Amiga Power1st July 1992
Published in Amiga Power #15
Guybrush is back in the most eagerly awaited adventure of modern times...
The Secret Of Monkey Island II: Le Chuck's Revenge
Humour in computer games is a rare and beautiful thing. But why is it so rare? Well, it has been argued (quite a few times actually) that comedy is such a subjective thing you'd have problems making it appeal to a wide audience, but I can't see it. (Comedy films and TV shows wouldn't be big hits if that was true.) No, I reckon the real reason there aren't many (deliberately) funny computer games is that most programmers and designers aren't very funny people. Most are far too serious for their own good - and yours and mine for that matter.
Not so the guys and gals at Lucasfilm. They like a laugh as much as the next man - as they have so ably demonstrated with their range of graphic adventures, particularly Maniac Mansion, the underrated Zak McKraken, and, of course, The Secret Of Monkey Island. These are games that were good anyway, but made great - and so much more playable - by not being sober.
Another Guybrush With Success
And now here's this: the eagerly awaited sequel to the biggest and best of what we might call Lucasfilm's comedy adventures, Monkey Island - a real Amiga Power favourite, and arguably one of the most significant games of the last five years. The great news is that, although this new game is a definite improvement over the original in a number of significant ways, it retains its soul and proves just as entertaining (see The Secrets Of Monkey Island's Success). In short, it's just as much a doozy as its predecessor.
Monkey Island 2's story begins not where the first episode left off, but with Guybrush Threepwood hanging around in a pit where he's discovered by the light of his life, Elaine Marley. She wants to know how he got into this predicament, so Guybrush explains and the adventure itself begins... as a flashback!
Baby Baby Baby Lite My Way
From the word go, both the jokes and the user-friendly nature of the game makes themselves apparent - sometimes intincically linked. For instance, when you first start the game you can choose between Monkey Island 2 ("I want it all! All the puzzles! All the work!") which is the full-blown adventure, or Monkey 2 Lite ("I've never played an adventure game before. I'm scared.") which has less puzzles. It's funny, but it's also a considerate touch.
Even if you go for the full-blown adventure, however, it's far less intimidating than many similar games - you never worry that you might just get stuck and be unable to continue. One reason for this is that making life-threatening mistakes during play is impossible - you know that you will win at some point, it just might take a lot longer than is necessary. Thus a very welcome confidence is instilled in any player - in some ways it's less of an adventure game, as such, than an interactive 'experience', and you find yourself coming back to it as you would a good book.
Let's look at it as if it were a book then. This particular novel isn't very deep - it's more a punchy, wacky-zany-crazy short story concentrating on inoffensive humour. An abundance of encounters with, and references to, characters and exploits from the first adventure do well to create a sense of belonging, and the non-interactive 'cut-scenes' (where the action momentarily shifts to the main baddy or some other character, where you see something significant happen, then flicks back to your own predicament) serve to enhance the cinematic feel.
As in all good novels, the pace varies, although not always for the best - for example, the exploration and conversations on Phatt Island drag on a bit at times. On the whole, though, the dialogue, characters and situations are judged just right, with more than enough variety to keep you from getting bored, yet without moving everything on so fast that you begin to feel lost. The situations are generally completely unbelievable too, and this is used to good effect - it's all so far removed from the real world that you just can't help being drawn into it. The puzzles don't seem like individual problems, as they so often do in adventures of this type, but as just one part of a cohesive whole - and solving them is all the more rewarding for that.
Gorilla Tactics: Nit Picking
However, with Monkey Island 2 being such a big-time release, it's only fair to stop getting carried away with praise (though it deserves praise, make no mistake about that) for a moment, and to step back and take a look at some of its faults. It does have htem, and I sincerely hope they can be smoothed out in time for another sequel - otherwise I can't see how a third Monkey Island will be practical on the Amiga.
For a start, Monkey Island 2 lacks some of the charm of the first instalment, partly because we've seen something similar before - the element of surprise is lost - but also because expectations are so high this time round. To be honest, I don't see how this could have been avoided.
It's not so easy to pardon the level of disk swapping and accessing involved, though. Installation on hard disk is recommended, but for the sake of the majority of you out there, I also had a go at playing Monkey Island 2 from good old floppies. Ouch.
It takes a good ten minutes, and over half a dozen disk swaps to even get started - and that's skipping the film-like title and introductory sequences! Loading a previously saved position from scratch can take a further five minutes and involve yet another half a dozen or so disk swaps.
