The Secret of Monkey Island review

Welcome one and welcome all to the second anniversary of Retro Freak Reviews! It’s hard to believe that two years have already passed since I started rumbling about retro computer games. And to celebrate such magnanimous occasion, let’s take a look of one the best graphic adventures ever made (and a personal favorite): The Secret of Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a graphic adventure made by Lucasfilm Games (before changing its name to Lucasarts). It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga and DOS (both the EGA and the VGA versions). It was re-released the next year for the Atari ST and in 1992 it was ported to the FM Towns, Macintosh and the SEGA CD/MEGA CD. Also in 1992 it was re-released in CD-ROM format for DOS.

Both the FM Towns and the CD-ROM versions featured an updated interface and CD Audio quality music tracks but no speech whatsoever.

And as always, let’s first look at the cover:

43341-the-secret-of-monkey-island-dos-front-coverThis is probably one of the most famous video game covers of all times and I can see why. It’s colorful, full of great imagery (that actually appears in the game) and it could perfectly be a book cover or a movie poster. It’s that good! The only nitpick I might have is that someone might get the idea of this being a serious game. But a closer look at the use of bright colors at least give the impression of a light-hearted game, in my opinion.

But it’s time to boot this scallywag:

As you can see in the video, you take the role of Guybrush Threepwood (not the weirdest name you’ll find throughout the game), a wannabe pirate who travels to Mêlée Island (somewhere in Caribbean Sea) in order to become a full fledged pirate during the Golden Age of Piracy. And during that particular quest, he finds himself embroiled in a ghost story that will take him to the eponymous Monkey Island.

The gameplay is just like all the other Lucasarts’ SCUMM graphic adventures: the main screen where the action occurs and the bottom screen where you can find all the action commands and the inventory. To perform any action, you simply click in a command, then click in any object on the main screen and/or in your inventory. If you’re familiar with any point-and-click graphic adventure, this interface is quite intuitive and the mechanics are just like in any other such game: grab whatever object isn’t nailed down to the ground (or if it is, find a way to unnail it) and use the objects with people or other objects in order to solve the puzzles or to get more objects (to solve other puzzles).

The FM Towns and CD-ROM version feature a graphic inventory with icons instead of words that would later be used in the Special Edition of the game.

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The very first line in the game and our hero’s initial motivation.

The first thing you’ll notice when playing (apart from the graphics and the excellent music) is the tongue-in-cheek humour. From puns to anagrams to physical humour, The Secret of Monkey Island is widely famous for his irreverent comedy. And using a sea pirates theme, somehow makes it more funny (and no, this isn’t a parody of Sid Meier’s Pirates, although I understand the confusion since both games were inspired by the Pirates of the Caribbean park ride). My favorite part of the game is the sword fighting, which instead of programming simple fighting mechanics, introduces a witty insult system where you have to not only learn insults but also the correct responses to each specific insult (I still remember most of the insults and respective replies to this day).

The puzzles can be slightly tricky (especially the ones involving puns) but with some trial and error, you shouldn’t have much trouble solving them because it’s impossible to get stuck in any situation where you can’t backtrack for a necessary object to progress. Everytime you start a new act, you should already have some of the objects needed and the rest are located in that specific act. Which brings us to next thing you’ll notice: there’s also virtually no game over! And apart from a very specific situation (in which you’ll have to actively pursuit it in order to happen), it’s impossible to kill Guybrush. Ron Gilbert (the game’s main designer) said that he wanted The Secret of Monkey Island to be more focused on the story, characters and exploration than in the gameplay or the puzzles. And although this practice was originally introduced in Loom, it become a common feature in most Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

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The SCUMM Bar.

Another feature that was originally introduced in this game is the ability to select several different responses (that range from common to funny) during dialogues. And each different response will elicit a different reply with whoever Guybrush is talking to (most of the time at least). It makes the game a bit more varied and replayable as most players tend to choose different responses in subsequent playthroughs just to see all the different reactions from the characters.

