This is a slightly atypical Nostalgia Lane, in that I never played this classic LucasArts adventure title “back in the day”. Instead, it generally went unnoticed by me in the early 90’s, and instead, I picked it up last year on the iPhone.
Then it continued to go generally unplayed, because the conversion team did an absolutely horrible job with the controls, forcing you to slooooooowly slide a cursor around the screen and tap one-too-many times to get any actions done.
Fortunately, they did patch the game to include a speedier cursor, so for the past month I’ve been playing the Secret of Monkey Island for the first time all the way through. And it’s almost lived up to the legend I’ve heard. Almost.
First of all, I heart the fact that they didn’t merely do a port of the game, but remade it into a special edition that includes completely new art and voiceovers. I doubly heart the fact that, with a swipe of two fingers, you can revert the game to the “classic” edition to see what it used to look like and even play it that way as well. This is a treatment we hardly ever see for older games, especially adventure titles.
I also — and don’t stone me here — liked that they included a hint system. Now, I appreciate the purist POV that says we should play the game as they had to way back when, without guides and internet cheats and whatnot. But the fact of the matter is that these adventure games often featured very obtuse puzzles that relied not so much on logic as they did on random experimentation. So my playthrough was probably 90% me just figuring things out on my own, and 10% using the hint guide when I got stuck. That way I could keep progressing instead of getting frustrated and drop-kicking my phone into the wall.
As for the game itself, although it’s now two decades after SoMI was released, pirates never go out of style. In fact, they’re almost more in style now than they ever were. SoMI uses a piratey backdrop for corny jokes, bizarre humor and clever puns, and it becomes kind of timeless because of that.
You play Guybrush Threepwood (a weird, weird name that everyone gets wrong) who’s out to become a pirate and prove himself to the world. To get there, he has to pass the three trials of piratehood — which comprises the first third of the game — and then once he gets there, he’s allowed to go on a proper adventure-slash-rescue mission.
The dialogue and descriptions is really where this game shines, with unusual twists on boring stereotypes (such as health-conscious cannibals, or pirates who are more concerned with sun bathing than adventuring). If Talk Like a Pirate Day is one of your favorite days of the year, SoMI has all of the grog, booty, swag and plank-walking you can ask for.
It’s also devilishly funny. While it rarely made me laugh out loud, SoMI has a lot of quirky moments that come off well, especially when you choose some of the more unusual dialogue options. There’s also outright bizarre sequences, such as an action scene that takes place behind a wall (you can only hear, not see, what’s going on, and from what’s described, you really wish you could see it) or the appearance of the legendary three-headed monkey. This is a game that asks, what if used boat salesmen were just like modern-day car salesmen, and runs with it.
All in all, I had a great time — control scheme notwithstanding. I’m already deep into the second one on the iPhone (MUCH better controls) and so far, it feels better than the first.