Secret of Monkey Island: Guybrush overboard!

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Astute players of this game might recall that Guybrush’s one defining skill — as relayed to the Important Pirate Leaders — is that he can hold his breath for ten minutes. This seemingly useless trait suddenly has incredible bearing on the situation once Fester Shinetop attempts to drown Guybrush at the bottom of the ocean.

Here’s where the game really likes to tweak players, because there are all of these sharp pirate weapons all over the place on the ocean floor — but Guybrush’s tether isn’t long enough to reach any of them. Adding insult to injury, two pirates end up walking right overhead discussing how they want to get rid of an incriminating knife by throwing it into the water… and then they end up keeping it and walking away.

You know how I said at the start of this playthrough that I liked how these LucasArt games wouldn’t kill you at every turn? To my knowledge, this is the single way you can bite it in the game, by waiting for ten minutes in this spot as Guybrush’s face turns all sorts of delightful colors. Finally, he perishes and the parser commands change to things like “rot” and “order hint book.” They don’t DO anything, but it’s amusing.

What’s even funnier is that the solution to this “puzzle” is insultingly easy. Guybrush already had picked up the idol before, so all he needs to do now is pick it up again to climb out of the water. Easy peasy.

Up on the dock, Guybrush spies a GHOST SHIP sailing away and is understandably perturbed at its passing. He feels even worse when the lookout from the very start of the game comes down and tells Guybrush that LaChuck has kidnapped Elaine to take her to Monkey Island. See, Elaine was actually coming to rescue our hapless hero when she was intercepted by her zombie stalker. Since that makes this partially Guybrush’s responsibility, he vows to get her back. It’s a really cheesy moment as he gets all gushy on Elaine and sappy music swells up, which allows me to forgive the revival of this tired your-princess-is-in-another-monkey-castle trope.

Of course, that’s not going to be easy. He’s not even a full pirate yet, and he lacks a crew and a boat to get off Melee Island.

The cook in the now-abandoned SCUMM bar entreats Guybrush to undertake this task to rescue their beloved governor. Why him? Because he has “love” written all over his face, obviously.


As Guybrush starts to assemble his crew — which includes Otis the prisoner and Carla the sword master — a cutscene informs us that Elaine is doing her darndest to escape LeChuck. It actually turns out that Fester Shinetop is LeChuck in disguise! I had totally forgotten that from my previous playthrough.

One of the crew that Guybrush needs to recruit is ol’ Meathook here (he has two hook-hands, you see). He’s reluctant to sign up until Guybrush proves himself by touching “the beast” that took his hands. Or a relative of the beast that did that. A descendant, at least. Doors open, Meathook gets visibly more anxious and moves to a safe distance…

The suspense builds as the final door opens…

…to reveal, of course, a tiny little parrot. Guybrush tickles him and that’s that. Meathook is suitably impressed and signs up. It’s a classic sequence that had me laughing out loud once again.

A crew is all well and good, but a pirate captain needs a boat — and only Stan, the owner of Stan’s Previously Owned Vessels — is around to sell one. The music, manic gestures, and tacky ships are all spot-on for a parody of a used car salesman, and I can understand why Stan has become a beloved fixture in this franchise.

Ship procured, crew assigned, pirate status attained — is there nothing that will stand in the way of Guybrush Threepwood and his destiny? Probably 66% of the remainder of the game will, if adventure game logic holds.

Secret of Monkey Island: Piranha poodles

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

Now that Guybrush has acquitted himself as both a treasure hunter and a sword master, the only trial standing between him and legitimate piracy is stealing the governor’s idol! This being an adventure game, we’re going to have to go about it in a very roundabout way. So I make friends with Otis, the local prisoner who certainly doesn’t remind me of that scene from the Pirates of the Caribbean ride.

The governor’s mansion is being guarded by a pack of leashed piranha poodles. Seriously. That’s how the game describes them. The only way to get past them is to toss over a hunk of rancid meat, which… kills them.

