Is LucasArts’ Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge a worthy sequel to The Secret of Monkey Island and the Special Edition an improvement as well?
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (PC)
(USA 1991, developer/publisher: LucasArts (now defunct), platforms: PC, Amiga, FM Towns)
After having defeated ghost pirate LeChuck, Guybrush Threepwood is out looking for the mysterious treasure Big Whoop.
More pirate shenanigans
The first game had a rather simple storyline, but the sequel has much more epic feel to it, even if it’s of the silly variety. First LeChuck’s former first mate Largo LaGrande who has placed an embargo on Scabb Island has to be driven out before one can embark on a journey to find Big Whoop. Then four pieces of the map leading Guybrush to the treasure have to be found, with each one having been in the hands of former pirates on other islands. Each pirate and map piece tell a different story, and the islands themselves have a distinctive theme and lore. The pirate atmosphere is always present, not only with the treasure hunting theme, but also with lots of fun anecdotes and songs. There’s even a whole library in which one can find all sorts of strange books. While it’s not possible to read every book, the titles alone add much postmodern fun to the genre and at the same time parody other games as well. References to the Disneyland ride Pirates of the Caribbean are even more obvious this time, e.g. with Guybrush in prison trying to get the key for his cell with the help of a dog named Walt.
Humor with and without metafiction
Memorable characters like the Voodoo Lady or salesman Stan make a return, and in the case of the latter, the humor is even snappier, as Stan is selling used coffins. There are of course other fun characters, but they’re usually used for one joke or two. The writing is as witty as one expects it to be: a mix of sarcastic remarks, good and bad puns, and lots of genre and movie parodies. It’s maybe the latter which can become very intrusive at some point, with so many references to Star Wars that the story, especially the nonsensical ending, feel as if they don’t quite fit the pirate theme anymore. There are some surreal scenes that work much better without relying on the well-known sci-fi franchise, e.g. with Guybrush’s parents as skeletons dancing to a very catchy song (that is very important for solving a specific puzzle later on) or Guybrush finding a telephone in the middle of the jungle he can call the LucasArts hotline with. Having a narrator yawn while switching to another setting also adds to the break-the-fourth-wall atmosphere.
Even more puzzling adventures
With more than one island to traverse, the difficulty ramps up quite a notch, as most puzzles can only be solved by picking up one object and using it somewhere completely different. As one doesn’t have to find the four map pieces in any specific order, non-linearity makes this a much more open-world. Remembering all the places and characters can be tough, and with the inventory soon filling up with all sorts of items one is overwhelmed with opportunities or, more likely, frustration in figuring out where to use and how to combine them. Puzzle solutions are often obscure and sometimes even require nonsensical thinking, e.g. figuring out why the number of fingers held up isn’t always the right answer or, in one puzzle involving a monkey, knowledge of US English is required. Trial and error becomes second nature, as even the silliest action can result in the right solution, which is why the puzzles are original and head-scratchingly strange at the same time, with the spitting contest the most memorable of them all. If one doesn’t feel like the best adventure gamer, one can opt for a much lower difficulty with fewer puzzles and a shorter playtime.
Difficulties to overcome
No matter which difficulty one chooses, there are enough locations left to get lost in, which means more walking around and more objects/screen exits one can overlook. This becomes very noticably on Dinky Island where one has to navigate a labyrinth-like jungle to find certain objects and later a treasure. It obviously makes sense in the grand scheme of pirate things, and one is soon given appropriate directions, but at first one will wander around rather aimlessly. Even more frustrating are time-sensitive sequences which become extremely annoying in the finale when one has to wait for LeChuck to show up randomly in some screens.
Looks and sounds to fit a pirate life
The pixel art graphics are more detailed, including characters with more funny slapstick animations and livelier backgrounds. The sound effects make each scenario as lively as atmospheric as possible, while the music offers even more catchy tunes. However, there are too many screens in which the soundtrack and background noises stop playing, as it was already the case with the original game.
Remade for good this time
In 2010, a Special Edition was released by LucasArts (now distributed by Disney Interactive) on digital platforms. Despite still lacking the charme of the retro pixel art look which can be switched to on the fly, the character models, even Guybrush himself, fit much better in the more cartoon-y world, although some look too grotesque, which isn’t helped by the jarring animations. Backgrounds are more detailed, making it much easier to make out specific items. Music and sound quality is much improved, too. Voice acting is of a very high quality, and this time one can listen to it while playing the retro look version, although it’s not possible to turn on the new music and sound effects.
Anyone interested in the development of both the original game and the evolution of character design can dig into the in-game commentary and also a lovely art gallery that is unlocked after finishing the game. Something that has sadly not survived the remake are the two difficulty options, as only the all-inclusive version is available now. There’s also another change that might not be to purists’ liking: The LucasArts phone operator Chester in the original game is female, while the character in the Special Edition is male.
Another classic game that is endlessly replayable in the old and new version
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge offers everything one would expect from a sequel: more story, more puzzles, more characters, more jokes. But it’s also more frustrating because of backtracking and obscure puzzles. Even if many consider the sequel a much better game due to its longer playtime and more open-world design, its cult status with the funny writing might be the real reason why it’s considered to be one of the best adventure games ever.
The Special Edition is a much more accomplished proposition this time around, as being able to play with retro graphics and listening to the sublime voice acting is a big plus. If only some of the character designs weren’t so freakish-looking, one could call the new version the perfect modernization.
Score: 9/10 (for the original version)
Score: 8.5/10 (for the Special Edition)
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