Friday, July 24, 2009

Monkey Island and Me

Like most folks, I got hooked on the point n' click adventure genre with The Secret of Monkey Island. Sure, I'd dabbled in it throughout my youth - various Marvel superhero themed text adventures on the Atari 400 (before I could even type properly), Kings Quest and assorted Infocom games on the Apple IIc, and the likes of Maniac Mansion and Shadowgate on the NES. But Monkey Island was easiest the most I'd ever laughed at a video game. I didn't have a PC at the time, but I rented the Sega CD version, and managed to enjoy it despite the long and aggravating load times. Between it and Wing Commander (which also had an iffy Sega CD port, though I didn't realize it at the time), I desperately wanted my parents to ditch that crappy old Apple II for an IBM PC, mostly so I could play their respective sequels.

Later that year, my dad got a 486/33 Compaq, and I was ecstatic. In addition to happening upon the brilliance of Sam & Max Hit the Road - unaware they were also made by Lucasarts - I tracked down Monkey Island 2 a few months later to much elation.

I was actually a little bit disappointed in it.

I'm not exactly sure why, to be honest. I remember I was distraught and confused over the ending, and some recent googling around has shown me that I wasn't alone. I also didn't think it was quite as funny, which I sort of agree with, but I think Monkey Island 2 is a much better game overall. I think, line for line, the original game might have some slightly better dialogue. And most of the interesting characters from Monkey Island 2 were carryovers from the previous games (Stan, the Men of Low Moral Fiber, the Voodoo Lady, etc.) Wally only became retroactively interesting after his appear in Curse of Monkey Island, and Largo isn't so much funny as a plain old jerk.

I do like the situational humor a lot more, like the general silliness of the costume party or the whole Governor Phatt (fat lol) thing. The game in general is much brighter, with more varied locales, and feels less claustrophobic than the original. A lot of the atmosphere is also conveyed with the amazing soundtrack. The first Monkey Island game had some great music, but it was sparse, and huge chunks of it are played in silence. Monkey Island 2 was the first game that used the iMUSE system, which perfectly transitions the music from screen to screen. Every screen in Woodtick village has a unique melody, each of which exemplifies its inhabitants but the town in general. I've been humming the various themes for the past week, much to the annoyance of everyone around me.

I still don't think it's quite as funny - one of my favorite parts of the first game was barging into Meathook's house and senselessly mocking him for no great reason. I also loved the insult swordfights, although not so much anymore. I've appreciated some other jokes more though - for some reason, the idea that the Monkey Island inhabitants communicates passive aggressively through a series of notes is oddly funny now, though I didn't quite get it back then.

People's sense of humor (and perceptions in general) tends to change over time. Upon my recent playthrough, I liked Space Quest V a lot more now than I did when I was younger, which I also had felt paled to its predecessor. Of course, this is one of the big reasons I've been replaying all of these old adventure games from my youth. Revisiting old media can be preyty dangerous, considering a lot of the cartoons and movies I loved as a child don't quite hold up (with occasional exception of something like The Goonies), but I'm actually finding new appreciation in my (somewhat) older age, rather than disdain.

I'd be lying if I said that nostalgia didn't play a part in this, though. Our first online service was Prodigy, and I got hooked on the message boards, where I joined The Monkey Island Fan Club and posted under the name Muad'dib, having just seen the Dune movie. We actually got together to design a theoretical Monkey Island 3, since the previous game ended on a (sorta) cliffhanger and Curse wasn't coming for at least four more years. I'm sure they're lost now, but I wish I could dig up those old text files. They were probably awful, much like anything you would do when you're thirteen, but it would've been cool to see how it compared to the real sequel.


  1. Yeah, y'know, I pretty much agree on all the Monkey Island 2 stuff - I loved the first game, actually never saw the second game until after having played and beaten Curse. a gap-bridging game, MI2 does rather fill in the missing spots, but standing on its own, it falls flat.

  2. Like most adventure games, I discovered the series completely in retrospect. Actually, Curse was my first introduction to the adventure genre as a whole when I watched through a frient play through most of the game one night after an anime club meeting at college.

    I have played Secret a couple times since (I'm actually working on the special edition right now), but I haven't finished Monkey Island 2 yet.

    Speaking of MISE, I think they changed the frequency of pirates giving you new insults/retorts in the game. I had played the original recently, and I noticed it didn't take me nearly as long to get all the insults this time around. It helped kep that section of the game from feeling too tedious, though I still wish they added a zap to function in the game.

  3. Out of the MI games I've played (the first three, that is), I consider MI2 my least favorite of the series. Not only did I not find it as hilarious, but I also found the puzzles more difficult; not "it took me a while but I figured it out" sort of difficult, but more like "this is really goddamn obnoxious, how did the developers expect me to know this" kind of difficult. Seriously, don't tell me you didn't have to look up an FAQ about what to do with that stupid piano playing monkey.

    Granted, the third game had some rather frustrating puzzles to boot, but I found it a TAD easier than the second game. Plus, I found it more humorous, and the awesome voices really added to it. And yes, insult swordfights. 1 and 3 had them, 2 did not. Don't get me wrong, I still loved MI2 and recommend anyone who likes adventure games should definitely give it a shot.

  4. I remember being stuck with Jojo the monkey when I was a kid, partially because I had no idea what a metronome was. What's way worse is the spitting contest. The drink mixing and flag shuffling bits aren't too hard to figure out, but observing that EXTREMELY tiny detail of the scarf blowing is just ridiculous...they should've made more of the screen animate to indicate strong wind. That drove me nuts.

  5. You know, you guys could have played Monkey Island 2 on easy mode because some of the puzzles being described were only found on hard mode. I finished easy mode first myself as a young one.

    I'll also be one of the few (here at least) to say Monkey Island 2 is my favorite, and the worst thing about the Monkey Island series is that it did not carry on the dark overtones that the first game harbored and the second game let into full bloom. Pirate subject matter should generally speaking not just be a fun time for all, and silliness and light heartedness isn't the main appeal of Monkey Island in my opinion.

    I think a lot started with Curse so they will always think of Monkey Island that way, but I don't think there's any Monkey Island that beats how gorgeous the second game is and the great atmosphere it brings, ending quibbles aside.