Sorry, which PUTS THEM TO SLEEP. This popup notice made me laugh so hard that I shot ginger ale through my nose. Fizzy ginger nasal passages, I have.

To one-up itself, Secret of Monkey Island then goes into one of the funniest scenes in the game. As Guybrush starts looting around the governor’s mansion, the oppressive sheriff Fester Shinetop (because he’s bald, see?) shows up and tries to nab our hero. The two then go “offstage” — that is, out of sight behind some doors.

Then for a couple of minutes, the game completely takes over with a ridiculous cutscene in which all manner of absurdity is going on but the player is only given clues as to the specifics with brief dialogue (“NOT THE RED BUTTON!”), sound effects, and the parser, which keeps typing out, well…

Stuff like that. Guybrush is picking up weird things left and right, diving in and out of the room through a hole in the wall, and ultimately finding himself victorious.

It’s probably the one part of the game that I’d recommend the special edition, if just for the hilarious voice acting and sound effects. The gopher horde, in particular. I showed this scene to my nine-year-old son and he had a fit of giggles before it was all said and done.

I trade Otis — the prisoner — some gopher repellent for a carrot cake, which (unfortunately for him, fortunately for me) has the file I need to get the idol. Back to the mansion for more wacky fights!

People, this is getting TOO SILLY. I totally approve.

Guybrush gets the idol, but Shinetop corners him soon thereafter. Is this the end of our daring hero?

Not quite! The governor steps out of her office to intervene — and it’s love at first sight. Well, gibberish and foolhardy staring at first sight. Elaine Marley calls Guybrush’s face “sweet” while he stammers and is incapable of any real conversation. Guess he’s not enough of a man for this firecracker of a leader!

Even though Elaine lets Guybrush off the hook, Fester there accosts him a second time and makes for the pier. He alludes to sinister “plans for the governor” that he doesn’t want interrupted, and with that, he kicks a weighted Guybrush off the side to drown.


(it’s not, actually)

Secret of Monkey Island: Swordplay and treasure

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

With three trials ahead of him to become a full-fledged pirate, Guybrush Threepwood has his work cut out for him. First stop? The circus, of course!

The circus is run by two argumentative siblings, the Fettucini Brothers. They don’t want to test out the human-shooting cannon, so Guybrush, um, volunteers and is promptly smacked against the pole on the far side of the tent. Good thing this is a LucasArts game, else that would have been a game over screen!

In a snarky twist, when Guybrush is lying upside-down and dazed, his dialogue options are ALSO upside-down on the screen. Clever devs.

I’ll say that after flipping back and forth from the original to the special edition, I’ve actually taken more to a shine to the classic with its pixel art and chunky text than the flatter graphics of the remake, so I’m going to stick with the original going forward.

Another aspect of this game that makes it a hoot to play is that you’re able to choose from some really wacky dialogue choices. Sure, there are the tame and normal ones, but what’s the fun in that? I always go for the crazy ones first.

After buying a sword and shovel, I’m off to knock out two of my three trials. First up is proving myself a master swordsman, which will be difficult seeing as I hardly know how to fight. Fortunately, Captain Smirk there agrees to train me (with his MACHINE) for 30 pieces of eight. That makes me technically competent to fight, but I have to learn the other half — the insults.

In a really awesome twist, this game’s fight mechanics is all about insults and responses. Basically, one person spits out an insult and the other has to respond, and if that response doesn’t make sense, then the first person presses the advantage and starts winning the fight. Guybrush doesn’t have a lot of insults and responses at first, but the more he picks fights, the more he hears these usable lines and collects them like Pokemon. Finally, he’s good enough to take on the feared Sword Master — Carla.

She’s tougher because (a) she has insults Guybrush hasn’t heard yet, and (b) he has to use old comebacks in new ways. But all in all, Carla isn’t too hard and she gives up. From this, I get a (drumroll) t-shirt! Hey, whatever proves my capability.

