So, I’m standing in the street outside a bank, next to an open manhole, looking up at an open window. I know I need to get into the bank. In my inventory I have a duck, a bottle of swampwater, a termite infested wooden hand, a clock, a square foot of prosthetic skin and a tin of chicken grease… At which stage I went to find a walkthrough.
My friends warned me that the Monkey Island saga was going to be challenging. And there were plenty of moments when Guybrush Marley-Threepwood (Mighty Pirate) was left standing awkwardly with a dead fish, or some other equally useless item in his outstretched hand or trying to use it to unlock a door. Retrospectively (i.e. having read the walkthrough), those moments always seemed so obvious! Of COURSE I had to use the popped inner-tube with the oddly-shaped cactus to make a catapult to repel the giant rocks being hurled at the mansion by a disgruntled, government appointed one-man pirate demolition squad… duh! I tried really hard not to use a walkthrough, and more often than not I felt like I really should have been able to work it out on my own. Quite often I consoled myself with the fact that I had known what I was meant to be achieving, just not how to actually achieve it. Then again, there were other times when I genuinely felt like I must have missed something, because surely there was no way I could have known that the rabbit symbol represented the letters A – F.
For those who, like me, didn’t know very much about the Monkey Island games, here is a brief run through of their history: Monkey Island 1 or The Secret of Monkey Island was first released in 1990 (on a floppy disk!!). The sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, followed closely on its heels, being released in 1991. Then LucasArts gave Guybrush a six year holiday, before The Curse of Monkey Island was released in 1997. Escape from Monkey Island was released in 2000, and finally Tales of Monkey Island, in 2009. This means that the writers and creators have had plenty of time to develop a reasonably large world with fairly complex social connections. For people who have played all 5 games in order, this must be fantastic fun as the games constantly refer to their predecessors and recycle jokes. For people like me, who couldn’t find working versions of the previous 3 games, this was like going to a party with people I’ve never met before and being told to go talk to Steve. A couple of times I had to Google people’s names because I was supposed to be visiting them, but the game assumed that I had played the previous game and would just remember where their houses were. This wasn’t really a big problem. I just wish the creators had considered that some people might not have grown up with Monkey Island and therefore, might not know things about the island itself. Luckily I knew who the evil LeChuck was before I even started playing… otherwise that reveal would’ve been a huge let down!
But what kept me playing was that feeling of “hell yeah!” when I worked something out for myself. Even if it was just a small achievement, and even if it was just a lucky guess, it did make me feel awfully clever! And after about two hours of gameplay, but I gradually managed to get into the right mind-set to recognise potential connections more easily. I’m not sure if it means that I was getting cleverer or more insane, but the game definitely started to make more sense.
I also have to give the writers huge credit for their sense of humour. As frustrating as I found the game at times, the sense of humour was always a redeeming feature and often reminded me of the humour in Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy. Little gems like “Talk to gregarious (yet horribly scarred) barkeep” or “Poor, poor ferocious giant koala” come to mind. I also liked the way Guybrush interacted with items. Rather than just having generic “I don’t think that goes there” or “I’m not picking that up” responses, the writers also took the time to include lines like “that’s a good idea, but I don’t think this is the right one” or “that’s the second most useless trinket I’ve ever seen”. Also, finding Luke Skywalker’s crashed X-Wing in the marsh was a rather exciting moment!
If you read my previous article, you might remember that I wrote about text-based adventure games and complained about how confused and lost I got while playing them. I found that Monkey Island (and presumably all point-and-click adventure games) took the clever concept that text-based adventure games first brought to the world, and by adding visuals and making the game directly interactive removed that eternal faffing about that made text-based adventure games so frustrating (albeit enjoyably so). Having actual graphics meant that I could remember where everything was and which way to go to get where I needed to be, rather than having to memorise a list of compass directions. And being able to directly interact with everything and everyone meant that I could check my inventory quickly and easily and see exactly what options were available to me rather than just trying to give an egg to everything in the room. I haven’t quite finished it yet, but I feel compelled to keep playing it to see how it ends, and what happens to Guybrush and Elaine and… how LeChuck has managed to be reincarnated for the third time!
So, yes, my friends were right: Monkey Island was infuriating at times and beyond impossible at others. And, no, the graphics aren’t great and people quite often twitch disconcertingly halfway through their sentences. But it was fun to play and even at its worst, it was still one of the most entertaining games I’ve played. I can definitely forgive a game for expecting me to have a PhD in logic puzzles when it makes up for it by having the level of wit and intelligence that Escape from Monkey Island has!