Review by Suprak the Stud
Apparently, Part of LeChuck's Revenge is Making the Monkey Island Series a Little Less Enjoyable
While I know the subsequent confession will most likely cause my Connoisseur and Aficionado of Underappreciated Games card to be revoked (we have meetings every opposite Tuesday to decry the fact that Psychonauts never reached greater appreciation), I never actually played any of the Monkey Island series when the games were initially released. In fact, my first exposure to the franchise was the re-release of The Secret of Monkey Island last year on the Xbox Live Arcade. While most games that are 20 years old and loved as much as the Monkey Island series are done so more due to the intoxicating effects of nostalgia and stupid than the actual merits of the game, I found The Secret of Monkey Island absolutely great. Despite the fact it was only a few years younger than myself, it felt fresh and fun and exemplified how a good point and click adventure game should be done. Furthermore, it was legitimately laugh out loud funny, causing the humor found in most games to feel more appropriately located on a popsicle stick. Thus, when I found out Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge was also being updated and released on the Xbox 360, I donned my pirate costume and waited anxiously for its release. It does suffer a bit from sequel syndrome, and it feels like everything it does was already done better in the original. Still, the charm and humor from the first game are mostly intact, and for the asking price it is hard to recommend against what many consider to be a classic.
Once again, this game is a fairly standard update of the original MI2, with a graphical upgrade and a couple of minor removals that you are unlikely to notice unless you are the kind of obsessive that has a shrine of the game built in at least three different rooms of your house (in which case you aren't even reading this because you're too busy being lonely and friendless and writing hate mail complaining about the lack of iMUSE in the Xbox 360 version). The graphics are once again in this kind of smeared-blob-o-vision where the characters look like they've been left outside in the sun too long and started to melt. You can still switch between the updated version and the old school mode on the fly, which keeps the original graphics and interface mostly intact and should satisfy the elderly and those that are desperately afraid of change. However, while the characters models in the new mode look a bit rough, the backdrops are all vibrant and look great, making it hard to want to keep the old version graphics on for too long. Additionally, the updated version features complete voice work, and the actors for each of the characters are pretty much perfect. Like the original Secret of Monkey Island, all the voices complement the characters perfectly, and it feels like individuals were actually cast rather than just randomly pulled off the street. Overall, the updates are well appreciated, and the overall package makes the game feel like it really could be released today.
Everything else is left largely untouched, which is for the best as nothing else really needed updating. When the game starts, Guybrush is still reveling in his defeat of LeChuck, but unfortunately at this point he appears to be the only one. Apparently, Guybrush has now reached Lou Begas Mambo No. 5 levels of one-hit-wonderdom, and the pirates have all grown tired of hearing Guybrush sing the same old tune. Thus, in an attempt to avoid the path of typical one hit wonders (which is fading slowly into obscurity and finding relevance only in Eastern European countries with progressively more difficult to spell names), Guybrush instead decides to embark on another adventure to reclaim his fading fame and glory. This time, he had decided to uncover the treasure of Big Whoop, an illustrious (but stupidly named) treasure that has eluded hard working pirates for decades. However, as you might have guessed by the title of the game, something goes wrong at some point and due to a blunder by Guybrush, the fearsome pirate LeChuck is revived. It turns out that LeChuck didnt take to kindly to being killed in the first game, and his immediate goals quickly turn from rotting and decomposing to murdering and torturing Guybrush in the most creative ways possible. Thus, now not only does Guybrush have to uncover the treasure of Big Whoop, he has to avoid being murdered while doing so.
