19: The Secret of Monkey Island

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Year: 1990
Platform: DOS; Windows; Macintosh; Amiga; Atari ST; Sega CD; FM Towns

Review: Knowing that this game is widely considered to be the pinnacle of adventure gamedom, I was worried when I finally played it fourteen years after its release I would be disappointed. I wasn’t.

The concept itself is funny enough. You, as Guybrush Threepwood, want to be a pirate. After venturing to a remote island in the Caribbean, you seek the advice of the locals. The plot thickens (and becomes more sinister) as you progress, and rarely slows down as you battle each puzzle.

Two features make this quest so revered. The writing is ridiculously good (Ron Gilbert, David Grossman, and naturally, Tim Schafer); I laughed out loud dozens of times at the puns, fourth-wall breaking, anachronisms, in-jokes, and graphical wackiness. The second feature is the gameplay innovation introduced by LucasArts in Maniac Mansion and perfected here. Interacting with characters and using inventory is very intuitive, and pixel-hunting is quite rare. The game can’t be made unwinnable and there is little to frustrate the average (or even the novice) gamer.

As a bonus, some of the puzzles are devilishly clever, and most of the ones that are easy are also entertaining by virtue of their wackiness. Learning how to swordfight is one of my favorite puzzles of all-time. I was turned off a bit during the last third of the game, as the puzzles become more arcane, and a lot of back-and-forth fetching is required. Still, this section is better than most games, as it is often saved by the brazen humour right up to the zany end.

While there may be the occasional adventurer that won’t share the writers’ sense of humour, I encourage anyone to play The Secret of Monkey Island. If you’re not laughing within the first ten minutes you can safely skip it, but that scenario is unlikely.  Best part is, you don’t even have to tangle with DOS or SCUMM.  TellTale games has released a modern port of the game, available for download at a low price.

Contemporary RatingHigh. Everything still holds up today.

Cruelty RatingPolite.  There is one way to die, but you’re given several warnings and essentially would have to be unconscious to let it happen.

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