The Secret of Monkey Island iOS Review: The Shakespeare of Video Game Canon

Foreword

In my youth, The Secret of Monkey Island was a title spoken between older kids like a password to speakeasys. And no matter how much of a connoisseur I made myself out to be, conversation inevitably died when someone dropped a reference before my time.

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Even into my early 20s, I remember once a man — who went by the cognomen, “Chocolate Bear” — wearing, what I assumed was a Hot Topic T-shirt, with a ridiculous recipe for grog, but a peer stopped him in his tracks and said, “Is that a Monkey Island reference?” To which Chocolate Bear (jolly as ever) replied, “Of course!”

No matter how many games I left in my wake, they were overshadowed and inhaled by the tsunami Secret of Monkey Island. 

But what was it? Did it hold up? What do you do in it? Is there even a secret?

Now on the iOS, I was about to learn.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

The Secret of Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure game created by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. It was developed by LucasArts, a company well known for it’s graphic art adventure games and even birthed (so to speak) TellTale Games (famous for their Walking Dead franchise). I mention these names to give credit but also to provide a point of reference. These people excel at weaving yarns (telling stories) and the humor is timeless whether you’re a child or adult.

From my research, the special edition is not simply a graphics upgrade, but voice actors were added as well — you will recognize them if you’ve been a fan of cartoons since the 80s. The game looks beautiful and something about the art style reminds me of pottery like every “shaded” detail looks smoothed out.

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Many critics and esteemed gaming developers alike have stated that Monkey Island (the first two anyway) defined the genre of point-and-click. Some go so far as to say this type of game should be all iOS gaming is and I can’t argue. I adore the style and taking the time to think and being rewarded with more story and more colorful character interactions. That’s where the game truly shines, is the fact that you want to see what characters do next.

What Makes Monkey Island Fun?

Before going into my routine review of Story and Gameplay — because there are some issues — I have to throw my two cents in on what makes Monkey Island fun.

Ben “Yahtzee” Croshaw — the Terence Fletcher of gaming — gave a good run down of how these games work:

“The pacing would grind to a halt as you sort through the thread of logic that starts with the stabbing an inflatable clown and ends with an Egyptian mummy winning a beauty contest.

And this isn’t really an exaggeration. Unlike other point-and-clickers, you hold on to almost every item you grab in Monkey Island, and while some may have a one-time use, others are absolutely worthless, and some may suddenly come in handy for a second go. As a result, you’re clicking on any and everything, but what makes this tolerable is the witticism from the characters. Yahtzee also admits that “gameplay” is a the wilted branch where story is the trunk, dialogue is the leaves, and the characters are the two fornicating under it. Also very true.

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But I mention all this because this is what makes these games fun, it forces you to expand your horizons, to think twice about objects… before resigning to trial and error anyway.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, he presents the Diversion test in which two students are given a question: List all the things you can do with these two objects: 1) a brick 2) a blanket. While the man with a 180 (?) IQ wrote “building things and throwing” under brick, the other student (with a significantly lower IQ) wrote:

“To use in smash-and-grab raids. To help hold a house together. To use in a game of Russian roulette if you want to keep fit at the same time (bricks at ten paces, turn and throw — no evasive action allowed). To hold the eiderdown on a bed tie a brick at each corner. As a breaker of empty Coca-Cola bottles.”

This test always left me conflicted because on the one hand, I can answer a question about the same as someone with a 180 IQ, but on the other, I don’t have a 180 IQ and I’m not creative.

The point of bringing this up though is that games like The Secret of Monkey Island force you to start thinking differently; to start thinking creatively. And, rather than be rewarded with an “achievement” as modern gaming is wont to do, you’re rewarded with story! That’s why it’s fun.

Story

You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a man who wants to be a pirate and, to do so, you knowingly commit acts of thievery, debauchery, skulduggery with persnickety to get recognition (and the girl). As you complete your trials and charter a ship, there’s a story concurrently of the ghost pirate LeChuck who is out to steal your girl and make sure you never uncover the secret of Monkey Island…

Every character is unique and each charming in their own way. Spoiler, you’ll love them all.

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This is my favorite character.

iOS Gameplay Issues

‘Point-and-Click’ is pretty self-explanatory. So let me make this brief by providing some gripes and issues on the iOS. On my iPad 2, I would click on a destination and Guybrush would walk there — no problem. If I clicked on a person, he would automatically start a dialogue with them — no problem. If I clicked on an object, he would automatically pick it up… most of the time.

The first time I got stuck in The Secret of Monkey Island was when I was thrown into the ocean with a rock tied at my leg. I couldn’t reach any knives, so I clicked on the rock and nothing happened. After running through my gamut of items, I was stumped on what to do. I looked it up and voila, you need to select the “pick up” icon and then click the rock.

This is a clever use of the game mechanic and is great fourth-wall humor (fourth-wall humor is used sparingly). However, because the iPad never had me actually select the “pick up” icon, I wasn’t aware that I needed to use it. After all, this happens right at the end of Act 1, so I got through the trials without needing to click on it. To me it’s a problem because it’s inconsistent, so I criticized the game vs my method of thinking. This happened several other times where, I wasn’t aware, I needed to start using the “use” function on items, but live and learn.

Conclusion

The Secret of Monkey Island stands the testament of time and it makes sense why it’s heralded as the proverbial Shakespeare of video game canon. It is exceptional and worth keeping on the iPad, since it’s always good for a laugh.

As someone who usually deletes games once they’re completed, it means a lot when I don’t delete one (you can always redownload, but I don’t want to be apart). And part of the reason it’s worth keeping is the replayability factor. The labyrinth of puzzles are so convoluted that I will no doubt forget how to do them and can re-experience the discovery all over again.

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This is the graphics update.

PS. I started using cheat sheets a lot (especially once I got on Monkey Island), but the reason was moreso due to impatience than anything else — I desperately wanted to see the story unfold which says a lot about the adventure, experience and writing in my opinion.

For more iOS reviews, visit Derek Hobson’s Article Archive

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