe and The Purloined Letter. I’m not the detective or the criminal… I’m not the pirate or the lover… I’m just a kid with an imagination. I can’t be what I want in reality, so I turn to fiction based around idols, hobbies, and stories I love, and then I emulate that with some real life elements.
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is a work of art. It reflects back at you, the gamer, why you got into gaming to begin with: escape your world, explore new ones. It shows how to use that childlike wonder in an adult world. Although Guybrush’s ending may be sad, it should be uplifting for you, the gamer.
I say the ending ‘can be whatever you want it to be’ because there’s a shot of the older brother walking behind kid Guybrush and he turns to the screen with a fantastically spooky face. It is possible to read this — as many do — as LeChuck has cast a spell over Guybrush… a possibility turned fact in subsequent games. But as Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is, for all intents and purposes, the end of the series, it’s safe to say that this was/is the intended ending. You may react differently to it, but it left me feeling lonely, but thoughtful.
Closing Comments, Commentary, & iMUSE
The puzzles are so challenging that I can’t imagine playing this game in a world without today’s internet. Many puzzles, I would solve 95% of the way through, but then a curve ball wrecks my s***, i.e. spit with the wind. What wind?! Oh. Ay yi yi!
The story is so compelling too that it’s nigh impossible to have patience solving puzzles when you’re dying to know what happens next. Imagine if, for every new episode of your favorite TV show, you had to solve a math problem before Netflix would let you watch it; to go from 1 to 2, it’s simple addition… then 2 to 3, it’s multiplication and division… but by episode 6, you need to know the quadratic formula. You’d cheat too.
An iOS feature that warrants replayability on its own is the commentary track. It’s expertly incorporated and makes me utterly fascinated as to why this hasn’t been enacted before. You can listen to the trifecta (Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman & Tim Schafer) talk about the game scene by scene. It’s fascinating and entertaining and will, undoubtedly, give you some fun trivia bits.
The one other area that deserves mention is the iMUSE system. Apparently, it took two musical engineers (Michael Land and Peter McConnell) to craft this thing and it was done so well that no one noticed. The iMUSE system was making mashups before mashups were a thing; they managed to connect the notes and chord progression of songs and weave them into the next setting with a different tune. Without knowing anything about music, this sounds painstakingly meticulous… and apparently the engineers behind it were super bummed out that no one noticed it. Of course the brilliance is, we didn’t notice because they weaved it together seamlessly… but they deserve a special shout out for that amazing achievement.
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