The story for the original Secret of Monkey Island is in the running for one of the funniest in all of gaming, so Monkey Island 2: LeChucks Revenge did bear the load of significant expectations. And while the game mostly lives up to them, it does feel a bit like following a Coke with a Diet Coke; the taste that I love is in there and it can do for a substitute in a pinch, but there is the distinct shoe aftertaste that leaves me wishing I was drinking a Coke. It is a bit unfair to judge Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge only in relation to the original though, and on its own MI2 is quite entertaining. Once again, the writing and script elevate the game and make it more enjoyable, and the game is at times laugh out loud funny. The humor in this game is that special kind of quirky that is accessible enough to be really funny but not so deranged that it is just annoying. The game is a pirate story at its core, but it takes a liberal interpretation of how pirates spent their day to day life. You have to deal with a used coffin salesman that goes to great lengths to show you how roomy his coffin are, and then mere moments later you are participating in a spitting contest in order to win a trophy (and impress the ladies). I was entertained almost the entire way through, which is why the way the game ended was that special kind of disappointing that left me wondering if I actually liked the game as much as I thought I did. I won't ruin anything for you, but it is one of those endings that pretty much does its hardest to negate everything that came before it, and it seems like a desperate attempt by the author to ensure that the series dies with him. However, they did bring the series back several years later (and reedited the game a bit so it flows more smoothly into the next one), essentially negating this negation. This actually makes it a bit worse though, because now it suffers from the same problem as the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie, where the whole thing just looks like an elaborate set up for the next in the series. Either way, I found the ending disappointing and it felt like I had just finished a delicious ice cream sundae only to realize that the chocolate sauce was actually made of ipecac.
MI2 backs up its strong story with an equally strong cast of characters. If you liked the cast from the first game, you'll probably like this one too because they're pretty much exactly the same. The supporting cast is a bit different, but Guybrush, Elaine, and LeChuck all make their triumphant reappearances. Guybrush is still one of my favorite male leads, and his role is reprised well here, as the sort of bumbling but determined guy (.brush) that was so endearing in the first game. Part of what makes him so enjoyable is that he is just a normal guy that gets by mostly on his wit, and the decision to make him less competent that the majority of leads in gaming actually sets him apart as a character. The female lead, Elaine, is once again always the most competent character in the room, and is in fact so competent that she has realized what a buffoon Guybrush is (epitomized quite nicely in one scene where Guybrush keeps on commenting about her weight). It is a bit confusing as to why she is as mad at Guybrush as she is, and she really wasn't utilized as well as she was in the first game. She has more of a cameo role that pretty much only serves to highlight how much of a failure Guybrush is and to do away with any semblance of progress from the first game. LeChuck is probably actually a bit better this time around, and he seems more menacing and yet more entertaining at the same time. The focus this time around seems to be much heavier on the interaction between LeChuck and Guybrush rather than Guybrush and Elaine. This by itself is fine, as not every story needs a romantic subplot shoehorned in, but when they went out of their way to make it the focus of the first game, it feels like a bit of a step back by just dissolving the whole thing and starting over. A good sequel builds off of the events in the first one, while the second one merely treads water. Technically, MI2 makes some progress and the story is distinct enough that it doesn't just tread water, but its preferred method of travel seems to be the doggy paddle.
The supporting cast is also quite memorable and humorous, but it does feel like a large chunk of them were just copied and pasted from the first game into this one. Each character typically has at least one open ended conversation path with Guybrush, allowing you to interact with them as entertainingly as you want. The dialogue here is really well written so that each conversation is usually at the very least smile worthy. You can also interact with them in a variety of different ways, so you have the option of talking, looking at, pushing, pulling, and others, some of which generate funny responses by themselves. Trying to pick up Captain Kate was one of the more humorous moments of the game, and usually interactions with characters have at least one genuinely funny line. The whole cast is just well assembled and breaths extra life into the Monkey Island world. If I had one complaint, it would be that while the dialogue is great, there really isn't that much of it. Typically after progressing through one or two branches of conversation, the character just sits there the rest of the game. It isn't a huge deal, but the dialogue is good so a little bit extra of it would have been nice.
The gameplay is fairly typical for this sort of point and click adventure game, but things are better executed than in most other games of this type. Apparently the general population of gamers has become much dumber, or at least this has to be the perception of game designers because puzzles in most games never tend to elevate much beyond basic shape matching. Puzzles in these Monkey Island games, however, come from a different time, where it was assumed that we as a community knew how to do more than insert bullets into enemy bodies. As Guybrush, you must travel around various locations, finding items and using them in order to progress forward in the game. There are a lot of pretty clever puzzles here, ranging from needing to discover a way to get a pirates shirt dirty to finding a method to distract a wood worker so you can steal his hammer. Sometimes, the puzzles require you to combine several different objects, and every object by itself has five or six different things you can try to do with it. It is rewarding to figure out how to progress through the game, and it is nice that Monkey Island challenges the vestigial puzzle solving area of the brain that is about to turn black and fall off due to disuse in most gamers. It would have been nice if there was a bit more diversity in puzzle type, as a lot of the game is just finding the right object to rub up against another object. There is a particularly clever sequence at the end of the game where you must try to solve a series of puzzles while another character continually interferes with your progress, and for the most part the puzzles are varied enough to keep it interesting.
