For years I had never understood the fanboyism that surrounded the Monkey Island™ games. Classic point and click adventure games are my cup of tea, I even make them in my spare time, yet at some point I determined that I was not going to pursue playing the Monkey Island™ games. So it happens that my experience with Monkey Island on the iPhone is coincidentally my first experience with the franchise and I have finally come to know what I was missing out on. The Secret of Monkey Island is a colorful adventure that places the player in the shoes of one Guybrush Threepwood, an aspiring pirate who has arrived on Melee Island™. Throughout the adventure, one meets a host of curious characters and visits a variety of locales in the Caribbean all in the hopes of becoming a true pirate along the way. I am not going to say anything further about the game’s plot, to do so would be to risk spoiling an experience that I feel is best discovered by one’s own self.
Having the game move to a portable medium is what finally persuaded me to invest in it, because as much as I like adventure games I no longer have the same dangerous amounts of free time to spend at length in front of my computer. While I told myself that I would try and take it easy with this game, I literally drained my entire battery from full to empty in one sitting upon first starting it up. So much for not having enough time to play adventure games; the good ones tend to make time for themselves. Being able to pull the Secret of Monkey Island™ out of my pocket at any time has let me fill any gap in my day with adventure gaming goodness, and what is undoubtedly the best experience I have had with an iPhone game to date.
The mechanics of Monkey Island™ SE (Special Edition) are classic point and click controls. Players interact with objects and characters in the environment in order to solve puzzles and advance the story. Some puzzles are solved by using items that one has picked up along the way, and others are solved by combining objects from the inventory and the environment. While many of the puzzles in the Secret of Monkey Island may seem convoluted, this is simply something that fans of the genre enjoy. Do not hesitate to play this game in fear of the presence of these puzzles, because those who want to experience the game without frustration can always make use of the in-game hint system or an online strategy guide.
What makes the Secret of Monkey Island™ stand out from its peers is not only its puzzles, but its humor to boot. Monkey Island™ is an outstandingly comical game, and at many points I found myself stifling a chuckle or outright laughing. Assuredly, the jokes are of the “you had to be there” variety, but they are funny nonetheless. The way the game rewards players for remembering previous jokes is welcome and a contrast to the usual “assume the player knows and remembers nothing” attitude in most modern games. Monkey Island™ will not hold your hand, and beginners will sometimes spend hours working out a puzzle for the first time. With the closure of each puzzle, the player will likely feel the same satisfaction as I did and one is usually rewarded with some sort of comical sequence. The way the game integrates its puzzles and humor is unparalleled on the iPhone and in any adventure game I have yet to play. New environments are a joy to explore, and I found myself spending as much time with each character as the dialogue options would allow. Simply put, the entire experience is engrossing and the thought put into the game is more than evident.
As I had previously mentioned, the Secret of Monkey Island™ is not a new game. The iPhone version includes the Special Edition that employs voice acting and all-new sprites. At any moment the player can swipe the screen with two fingers to switch to the classic mode and get a look at the history behind the Special Edition™. Voice acting in Monkey Island™ is superb, and adds a great deal to the experience. I would have liked to be able to play the game with voice acting on top of the original sprites, because as good as the new graphics are I am a sucker for old sprites. (they just don’t make them like they used to)
The game’s graphics factor in to my handful of complaints with Monkey Island™ on the iPhone. For starters, the SE™ includes some sloppy sprite work. I am not sure who was in charge of redoing the artwork, but they managed to miss a hanging pixel on a character (the governor) that annoyingly follows said character. Such mistakes are usually reserved for amateurs such as myself, and I was more than dissapointed to see that nobody who touched the game noticed such an apparent and easily fixed mistake. The game also features some more cheesy sprite jobs when it comes to some of the character’s faces, which is especially evident on the main character’s face but this may have been a result of scaling the game to a lower resolution. Furthermore, even on the iPhone version one can sometimes see pieces of the old backgrounds poking out from behind the new ones. I wish the developers had added more frames to some of the animations, this may be a limitation with their tools but it is one part of the game that sticks out as being of a lower quality. Speaking of low quality, many who have played the game complain about the control system. Instead of having the player simply click on items to interact, the game forces one to drag about a cursor on screen that can be controlled by swiping along any portion of the window. The advantage is that the player’s fingers will never cover an object of interest, and a major disadvantage is that the cursor moves at a lower speed than the player’s finger. Having the cursor move with an adjustable higher speed but still function in the same basic way would have been a plus, and mapping the action icons to the bottom of the screen or even bringing up a contextual menu based on hover/click location would have been welcome as options. Perhaps some thought could even be put into tap controls, although I do see the issue with the hover mechanic this creates.
My complaints pertaining to the graphical flaws and control scheme in no way ruined my experience, the worst that happened is that a certain scene in which a dangerous drink had to be moved about became very frustrating. The plusses of this game are colossal, and make my issues seem fairly minor in the grand scheme of things. Secret of Monkey Island is not just a great game, it is far and away my absolute favorite game for the iPhone. Call me an adventure junkie, but I think each and every one of you should play this game; its humor and depth are things that we should all experience at some point.
All images used in this review are the property of LucasArts
While I take issue with some of the sprites in the game, most of the backgrounds are well drawn atop the original ones and are pleasing to the eye.
I applaud the excellent use of voice acting, and the in-game music is implemented well.
The controls can sometimes be a stumbling point, but the game is far from unplayable. The pacing of the game makes it so that off control is not much of an issue as it would have been in a game such as Space Invaders. Puzzles are rewarding, and the game manages to infuse its humor with its mechanics.
I took about eight hours for my first playthrough, and that was with some heavy strategy guide use towards the end (I wanted to get the review out!). I know for sure that I will be playing this again in full for many more hours after I have forgotten some of the puzzles.
Monkey Island™ is my favorite iPhone game as of the publishing of this review, more please! Had the controls been perfect, this game would have easily been a 5.