The treasure hunting is a little tricky as well. Guybrush purchases a map to the legendary lost treasure from a shady-looking pirate, but the paper turns out to be dance instructions. OR IS IT? Nope, it’s actually a thinly veiled guide through a forest maze to what turns out to be a frequently visited treasure spot.

Another tee! This game, guys, it is weird. At least Guybrush doesn’t seem that put off.

Secret of Monkey Island: A noob walks into a pirate bar

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1990’s Secret of Monkey Island. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

While I was mulling my options over for a new retro gaming series, I ended up watching a video on LucasArts’ Monkey Island series and being reminded of how great it was. Actually, I was reminded of how much I liked it and yet had to completely play through the main four games in the series. All too quickly, I felt the call of the sea and the puns dragging me down into a loader screen and this here post!

Even though I’ve played through the first game and parts of the second and third, I would love to do this entire series start to finish while writing about it. We’ll kick things off with 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island, which was remade in 2009 with better graphics and voice acting. All of it is based on Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride, which is one of my all-time favorite amusement park experiences, so I’m all for soaking up that atmosphere.

In any case, let’s dig into this farcical series about a wanna-be pirate, a world set out to frustrate him, and an island that contains many secretive monkeys. Who’s with me?

From the get-go, I have an agonizing decision to make: original flavor monkey or special edition monkey? Both have virtues in my book. I like the pixel art of the original, which looks stunningly good for 1990, and the remake’s graphics can border on looking a little flat and flash-like. On the other hand, the remake features better mouse controls and the addition of pretty well-done voice acting.

At least I don’t have to choose for good — this game actually lets you instantly swap versions on the fly with the F10 key. I think I’ll play the special edition primarily while swapping over to see what the original screens looked like. I’ll probably be showing screens from both, so go with me here.

Anyway, meet Guybrush Threepwood, a man who appears out of nowhere to talk to a guy on a cliff about his (Guybrush’s) deep desire to become a pirate. Turns out that this isn’t as easy a prospect as one might hope, as Guybrush will need to apply and undergo three trials just to make it. Who thought buccaneers were so discerning and exclusive?

First stop, the SCUMM Bar (SCUMM was the game’s engine that powered a lot of LucasArts’ adventure titles). I love the happy smiling face in the title there. And speaking of LucasArts, one of the things I’ve always liked about these adventure games versus Sierra is their decision not to put death traps everywhere. I don’t even think it’s possible to die in this game, although you can get stuck trying to get past an obstacle or puzzle. While I love a funny death screen, I appreciate the “no deaths” design because it encourages me to explore and experiment more.

For example, the SCUMM Bar is pretty entertaining to visit, especially as I talk to the various pirates around the tavern. Aside from some blatant fourth wall-breaking talks (not to mention a pitch for a LucasArts game few people actually remember), there’s some vital background information on what’s been happening on and around Melee Island here.

Turns out that a fearsome pirate named LeChuck fell in love with the island’s governor, Gov. Marley, and went on a quest to find the Secret of Monkey Island to impress her. He died, came back somehow, and now he’s terrorizing the seas and nobody wants to sail out there. Hence the packed bar.

My enjoyment of this series is derived from two factors. First, Guybrush is a very likable and affable character. He’s sincere and earnest while playing a funny straight man to the lunacy around him. I genuinely wanted him to succeed.

But past that, the second factor is that Monkey Island is enjoyable in the moment-to-moment. It’s hilarious to talk to everyone, including the dog (with whom you can hold a surprisingly long conversation). Even though there is a story to progress through, the descriptions, actions, and conversations in each section are a lot of fun to behold.

Guybrush’s quest to become a pirate leads him here, to the three Important-Looking Pirates that apparently serve as the gatekeepers to all piratedom. They tell Guybrush that he can join up if he completes the three trials — that is, proving himself successful at swordplay, thieving, and treasure hunting. To do this, I’ll have to defeat the Sword Master, steal an idol from the governor’s mansion, and find the legendary lost treasure of Melee Island. I also find out what’s actually in grog, which ends up being a horrific list of ingredients including sulfuric acid, pepperoni, and red dye no.2.