However, not all about the puzzles in this game are sunshine and puppies, and occasionally the game crosses the line into point-and-click adventure game hell. See, there is a very fine line between a great, challenging point-and-click game and a frustrating, ill designed one. The primary difference between the two is the former is challenging due to clever puzzle design that relies on logically deduced solutions, while the latter is difficult because the designer is an evil lunatic. There are a lot of these kinds of games where beating it essentially requires you to backtrack over every single inch of land, selecting every single item from your inventory and using it with every single item you can possibly interact with, and the game stops being fun after the realization that the puzzle designer lost his mind about halfway through the development process. Winning is dependent not on rationally deducing how to solve the puzzles, but instead on figuring out the bizarre logic of whatever neurodegenerative disorder the programmers happened to be suffering from. For the most part, MI2 manages to avoid the evil lunatic approach, but every now and then it suffers from some evil spasms and lunacy twitches. There was one particular puzzle that had an entirely pun based solution, which was like a double insult because not only did it take me like an hour to solve because of the unintuitiveness of the puzzle, my reward for doing so is a slap in the face with a bad joke. There were a couple of other puzzles that relied more on guess and test than any sort of logic you can hope to employ (unless you happen to be suffering from the same strain of crazy as the developer), but for the most part the puzzles are exactly the kind you want in an adventure game: challenging and thought provoking.
Due to some of the poorly designed puzzles, MI2 runs into another problem which doesn't really pop up too much in games: the game gets a bit too big at times. This becomes especially apparent in chapter 2, where you are traveling back and forth between three islands in an attempt to find all the pieces of a map. I'm all for sprawling, open areas with lots to explore, but the game runs into a bit of a snag here. The problem is the game also has tons of items you can interact with and a couple of puzzles that are either extremely obtuse or have some sort of quirky solution. By themselves, none of these things is a problem (I'd actually consider them a good thing on their own), but with all three, the pace of the game comes to a crawl at parts in chapter 2. While most of the puzzles are well done, the couple that aren't stall the game and the problem is exacerbated by the fact that you have so much land to cover when you're stuck. Large areas are great, but they pretty much necessitate that the puzzles are neigh perfect or else the size serves as more of a hindrance than anything else.
Overall, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is hard not to recommend to fans of the genre because compared to most other point-and-click games (even modern ones), everything it does is well above average. Even to those who aren't particularly fond of the genre might want to check it out because the humorous dialogue and script and the memorable characters are pretty much worth the price of admission alone. Still, the game isn't without its faults and the story, while not bad, just isnt as good as it was in the first game. Combined with some unintuitive puzzles and a little bit of a lack in variety, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge is good, but it falls just short of greatness. It is still worth the purchase, but you might feel like the treasure chest this time around is only half full.
Big Whoop (THE GOOD):
+Funny script that really keeps the story going
+Lots of fairly clever puzzles
+Great voice acting adds to the humor and charm of the game
+Memorable characters, both main and supporting cast
+Improved visuals with really nicely detailed backgrounds
Big Oops (THE BAD):
-Some fairly unintuitive puzzles that rely more on guessing that actual brainwork
-Game sometimes feels a bit too big for its own good
-Disappointing ending that makes the entire game feel like little more than a segue
-Despite the update in visuals, the characters still look ugly
-MI2 feels a little worse in just about everyway than its predecessor
Big Poop (THE UGLY): Guybrush's attempt at a beard. Possibly in a desperate attempt to draw attention away from his horrible name, Guybrush has grown a beard between the events of the first game and this one. While I think it was attempt to make himself look tougher, Guybrush now just kind of looks like a hipster, which is pretty much the antithesis of a pirate.
THE VERDICT: 7.25/10.00
Product Release: Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge (US, 07/07/10)
Got Your Own Opinion?
Submit a review and let your voice be heard.