California Literary Review

Video Game Review: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

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July 11th, 2010 at 2:19 pm

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Monkey Island 2 box art
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

Release Date: July 7th, 2010
Platform: iPhone, iPod Touch, Microsoft Windows, Playstation Network (version reviewed), Xbox Live Arcade
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Genre: Point-and-Click Adventure
ERSB: E10+

CLR Rating: ★★★★☆

Monkey Island 2

Must… Resist… “How’s it hanging” joke…!


One of Gaming’s Greatest Classics
Makes Its Triumphant Return

With videogames increasingly accepted as an art form (despite some unusually ardent detractors) the time has come to take stock of which games necessitate “Must Play” status for even the casual fans. There are already hundreds of films that qualify as “Must Sees,” from Citizen Kane to Star Wars, and probably more books than one could conceivably read in a well-rounded lifetime, but videogames are still in their infancy as a medium, and the timeless classics are a little harder to acknowledge from this close a vantage point. To many of the aficionados, however, the Monkey Island games represent one of the most significant early examples of videogaming at its best. Last summer saw the re-release of The Secret of Monkey Island, a brilliant and hilarious adventure game from LucasArts before they shunned creativity as a whole in favor of milking their Star Wars license for everything that it was worth (admittedly quite a lot), and the success of the nostalgia release now brings forth Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, an even more popular entry into a franchise that had for many years dipped into unwarranted obscurity. Like the restoration of Metropolis, this new release of an old classic is cause for genuine celebration, and worthy of attention from fanatics and casual gamers alike.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge opens on Guybrush Threepwood in a very precarious situation, dangling from a rope in a dark, spooky hole for dear life while refusing to drop a chest of precious treasure. Help seems to arrive in the form of Guybrush’s ex-girlfriend Elaine Marley, who angrily broke up with him after the events of the previous game. She enjoys watching him twist in the wind, and decides not to help until he explains how he got there in the first place. Thus begins the tale of Monkey Island 2 proper, as Guybrush, famous for defeating the ghost-pirate LeChuck in The Secret of Monkey Island (and even more famous for never shutting up about it), seeks another, equally grand adventure in a continued effort to prove his clearly insignificant worth to the world at large. His new goal is to find a mysterious treasure known throughout the Caribbean as “Big Whoop.” Before long (in the narrative of the game, at least… it could take players hours if not days to figure out how to get off the first island alone), Guybrush accidentally helps resurrect LeChuck, who vows revenge against his arch-nemesis. Alas, LeChuck can only be defeated by “Big Whoop,” and thus the race begins to find the treasure… before LeChuck finds Guybrush and turns him into a chair.

Monkey Island 2

Windy roads like this one were not designed for analog movements. Pain, have you met Ass? Ass, Pain?

As designed by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and David Grossman, Monkey Island 2 represents the height of Point-and-Click gameplay. Humor and puzzles abound in a once unique world that newer audiences may now find reminiscent of the Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise. Certain elements of gameplay have been updated in this re-release, and while none of them were necessary they are all welcome. The art has been given a high-definition and gorgeously rendered polish, and the characters have all been given some of the better voice-overs in recent gaming (or any, for that matter). The original version of the game is playable at the press of a button, but playing the updated version allows one to move Guybrush throughout the game world with the aid of an analog stick, as opposed to a less-intuitive “Walk to This Spot” point-and-click system. Some of the environments were clearly not designed with this mechanic in mind, so players may find themselves occasionally walking into the wrong door or down the wrong road by accident – particularly annoying in one of the jungle environments, where walking down exactly the road you intend is a gameplay necessity – but it’s an infrequent occurrence, even at worst.

Storywise, Monkey Island 2 perhaps lags behind its predecessor, which had a more compelling mystery, a stronger love story and presented a coming-of-age tale that were probably more dramatically satisfying to players than Guybrush’s attempts to maintain his celebrity without completely sacrificing his cowardice in the sequel. Monkey Island 2 follows Guybrush, Elaine and LeChuck on a natural extension of the events and character development of the previous game, but lacks the compelling narrative hooks of the first adventure, although the striking and highly unexpected finale does make up for some of these deficiencies.

One gets the impression that any such narrative inadequacy comes at the direct behest of Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman, who in the included designer’s commentary express their mission statement to, essentially, be as cruel as possible to the player and prevent them from enjoying or even feeling entirely confident in their successes. Guybrush begins the game with enough money to make Solomon blush, but is immediately stripped of his property by the villainous Largo LeGrange. The nature of this encounter is such that the player will inevitably feel as if they lost their money because they made a mistake during gameplay, not because it’s a scripted element of the narrative (which it is). Sneaky bastards, these designers.