Can I also say how much I adore this soundtrack? In both editions, it’s so soothing and perfect in striking that Caribbean pirate mood. Just an all-time classic and one of my favorite video game OSTs of all time.

There are lots of great environmental gags to notice as well, like the vat of poison (grog?). Oh, and the picture of the Pillsbury Doughboy. HE IS TOO ADORABLE FOR WORDS.


The ghost pirate LeChuck is informed by his laconic skeleton first mate that there’s a new pirate wannabe on Melee Island. Don’t know how the word of such an insignificant detail has gotten down here, but here we are. LeChuck mulls this over and vows to take care of it personally. After all, his plans are too important to be thwarted by a greenhorn such as Guybrush.

Quest for Glory IV: Final thoughts

This was a (not) fun past week. Coming back to work after three unexpected snow days (thanks, Canada’s weather!), I found that my work laptop had bit the big one. This was a pretty fierce blow for a few reasons: I had a great seven-year run with the machine and considered it fairly trustworthy, I lost some files, and I was using it during lunch breaks to get through this gaming series. While I was able to retrieve many files afterward, I couldn’t get the Quest for Glory IV save game files to work on another computer (and believe you me, I spent over an hour trying to troubleshoot that).

Long story short, this is where me and Quest for Glory IV part ways.

While it’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to finish the game, I had gotten to a part that I couldn’t figure out how to advance anyway, as the next event trigger… didn’t trigger. And more than that, I have come to a realization about this series. I don’t really like these games.

Oh, I appreciate Quest for Glory for what it is. If I was playing this back in the 1990s, I think I might have even loved it. But looking back over the four games that I’ve played in this franchise, I see more frustration than delight. The RPG mechanics are weak and mainly serve to hold the progress of the story back, and the time gating of certain events made me grind my teeth together.

Yet there is plenty to appreciate, especially in QFG4. The visuals, voice acting, and world building are top-notch. I really liked the cartoony large character portraits and the hodge-podge of horror characters that ran through this game (most notably the fireplace mantle creature, Igor, and that lady in the lake). There are some funny puns, and when the game lets me get past the RPG stuff, there’s a solid adventure here.

Still, I wasn’t having that much fun with it in the end. I kept feeling like I was wrestling with the game to let me progress, to find whatever triggers needed to happen to advance the plot, and after a while I got sick of it. I also wasn’t a big fan of roaming around on the open world (which needed some sort of Quest for Glory 3 quick travel map option) or fighting at all. At least there was the auto-combat function, but at that point, why bother even having it at all?

In short, I might as well have been playing King’s Quest or a regular RPG. Sometimes hybrids work, and sometimes they can’t get the mixture quite right. I know this sets me at odds with a lot of fervent fans of the series, but it needed to be said.

Quest for Glory IV: Jaunty hats on grinning skulls

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

So when you’ve accidentally sent a hapless old man off to his death as he looks for his long-lost wife, what do you do with the hat that he leaves behind? You toss it on the head of a talking skull so that he feels fancy and tells his laser-shooting skull friends not to fry your butt, of course!

Welcome to adventure game logic. It’s so silly at times, I love it.

Three games later, and here I am yet again with another confrontation with Baba Yaga. I actually really admire (if I haven’t said this enough) the effort that the creators took to create continuity and recurring characters. Not that Baba Yaga was ever my favorite, mind you, but the familiarity makes this feel like an ongoing saga with a richer cast.

Here I am sprinkling corn for her chicken hut to eat. Naturally.

Inside her hut, the Baba freezes me in ice as she talks about how she’s going to make me into both dinner and dessert. I think she still harbors a grudge for when I turned her into a toad that one time.

