It’s many, many years since I first played The Secret of Monkey Island™, back in my Amiga days, but I’ve been a fan ever since. For my mind, this series of games is the crowning glory of the graphic adventure genre. The first game sees you playing Guybrush Threepwood, washed up on the shores of Mêlée Island™ with dreams of becoming a mighty pirate, and from there you swashbuckle your way around the Caribbean solving quirky puzzles, doing battle with the evil undead pirate LeChuck and trying to win the heart of fair Elaine.
The creators have made no secret of the fact that they were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean, so it’s no great surprise that it has much the same feel as last summer’s blockbuster movie (and indeed some more blatant similarities). What the games really have in buckets is humour – both constant running gags and silliness, and plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. Combine that with wonderful characters and interesting storylines and you have a sure-fire winner.
Naturally the graphics are somewhat dated (the earliest game came out in 1990), in particular the first two are fairly blocky and lacking a huge palette, and the move into 3D for the fourth game is not up to today’s standards (plus they dropped the pointy-clicky interface). The sound, however, is pretty good even for the earlier games – the music is fabulous even in its MIDI incarnations – although it’s not until the third game that we actually get to hear the characters speak.
Happily, the games have a thriving fan community, possibly the best part of which is SCUMMVM – an emulator which allows you to load up your copies of the older games on your Windows PC rather than trying to get them to run in DOS mode (it also runs on a whole bunch of other systems, including Macs and even Palm hand-helds). It also does nifty stuff like scaling up and smoothing the graphics for that Maximum Monkey Experience.
What makes these games classics is the need to experience them again and again – like the books I’ve read every year for decades, or the movies I’ve watched a dozen times or more. I don’t know how many times I’ve played Secret over the years – certainly I know my way through all the puzzles by now – but it’s still tremendous fun to play. Having played through all four over the last few weeks, I thoroughly enjoyed the lot – perhaps the later games don’t quite recapture the glory days of the first two, put perhaps that’s just a case of rose-tinted spectacles. Certainly the final game concludes with a level of glorious silliness that even I can’t match.
Here’s hoping that LucasArts produce Monkey 5 before too much longer. In the mean time, y’all should go and play the ones that are already out!