Even if you disliked the modernized graphics in Secret of Monkey Island, you should at least give Monkey Island 2’s HD presentation a chance to win you over. One major improvement is the way Guybrush looks. He doesn’t really resemble his original MI2 self, but rather he’s a perfect transition between his Secret look and his Curse of Monkey Island appearance (which is the first time we ever got a really good look at him, and thus the standard I compare other iterations against), and makes more sense emitting Dominic Armato’s voice. I played most of the game in HD, and the new design looks so natural that when dabbling in classic mode I actually felt like that Guybrush was the interloper. The backgrounds look incredibly lovely as well—I’m particularly fond of the town of Woodtick, the seaside on Phatt Island, and some areas of LeChuck’s fortress—and once unlocked, it’s amazing to look at the gallery of concept art in the bonus features and see how much more the HD graphics look like the original artistic vision from 1991 than what they were actually able to accomplish on those old PCs. If I have any complaint about the new style, it’s that some of the minor characters look a little grotesque for my taste.
I’m not the only one who prefers the new graphics, as apparently Tim Schafer feels the same way, which you’ll hear about if you decide to play with the optional developer’s commentary turned on (though make sure it’s your second playthrough, as it drowns out some crucial cutscenes). Every once in a while there is a button prompt to trigger commentary, at which point a little cutout of designers Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, and Schafer will appear in the corner and you’ll hear some anecdote or bit of inside info about whatever part of the game you’re in. Did you realize that in Woodtick, the same musical theme is always playing, but whenever you enter a shop it adds in a unique instrument (using a system called iMUSE)? Or that the incredibly devious “If this is four, then what’s this?” puzzle from the Gambler’s Club came from Tim Schafer’s older brother? I just wish there was more commentary than the hour or so provided, and that it wasn’t so easy to get stuck listening to the same dialogue multiple times. For example, no matter when you go aboard Captain Dread’s ship, you get the exact same button prompt for the exact same conversation, whether you’re one hour into the game or six, and there’s no way to tell if you’ve heard a particular sequence already.
The commentary also inadvertently highlights a problem with this Special Edition, and it will be a major one to some of the more diehard fans. Unlike in the first update, the classic version of MI2 isn’t exactly a perfect rendition of the original release. For one thing, the iMUSE system that allowed the musical background to seamlessly change was not actually emulated here. The music does change when you enter new buildings, but the seamless integration of a new instrument doesn’t truly happen; it just cuts to a new soundtrack. Most players will never know the difference, but some may tear their hair out over it. The original opening and closing credits were also cut from the game, and though it doesn’t have a story impact, a few jokes were lost. Additionally, the original game had a “Lite” version that made some of the super-difficult puzzles easier and cut others entirely, and though the built-in hint system perhaps makes this unnecessary now, if you’re going to have a “Special” edition of an all-time classic, the first step should probably be “do no harm.”
There are many ways to play Monkey Island 2: Special Edition, from console to PC to even iPhone, so your experience with controls may vary. On the Xbox 360, I found the system improved since the last game. In HD mode, Guybrush is controlled directly with the analog stick, while one trigger brings up a menu of interaction choices (limited to the few deemed useful for that object, though some unnecessary options are left in) and the other opens the inventory. One button is set aside just for highlighting hotspots, though it only lasts a few seconds, and the areas of the screen simply glow instead of labeling specific objects. Direct control is not available in classic mode, as the controller does its best approximation of mouse controls using the stick to control the cursor. You have to choose from the list of nine verbs at the bottom of the screen, and your inventory is always on display next to them. The PC version of both modes is similar, but replaces the HD direct control movement with a simple left-click interface. Clicking and holding the right button calls up the ring of interactive cursors to choose from, and releasing performs the desired action. Alternatively, you can choose from a selection of hotkeys if you prefer.
If it’s your first time playing Monkey Island 2, and you’re determined to have every optional conversation and examine every trinket you see to its fullest, you could easily spend almost twenty hours with this game. It would certainly be time well spent. Though some unfortunate choices were made in neglecting to preserve the integrity of the classic version, you still couldn’t ask for a funnier, richer, or more challenging adventure than this one, and in most ways this Special Edition is the equal or even an improvement over its predecessor, with prettier environments, more great voice-acting, and another beautiful soundtrack. So whether you’re a newcomer or a LeChuck’s Revenge veteran, it’s definitely worth taking the trip back to the world of Monkey Island.
Platform(s): iPad, iPhone/iPod Touch, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360