Game Theory: Monkeying with the Classics


Do you want to know how long I’ve been doing this? So damn long that I covered the original Monkey Island games. Friends, back in my day, we had only two colors (black and not-black—and black’s not even a color!), and we liked it !

Actually, it kind of sucked, and one of the pleasures of covering games throughout the 1990s was watching sound and image improve to the point that spectacular graphics barely warrant a mention. If you can’t make a game look and sound good in 2009, you really should be making something other than games. Burgers, perhaps.

It’s illuminating to be able to play something you remember fondly from ye olde days, only with the ability to hotkey back and forth between the old game and a shiny new version. The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition is a gorgeous hand-painted version of the original game, with a slightly “improved” interface. This has been laid right on top of the old game, and the most fascinating thing is the ability to hotkey 19 years into the past with each new screen.

There’s always a danger when revisiting something you remember fondly, that it might not hold up. The Secret of Monkey Island doesn’t quite hold up, and its place in the canon of classic games has a lot to do with its charm, characters, and novelty, and less with great puzzles or riotous dialog. Compared to the SCUMM games that came in its wake (Day of the Tentacle, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, and two great Monkey Island sequels), it’s not quite as funny or clever.

Memory is a deceptive thing. Over the years, a lot of gamers (myself included) have attached a lot of retroactive quality to the early days of PC gaming, which makes opportunities like the Special Edition instructive. I had a similar response when I revisited some Infocom text adventures in a fit of nostalgia and lasted about 10 minutes before wanting to put a fist through my screen. Next time some old gamer says, “They don’t make ‘em like that any more,” hand him a copy of Arkham Asylum and say, “Thank God for that.”

Thomas L. McDonald has been covering games for 17 years. He is Editor-at-Large of Games Magazine .

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