The Secret of Monkey Island (Lucasfilm Games, Commodore Amiga, 1991)
I have played adventure games for as long as I have been a gamer. Back in the early ‘80s I would spend many a long evening battling through classic Scott Adams adventure games on the Vic 20, such as: ‘Adventureland’, ‘Voodoo Castle’ and ‘The Count’. Basically an interactive text story, you would control your character telling them where to go, who to talk to and what to do, simply by typing a series of two word commands. Get something right and the next part of the game would open up. They suited me perfectly as you needed no great skill to complete one, just the stubborn persistence to go everywhere, talk to everyone and ‘use’ everything on everything. Even with an utter lack of common sense and an inability to solve logic puzzles you could still complete one if you stuck at it, purely through trial and error. In the time before the internet and the safety net that is Mr Google, with no walkthroughs available you could be stuck for weeks or even months, but you would still plug away as, at the time, they were a great challenge and lots of fun, a wonderful voyage for the imagination. Even now I can remember the pure elation experienced when, after going nowhere in Voodoo Castle for a very long time indeed, I finally typed: “wave bag” (is it sad that I can still recall this?) to successfully open up the final part of the game.
Because the Vic 20 was operating on slightly less memory than your average doorbell, a text adventure was all that it could manage (even played from a cartridge plugged into the expansion slot). But the Amiga had lots and lots more memory and processing power, meaning that adventure games suddenly came alive. You had graphics, music, sound effects. You had atmosphere and a much bigger play area. You no longer had to type commands; you simply pointed and clicked with the mouse, earning this type of game the cunning name, ‘point and click adventure’. The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the best known games of its type that appeared on the Amiga and with good reason.
Released by LucasFilm Games in 1991, you play a young Guybrush Threepwood finding himself on Melee Island, setting out with a wish to become a fully fledged pirate. You meet with the pirate leaders who set you a series of trials which you must pass if you are to realise your dream and so your adventure begins. In exploring the island you meet Governor Elaine Marley and you fall in love. She is subsequently kidnapped by the ghost pirate LeChuck and his un-dead crew, so it falls to you to set about rescuing her. In the course of your adventures, as well as Governor Marley you meet a series of bizarre characters such as a prisoner named Otis, whom you spring from jail to join your crew, Stan the Used Boat Salesman, who sells you a boat after a great deal of haggling and Carla the Sword Master, whom you must beat in a sword fight to pass one of the three trials set by the pirate leaders.
The game is easy to pick up and play. The point and click interface works well and it is hard to go wrong. Many early adventure games, limited in size, would play subtle tricks on you so that they would appear much bigger than they really were. Placing the items required to solve each puzzle at the opposite end of the available playing area was one, so you would end up retracing your steps many times (indeed this method was still in operation in adventure games made much later, such as Resident Evil (which was basically an adventure game but with added guns and zombies)). Another way of extending gameplay was to make the puzzles ridiculously obtuse. More than once I have wasted hours and hours of gameplay time before stumbling on the required obscure and totally random combination such as: “use cheese grater on chaffinch” or “give polonium to angry clown”.
Monkey Island doesn’t do this. The beauty of this game is that everything is spot on. It doesn’t try and annoy you, only delight you. The play areas are relatively compact and navigation is generally quick and easy. When you are on Melee Island, once you have found your way to a destination once, the next time you want to visit again you can simply click the point on the map you want to go to and you are transported there in seconds. The puzzles are all logical too. Some will tax the old grey matter, but ultimately they all make sense. Importantly, you can’t play yourself into a dead end and you can’t die. This is a welcome change from earlier adventure games which could be particularly brutal, causing the player to save constantly for fear of making a terminal mistake. You can save when you like in Monkey Island too, but on an ‘as and when’ basis is more than sufficient.
The graphics are well done without being spectacular and the sound does its job nicely too. But the true stars of this game are the story and the humour. The story is a beautifully constructed, enjoyable jaunt with plenty of memorable characters to interact with. If we are honest, we all wanted to be a pirate when we were young and Monkey Island lets you live that dream. The humour is genuine, ranging from moments that make you smile, to those that will cause a chortle and a few which genuinely had me roaring with laughter. The sword fighting game-mechanics are nothing short of a work of genius, with encounters being won by the protagonist with the sharpest wit in a battle of insults. It is very clever, extremely funny and works brilliantly.
I am not the most skilled gamer and I don’t have the longest attention span. In almost forty years I can count the number of games that I have played properly to their conclusion on the fingers of one hand. But I finished The Secret of Monkey Island. There was no way you wouldn’t finish it, it is too good, too much fun and the story hooks you so that you want to know how things turn out.
This is a fantastic game, a landmark game which has rightly cemented its place in both Amiga and gaming history. It wasn’t just an evolution in adventure gaming, it completely broke the mould and set the standards by which similar games would be judged for decades to come. It has regularly been voted as the best Amiga game ever made and I certainly would not be one to dispute that standing (as an aside it has also been voted the best P.C. adventure game ever).
It is hard to imagine that if you are reading this as an Amiga owner, you have never played The Secret of Monkey Island. But if this is the case, you need to put that right as soon as conceivably possible. I can pretty much guarantee that it will challenge and delight you in equal measure.
And at no point will you need to use a cheese grater on a chaffinch…