As always, all this malarkey taints the suspension of disbelief something cronic, and does no justice at all to the carefully crafted atmosphere. Here's an example of the sort of thing I mean, and one of the worst instances. Bad guy Largo walks into a bar and spits - and at the point the screen goes blank, the music stops and you are asked to insert Disk 3. The screen is blanked again and the music plays for a few seconds more before you have to Insert Disk 2. Eventually a close-up of Largo's green glob of gob is shown flying across the room! Now this scene would probably look fabulous in a more fluid state, but from floppy disk it's shown up for the stilted series of still frames it really is!
Other quibbles? Well, I'm surprised that the sense of humour doesn't extend to the 'Please Insert Disk...' messages. We know it has to be done with this product, so why not make light of the fact? Also, the game could do with being slightly more consistent, or just plain cleverer, in the way it deals with the various possible permutations there are on the order of events.
Let me explain: for example, I saw Captain Dread before going back to the beach for another chat with Bart 'n Fink. They suggested I went to see Captain Dread and Guybrush spoke as though he'd never been there. Surely the dialogue could have been adapted accordingly? (Of course, nearly every adventure game suffers from this sort of problem, it's just that Monkey Island 2 is so slick in other areas, what weaknesses there are somehow become much more glaringly obvious.)
Treasure Buried In The Disks
And last, but not least, on the whinging front: Lucasfilm Games are attempting to create a film-like experience here, and yet the AmigaDos and Workbench screens are displayed in all their blue and white ugliness during the initial stages of loading. Am I being pedantic? No, I'd like to have experienced a cinematic event from start to finish.
This all said, however, Monkey Island 2 is still a great game. You must bear in mind that it's not been built for the standard Amiga - although I reckon it could have been if a top coder had been allowed to get his hands on it - and that you're going to suffer moments of frustration if you try and run it off the floppies, but if you own a hard drive I'd whole-heartedly recommend it.
Monkey Island 2 is, by and large, a sheer delight to play. Certainly, compared to a great many other Amiga releases, similar adventures in particular, Monkey Island 2 is quite excellent - a better game than its illustrious predecessor even. Sure, it's not a completely seamless experience: not yet, and I'm disappointed by the very high price tag, but few games will make you smile like this one will.
The Secrets Of Monkey Island's Success
As you can see, the scenery looks jolly pleasant. There's a healthy attention to detail, appropriate and atmospheric lighting and a sense of depth (objects closest to the viewer are blurred). There are a few special effects, but most fall flat due to lack of size and aural accompaniment.
However, on the plus side, the scrolling is smoother than that in the first game (but still not as slick as it should be), though the way the characters shrink or grow when they move 'in' or 'out' of the screen, and the way their heads and mouths move to indicate speech, all works well. The absense of close-up shots isn't very noticeable either.
The mouse-and-keyboard driven interface has been tweaked slightly for added user friendliness. For a start, the text for the commands is physically larger, and there are only nine commands instead of Monkey Islands' twelve.
When you want Guybrush to walk somewhere, you simply point and click to the destination on the Action Window. And when you want him to talk to someone, you select 'Talk to' and then point and click on the person for a list of questions and replies. It's that simple, albeit a little sluggish at times for some strange reason.
Objects in Guybrush's inventory are shown as pictures, not words, which makes selecting them easier. Hoorah!
Sounding Off About iMUSE
The iMUSE (Interactive MUsic and Sound Effects) system is theoretically used to tailor the soundtrack and spot effects to suit the mood of the action. But it doesn't work - certainly not on my one megabyte machine. I'd like to have heard some spot effects as well as music throughout, but Monkey Island 2 is played mainly in silence. Boo hiss.
The Bottom Line
Uppers: Gorgeous graphics - the lush scenery doesn't look computery at all, and is all the more atmospheric for it - and with so many groansome gags on offer there's a laugh and a half of full cream fun for everyone. That the user interface is superb, the plot witty and suitably twisting, and the tone perfect almost goes without saying - these were the great plus points of the first game, and little has changed.
Downers: Unless you have a hard disk drive you can't ignore the fact that there are eleven disks and plenty of swapping involved, which does mar the proceedings to a greater or lesser extent, depending on how easily annoyed you are. It's a pity the music system doesn't work as well as it might, too.
A worthy sequel, as they say - and to be a worthy sequel to the excellent Monkey Island takes some doing - despite a few flaws. Essential if you enjoyed the first game (and let's be honest, who didn't?) with enough in the way of improvements and changes to keep you on your toes.