The humour, like I said, is the true highlight of the game. From the dialogue, to the physical humour, to the puns, to the references to other Lucasarts’ titles, to the zaniness; The Secret of Monkey Island oozes with comedy throughout and I challenge anyone to play this game with a serious face. It’s impossible, I tell you! The comedic gameplay is also another Lucasarts’ trademark since Maniac Mansion and most, if not all, Lucasarts’ graphic adventures would continue that tradition.

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Guybrush meeting some seemingly important-looking pirates.

Now with the technical aspects. The graphics, whether you’re playing in EGA or VGA, are gorgeous and very well detailed and the animation is extremely fluid. And the character sprites, especially during the closeups are incredible (although both me and Ron Gilbert prefer the original EGA closeups over the realistic VGA ones. They mesh better with the rest of the game). The first two acts might not look very colourful (that’s because they occur during nighttime) but the rest of the game (especially the second half of the game) it’s more colourful. The music is another great highlight of the game, whether you’re playing it with an Adlib or MT-32 soundcards, or even with a PC-Speaker, the music is simply memorable. My personal favorite tracks are the title theme and the SCUMM Bar theme. The sound effects are also quite good, especially if you’re playing the CD-ROM version with a Soundblaster soundcard.

Like I said before, the point-and-click mouse interface is very easy to use and intuitive. Even if you’ve never played a graphic adventure before, it’s extremely easy to pick it up and understand its mechanics and interface. With five acts, the game is more or less long (it depends on well you play it), although I personally think that the last two acts are a bit short by comparison.

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Sword fighting!

In conclusion, I’m going to join the masses and proclaim The Secret of Monkey Island one of the best graphic adventures af all times! From the humour, the memorable characters and dialogue lines (“Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!”), the graphics, the incredible music, the puzzles, etc. The Secret of Monkey Island is a true classic that is not only a great introduction to the genre but it’s still a very influential game. Lucasarts stroke pure gold with this one and cemented their position as a powerhouse among videogame developers. Needless to say that I highly recommend it.

The Amiga version has better music and sound effects, although it doesn’t look quite as colorful as the VGA DOS version and the Macintosh version adds a filter that smooths the rough edges around the sprites. Still I think the DOS CD-ROM version is the ultimate original version of the game (Monkey Island fans still argue to this day which is the best version).

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Finally arriving at Monkey Island.

The Secret of Monkey Island was remade in 2009 for Windows, iPhone and Xbox 360 and the following year for Playstation 3, iPad, Browser and Macintosh as a Special Edition. You can buy it here in Steam. It simply updates the interface and the graphics, adding speech and new sprites while maintaining the gameplay and everything else. Some fans don’t like the new art direction but I personally think that it meshes well with the game’s humour. And if you want to play with the original VGA graphics you can simply press F10 anytime during the game to switch to those graphics. Or you can go here to download a program that allows you to play the original VGA version with the speech from the Special Edition (A great shoutout to my friend Florin who told me about this).

This game spawned a quite popular series that peaked with the second title, Lechuck’s Revenge, despite a small controversy (which we’ll tackle on when we’ll review it).

So, what did you think of the anniversary so far? I hope you’ve enjoyed the review and please share your thoughts in the comment section below or on our social media. Until then, keep on buccaneering and playing!

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure DOS review

Like I said in my last review, today let’s steer clear from action titles and into one of my personal favorite graphic adventures. And since I failed to review a Star Wars themed game this month’s fifth, let’s remedy that with another George Lucas’ former intellectual property. I’m talking about Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade.

Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure was made by Lucasarts and originally released in 1989 for Amiga, Atari ST and DOS. The following year it was ported to the Macintosh and released in CD-ROM format for DOS and FM Towns. The CD-ROM version was re-released in 1992 for the CD-TV, in 2009 for Windows and again in 2016 for Linux.

The original floppy version features EGA 16-color graphics and the CD-ROM version features VGA 256-color graphics, but no speech whatsoever, unlike other Lucasarts CD-ROM titles.