Monkey Island 2

A scripted plot point, inevitable by design, but skillful emotional manipulation makes the player feel responsible for the protagonist’s plight anyway. How are videogames not art again?

Opponents of the “Videogames Are Art” philosophy often lodge the complaint that since videogames are an interactive medium, the experience is left more to the audience than the designers. No matter how much story Rockstar pumped into Grand Theft Auto IV, for example, the player will nevertheless have the freedom to ignore it completely and do as they please within the game’s confines. But few games are more immune to this argument than the Monkey Island franchise – and indeed much of its Point-and-Click Adventure ilk – in which gameplay options are entirely limited to the imagination of the designers, not the players. Aside from the freedom to walk around and interact with the colorful cast of characters, Monkey Island 2 resolutely crosses its arms to the player and bars access to both additional gameplay and narrative until it is sufficiently convinced that you have successfully entered the mindset of Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman, who are clearly half-mad and 100% childish in their conception of the game’s many puzzles.

Upon discovering a device in dire need of a monkey wrench, for example, the player might be expected to seek out such a tool. Assuming they come to the (accurate) conclusion that there is no monkey wrench to be found, they might then assume that the mad scientists behind the creation of Monkey Island 2 might just want you to use a monkey. (Never mind the impossible strain this puzzle must have placed on the localization team.) But the only monkey to be found is impossibly dedicated to playing the piano, forcing the player to conduct an intellectually labyrinthine series of logical leaps in order to tear him away from his duties. At no point in this scenario, and indeed most others, is the solution to Guybrush’s problems instinctual, unless you give yourself over to the narrative completely and allow it to change your perception of conflict resolution.

Monkey Island 2

OooooOOOOOooooooo… Spooooooookyyyyyyyyyyy…

Simple solutions to many puzzles, often using tools already in Guybrush’s arsenal, are often disregarded as ridiculous by Monkey Island 2, which at times leads to frustration. Why is it that Guybrush can only use a bottle to knock at the mysterious sack hanging from the tree, when a crowbar is equally handy and has even further reach? The player’s ingenuity is meaningless unless they can access the barely-sensical ramblings of Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman’s brains, although to their credit this dedication to using the game as a form of personal expression offers the greatest rewards. On the (perhaps rare) occasions in which you find yourself on the exact same wavelength as Monkey Island 2’s masterminds there’s an inescapable sense of pride, and also a somewhat shameful cringe at one’s own capacity for utter silliness.

The fact that the game allows only one solution for each of its hundreds of puzzles leads to Monkey Island 2’s greatest storytelling flaw: As a result of this gameplay mechanic, Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman sacrifice most if not all of their control over their story’s pacing. There are a few key crescendo moments in which timing is a factor in gameplay – usually when Guybrush actually encounters LeChuck in the flesh (as it were) – and the heightened drama at these moments make an otherwise enjoyable diversion into a far more engaging narrative. The rest of the game consists of walking around and trying to figure out what the puzzles are, and then walking around some more until you figure out how to solve them. Monkey Island 2, and indeed all the better games of its genre deserve credit for infecting the players’ brains even when they’re not playing, and more than a few people are going to be in the middle of a conversation at work before smacking themselves upside the head and announcing, “Of course! If I saw off the pirate’s peg leg then the carpenter will have to leave on a house call! How could I have been so stupid!” (To either the delight or befuddled looks of one’s co-workers.) But as a result of this the player’s eagerness can easily wane if they feel they aren’t making progress. There’s a hint system available in-game to help remedy this sensation, but using it is always a blow to the ego, and there are several occasions in which it merely tells you what Guybrush needs to accomplish without giving any indication of how to do it, which is inevitably why you needed the hint in the first place.

Monkey Island 2

Years before criminals laundered their money, pirates actually laundered their laundry.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge is a “Must Play” for any audience, gamer or otherwise, presenting a distinctive world full of artistic value, although perhaps a little shallow thematically. Perhaps it was necessary for a game requiring this much intellectual involvement to provide light entertainment, rather than tax one’s entire brain at once. A few minor bugs aside, LucasArts has produced a worthy upgrade to one of their most classic games. Now where’s Day of the Tentacle: Special Edition, damn it?!

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