And indeed, I was not quick on my feet enough to get out of that fate. I don’t mind dying — the death notices are pretty amusing — but I had forgotten to save for awhile and had to repeat 15 minutes of gameplay, which was less amusing.

After baking Baba Yaga a pie (which, of course, was far more complicated than it needed to be), she gave me a funny bone to take back to the gnome so he/she/it could get back his/hers/its sense of humor. To be perfectly honest, the “jokes” were about the same quality before and after this moment, but at least I got a boss-killing ultimate joke out of it.

Next on my list was to track down the innkeeper’s daughter. This was far more tricky than I had anticipated, as the only creature who knew what happened was the family’s weird fireplace hobo that only shows up in the dead of the night. So he points me in the direction of the castle and I’m off to visit it — via a detour through a crypt in the graveyard, naturally. I’m really glad I rescued Igor!

Awesome. The little girl is now a vampire with a massive beast for a pet named Toby. She’s somewhat happy in the castle but does sort of miss her parents — and she’s not too fond of this “Dark Man” who makes the occasional appearance. I’ll bet that getting her un-vamped is going to be a trial.

Quest for Glory IV: Werewolves love hunchbacks

(This is part of my journey going playing through 1993’s Quest for Glory IV: Shadows of Darkness. You can follow the entire series on the Retro Gaming page.)

You know what you get when you drink from strange baby fountains in the middle of the night in this cursed land? Elves. You get preachy elves that dream-lecture you about your potential. I swear these things have a union or something.

Actually, so much keeps happening to me in my dreams in this game. In another, I’m floating around in magic and then dying somehow. And in yet another, two voices spy on me from afar and talk about manipulating me, about wanting me to do something specific for them. I’m going out on a limb to say that these are the Bad Guys.

On Day Four, I walk out of the inn and find that the weird trio of farmers are all abuzz because Igor the gravedigger has gone missing. Naturally, they blame a wandering gypsy, but nobody’s really out there looking for him, either. Some friends. All I know is that apparently it has something to do with a werewolf? I guess?

Werewolf? Not quite. Igor apparently got careless while digging a grave and a tombstone fell on top of him, trapping him. I use the open spell to get him out, and I am once again a HERO.

One evening, the inn has a strange new guest — a gnome comedian. And not just any gnome comedian, but one who tells the most unfunny of jokes because, as he tells me, the Baba Yaga cursed him. Yes, THAT Baba Yaga — the one from the very first game. Looks like it’s chicken house hunting time.

ACK! A killer bunny! Okay, I’ll admit that I chuckled a bit. And I’m sure this whole joke was funnier more two decades ago than in the meme-riddled now.

Speaking of callbacks to the first game, Bonehead shows up around Baba Yaga’s hut and chats a bit with me. He’s still got a sense of humor and is far more humorous than the gnome.

The Quest for Glory games’ hybridization is both a blessing and a curse. I love a lot about the mish-mash of genres, and if I wasn’t trying to actually finish the game but was playing it back when I was a kid and trying to get my money’s worth, I wouldn’t mind all of the random exploration and grinding. But as I’m going through this game, I’m finding it really frustrating at times. It’s like there are a whole bunch of quests that need to be done but there’s no journal system and many depend on various triggers and days to happen.

For example, there’s this old man who’s looking for his wife Anna. I can only find her at night in one patch of the woods, and it takes numerous conversations to get her to realize she’s a ghost. Then I have to fast-forward time to day to get back in town, tell the old man, and send him off to his death to join her. You know, because I’m a hero. Then I rest some more to advance time, get back to night, find that the pair have reunited in the afterlife (aww) and then get a hat from the dead guy. Which turns out to be a vital quest object that I need for something else, and I’m tearing my hair out here.

At least the gypsies love me now that I saved one of their own, who actually did turn out to be a werewolf of sorts. They throw me a really disturbing party and I think my character makes out with a girl wolf at one point, although that was hard to tell.