But before we start with the game, let’s look at the cover:

879-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-front-coverIt makes sense that a movie-inspired game uses one of the official movie posters as the box cover. For those very few who haven’t watched the movie yet, this cover features the two main actors in the movie: Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones (on the left) and Sean Connery (on the right) as Henry Jones Sr., Indy’s dad. One might ask why include Henry in the cover, but he actually plays a very important role in the game itself (just like in the movie).

And the back cover is equally awesome:

880-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos-back-coverAs you can see, it features the Holy Grail, the Grail diary (very important in the game, as you’ll see) along with some still shots from both the movie and the game. I have to confess I like the back cover more than the front cover. Just add Indy’s iconic hat and whip and you would have an original cover more than appropriate for this game.

But it’s time to whip this sucker:

For those of you familiar with the movie, I don’t think I need to worry explaining the game’s plot. Apart from a few changes here and there, it follows the plot of the movie quite faithfully.

The intro’s based on the movie prologue, where young Indy is running along on top of a circus train carrying the Cross of Coronado, then it cuts back several years later, when adult Indy arrives at Barnett College with said cross and has a small exposition dialogue with his friend Marcus Brody. And it’s here that the game introduces the one element that wasn’t adapted from the movie: a peculiar self-referenced sense of humor that borders on fourth-wall breaking (more than once Marcus and Indy face the player).

While the comedy elements aren’t as big as in other Lucasarts titles, like Maniac Mansion or Zak Mckracken and the Alien Mindbenders, the game is still quite funny and it follows more or less the comedy staple that became synonymous with Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

10780-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The game was designed using the SCUMM (Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion) engine which, as one can see, uses a graphical interface in the lower part of screen where you can find a list of commands and below that, the inventory. Using the mouse, you click the action you wish to perform and then click the object in the inventory and/or the place where you want said action to occur. It’s a very intuitive interface that was used in all early Lucasarts’ graphic adventures.

The interaction with the NPCs is through dialogs, where you choose which line to say and if the correct dialog tree is chosen; you can progress, gets hints, objects or solve puzzles. In some sections where you need to bypass Nazi guards, it’s possible to avoid any fights whatsoever if the correct dialog tree is chosen. But on one particular section (that can actually be bypassed in its entirety if you know how), there’s no way to sweet-talk your way out with the guards, so if they catch you, you have no other choice but to fight.

911798-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The very start of the game.

The fighting sequences (and the dogfight sequence) are the only action-oriented sections you’ll ever find throughout the game. But right at the start of the game, you can practice Indy’s boxing skills with a boxing coach. To fight, you use the numeric keypad, one set to attack, one to back away and the middle to defend yourself (it changes accordingly whether Indy’s is on the left or right of the screen). However, the fighting can be quite complex because there are two bars: one for health and another for punching power. If you start the fighting simply by bashing the attack buttons, you’ll lose punching power fast, so to fight effectively, you need to defend and back away when your opponent attacks and strike when you see an opening in your opponent’s defences. It’s easier said than done, so I suggest a bit of practice with the coach before getting on with the game because if you lose a fight with an enemy, it’s game-over. And your health bar recharges very slowly, so it’s very hard to fight all the Nazi enemies in the game.

But don’t worry about the dogfight sequence because there’s no penalty if you get shot down (remember that’s what happens in the movie). Even if you fight all of the Luftwaffe Air Force, your plane will eventually run out of fuel and crash.

Like I said before, the game follows more or less the movie plot, although it expands some parts (like the Venice part, which is probably my favorite part in the game) and reduces other parts (like Hatay and Salim, that aren’t even mentioned in the game) but it’s still well written and very faithful to the movie’s spirit. As far as game length go, if you go to every area you’re allowed to go, the game has a proper length. But if you bypass certain areas (by solving the right puzzles and/or having the correct object), the game might appear somewhat short. Besides, apart from one hard section (which I’ve already mentioned), there’s practically no reason to avoid areas (especially if you want to follow the movie’s plot as close as possible), unless you’re trying to finish the game fast.

