Cars, books, albums, and movies all have special editions, but it still seems a bit silly -- though also pretty cool -- that videogames are just now able to enjoy repackaged and enhanced victory laps. The latest title to get this treatment is the arguable peak of the graphic adventure genre, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, this time appropriately christened Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge with a graphical overhaul, the addition of voice acting, and, most prestigious and intriguing of all, a context-sensitive commentary audio track from designers Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman. Oh, and if you missed out on the 1991 classic, the best selling point of all is the whip-smart and zany original game, which puts you in control of self-proclaimed “mighty pirate” Guybrush Threepwood as he accidentally aids the resuscitation of his arch nemesis, the hirsute and undead pirate LeChuck.
I Want To Be A Pirate!
And even with the gussied-up graphics, the game and its core still feels intrinsically dated, which is forgivable since it is a classic. Still, with hindsight being an unintentional feature, all the witty, self-deprecating dialog in the world can’t mask how strictly LeChuck’s Revenge adheres to the adventure-game M.O. of indulging your illogical and kleptomaniac tendencies: You might not ever really understand why you can only get paper from a pirate cartographer, or why you need it in the first place, but you constantly feel like you’re making progress just by picking up anything that isn’t bolted down. In fact, that stark contrast of playfulness and creativity against the tried-and-true aspects only calls out how much further the series could have pushed the genre if it maintained the popularity it once had.
If you did play the original, more than likely you still have some muscle memory of encountering LeChuck’s Revenge’s craftier puzzles, but the ensuing two decades -- and the rise and fall of grunge --has likely washed your memory clean of how to solve them. The substantial window of time between the original and this update helps level the playing field between newcomers and those who still remember where they stored their Dial-A-Pirate copy-protection wheel for the first Monkey Island.
Either way, everyone can appreciate how much LeChuck’s Revenge’s visuals positively pop this time around: They can easily be compared to the “butt-ugly-by-today’s-standards” by hitting a button and seeing the game seamlessly shift to its original look. To be fair, most early-90s games leaned more heavily on players’ imaginations than on graphic flair. Here, everything from the twinkling stars and even Guybrush’s swishy haircut and navy-blue pirate jacket brim with detail and compete for your attention. Not all the voices mesh with the onscreen characters or feel like inspired casting choices -- "Futurama"’s Phil LaMarr reprises his Jamaican-by-numbers accent here as Captain Dread, but the major players like Guybrush and LeChuck heard in other Monkey Island installments only further prove themselves here.
The Ultimate Insult
If game controllers feel needlessly complicated, consider the fact that the Xbox 360 version manages to transform the original’s two-button mouse controls into an initially confusing layout for the new controller’s ten buttons and pair of sticks. You can opt for the dumbed-down controls, but both, at first, feel awkward. But even when you get the hang of it, this improved version still hasn’t been able to prevent Guybrush from getting stuck behind staircases or make him hurry the hell up on those slowpoke overhead maps, and that’s a glaring issue.
Though the difficulty hasn’t been softened for the newbies, the ability to illuminate interactive onscreen objects and flat-out ask for a hint will make hardened vets scoff. They’re understandable concessions to further include a younger audience unfamiliar with the genre’s intentional coyness and logic-defying puzzles, but hardly do much to make this edition feel “special.”
The biggest dose of TLC comes via the aforementioned commentary, which clocks in at a mere hour of additional audio. After 20 years, it’d be silly to expect Gilbert, Schafer, and Grossman to reveal what the fabled secret of Monkey Island is -- and they don’t -- but they do offer some insights, like how they wanted players to feel they already botched their chances at winning upon getting robbed at the game’s start. The guys continually crack wise via "Mystery Science Theater 3000"-style silhouettes, and as the title’s most exciting addition, further drives home the point that while players have taken adventure gaming seriously, they can also afford to lighten up.
All in all, Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck's Revenge delivers a package that updates the 19 year-old classic for new audiences. There's a crowd of gamers who've played the likes of Penny Arcade Adventures, but missed the boat on LucasArts' classics, and while this update isn't always a pitch-perfect adaptation, it does an ample job of recreating the fun of those games. If you're a fan of equal doses humor and adventure, then this game should satisfy.