911800-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

The adventure starts…

This game even takes a page from Sierra’s graphic adventures and introduces a score points system, called IQ Points. But unlike Sierra’s games, to get the maximum score of 800 points, one needs to replay the game several times and choose different outcomes and solutions for the puzzles. It gives the game poor replayability value because, although I do like the different solutions for certain puzzles, it doesn’t change the plot all that much and there’s basically just one ending with some mild variations here and there based on your final actions. There’s actually no need to replay the game unless you want to see everything this game has to offer and/or you’re a completionist.

And talking about the puzzle structure, the puzzles themselves aren’t too hard nor too easy, just the perfect amount of difficulty. Although in the Venice section, you have to do a bit of pixel hunting at the beginning, but the rest of the puzzles aren’t as frustrating. The most important object (just like in the movie) is the Grail diary (diaries actually), which the in-game version is essential to solve some of the puzzles, while the physical version is incredibly important to solve the final puzzle (whose solution changes randomly in every playthrough). It even features some Indiana Jones’ lore, including some references to The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles TV series. In fact, as games extras go, the physical Grail diary must be one of my personal favorites game items of all times and for me, it’s more probably faithful than the movie replica lorewise.

545652-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

Ah, Venice…

As far the graphics go, in both the EGA and VGA versions, I think the graphics look great with detailed sprites and good range of colors (even with just 16 colors EGA graphics). The animations are more or less fluid and all the characters have a good range of movements, even during the fighting sections. And both the mouse and the keyboard controls are quite responsive, especially during the action sequences.

The sound effects are okay and you can tell the designers tried to provide a good atmosphere with the sound of footsteps (even muffled and splashy footsteps, depending on the terrain), but just the sound effect without any musical score sounds weird to me. And talking about the musical score, I think the quality of the MIDI music it’s okay, even the iconic Indy theme. If you manage to run the game with a Roland MT-32 soundboard, the soundtrack should be even better but unless you have said soundboard, the only way to truly appreciate the soundtrack in a modern PC, it’s to run the game either through Dosbox or ScummVM along with a Roland MT-32 sound emulator (like Munt). I simply wish that there were more musical themes, although the few that are present, are actually good.

So in conclusion, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade is a very good graphic adventure, perhaps even one of the best made by Lucasarts at the time, but it quickly got eclipsed by other Lucasarts graphic adventures, like the Monkey Island series and The Last Crusade own sequel, Fate of Atlantis (both of which we’ll review at a later date). Needless to say that I highly recommend it for both Indy and graphic adventures fans.

545651-indiana-jones-and-the-last-crusade-the-graphic-adventure-dos

No, this isn’t Castle Wolfenstein.

The Mac version is very similar to the DOS version, except for a smaller resolution and better menus and there’s practically almost no differences in the Amiga version. I haven’t played the FM Towns version, but it’s considered the best version due to having not only having VGA graphics but also a CD audio quality soundtrack with some of the themes taken directly from the movie soundtrack.

You can buy the modern re-release here on GOG.com or here at Steam. But I don’t recommend the Steam version because although it is the VGA version, the soundtrack is in MIDI format and it doesn’t bring the Grail diary in PDF format.

So, are you a fan of Indiana Jones? Which is your favorite movie and/or game? Tell us by commenting below or by following us on social media. Next time, let’s move genres again but not very far away. Until then, put on your hat, grap you whip and keep on playing!

The Dig review

While licensed games or games based on movies have a bad reputation, we can’t help but at least glance at games with famous people attached to it. And even after enjoying a playable demo of said game, expectations are naturally high.

The Dig is a point and click graphic adventure developed by LucasArts and released in 1995 for PC and Macintosh. It’s based in an original concept by Steven Spielberg (yes, THAT Steven Spielberg), which was supposed to be part of his Amazing Stories TV series, then a movie and when that wasn’t feasible, it became a computer game instead.

Development for the game begun as back as in 1987 where Spielberg, impressed by the Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade adventure game, proposed The Dig also as a graphic adventure. The production passed through FOUR project leaders: Noah Falstein, Brian Moriarty, Dave Grossman and finally Sean Clark.

The game was originally supposed to have survival elements (along with collecting resources) in it, but then Moriarty cut all of that and focused instead in a typical graphic adventure using the SCUMM engine, also used in previous LucasArts adventure games.

But it was with Clark that The Dig became the game we’re seeing here. With an updated SCUMM engine and dialogue written by Clark himself and famous sci-fi writer Scott Orson Card (who some of you might not appreciate).

With all of these movie elements, it’s no surprise that the box art front cover even looks like a movie poster:

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Three astronauts in front of a very ominous flare effect.

It definitely conveys a sense of mystery and the title foreshadows probably the most important item in the game.

But let’s stop wasting time and boot this sucker:

As one can see, the story begins with an asteroid in a collision course to Earth and you take control of NASA Commander Boston Law, voiced by Robert Patrick (T-1000 from Terminator 2) and helped by Maggie Robbins, voiced by Mari Weiss and Dr. Ludger Brink, voiced by Steven Blum (Spike Spiegel from Cowboy Bebop, among many others).

The first part of the game, as seen above, is to plant 2 bombs in the asteroid to divert its course and then explore it. But then, the asteroid turns out to be more than it seems and you and your crew end up stranded in an alien world.

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“Houston, we have a problem: I forgot how to dig in space”.

The game conveys right from the start a sense of isolation and exploration as the alien world reveals its inhospitable side. The mystery grows with every new location explored and puzzle solved.

And speaking of the puzzles, while some will require a lot of trial, error and repetition, but none of it seems illogical at any moment. Only a couple of them will be somewhat frustrating.

But the new SCUMM engine is very well implemented, focusing in just the left mouse button to perform all the actions required. To inspect something, one must use a magnifying lens located in your inventory just like any other object. It becomes very intuitive the moment you take control of your character.

You even get a communicator (that looks like a smartphone) to contact the other characters when they aren’t available on screen and even has a Lunar Lander mini-game in it.

19384-the-dig-dos-screenshot-the-trio-s-arrival-on-cocytus

“And if you ever seen any sci-fi mystery movie, bad things always happen when the crew get separated”.

Even the dialogues options are limited to simple icons located at the bottom of the screen instead of the typical dialogue lines.

And whether or not you’re an experienced adventure gamer, the game’s length shouldn’t be too short, providing a solid experience.

The soundtrack is adequate throughout the game, mirroring the feelings of isolation and drama presented, but the volume tends to rise during some scenes, drowning out the dialogue a bit. But that’s easily solved by reducing the music volume in the options screen.

The cut scenes are well animated but a bit low-resolution, even for the time. I wish this game was made with SVGA graphics instead.

But unfortunately, this game has other faults and to properly analyze them, I have to go to spoiler territory:

Consider this your final warning!

While the game’s story is solid during most of it, it gets increasingly more grim and dark towards the ending, steadily losing all comic relief throughout.

The beginning is fantastic, even after arriving at the planet. But then an unavoidable tragic event occurs and then, the story gets deadly serious and rarely lightens up again.

Even the upbeat ending does little to wash away all the serious tone.

And speaking of the ending, I’m not a big fan of it. After all that happens, the ending pulls a sort of deus ex machina and magically solves all the problems, which I personally consider lazy writing.

And yes, I know there are supposedly two endings: one “good” and one “bad”. This is not true. It’s the same ending, but with a slight variation based on a choice you can make near the end. But whether you make the right or wrong choice, it doesn’t matter because there aren’t any repercussions nor consequences; it all ends the same way. It only changes one of your companions’ reaction, that’s all!

And we’re out of the spoiler territory and my ranting.

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You never know when a bone will come handy.

So, do I recommend it? If you’re a graphic adventure fan and don’t mind a slightly depressing story, then give it a shot. Despite its flaws, it’s still a solid game, with good puzzles, nice soundtrack and with a great atmosphere.

And you can buy it here at GOG.com or here at Steam.

There aren’t any remakes so far, but rickonami made a HD intro here. I wouldn’t mind seeing a HD remake with these graphics.

Well, what did you think of this game? Write your own thoughts about it below and remember: when in deep space, always avoid eggs or egg-shaped objects. Nothing good ever comes from those!