I first played the original Monkey Island back not long after it was first released in 1990. I would have been about 8 at the time. I’d never played anything like it, and it was through one of my dad’s friends who had brought their Commodore Amiga round for us to play that I experienced it for the first time. It felt like a living breathing world. I didn’t see the game I was playing. At 8 years old, I was sucked in immediately and believed that Melee Island was genuinely open for me, as the game’s hero Guybrush Threepwood, to go travel anywhere and see limitless sights. A game of the point ‘n’ click genre, it’s a cavalcade of puzzles all wrapped up in a crazy out there story line which, other than the very final scene, all feels cohesive even within the madness of everything going on. The puzzles on the surface can seem mental but when the solution is figured out, it becomes obvious what you were supposed to be doing. It was a fantastic game and with it being contained on 4 floppy discs, this was a game not to be sniffed at!
Then Monkey Island 2 came out at the tail-end of 1991. It’s crazy to think that it was released just a year and a half later after the first title. I look back and remember it being a much bigger gap than that. Maybe I just didn’t play it right away. It was released on 11 floppies. ELEVEN FLOPPY DISCS. Thank God we had a secondary disc drive for our Amiga because having to swap out any more than I already had to when visiting different areas would have driven my pre-teen mind absolutely bonkers. We take for granted just how easy we have it to load up games today, what with their extremely short loading times. Bitch about installations as much as you like, you either never had to swap out 2 discs 3 or 4 times in a few minutes because you were travelling back and forth between the same two areas, or you’ve shut out the pain to the point you no longer remember.
What makes this sequel great? What makes it BETTER than MI1? The length for starters. Rather than featuring a base island, and then a sea journey, reaching Monkey Island, and then returning back to Melee Island, MI2 featured 3 islands from the get-go. Booty, Phatt, and Scabb Island. Scabb Island lives up to its name, being a filth-ridden, varmint infested, no-good trouble filled nest for the lowest pirates on the 7 seas. Woodtick is the main area, with a bar, hotel, cartographer, and of course a dry cleaners, because why not? The island is run by the dwarf Largo LaGrande, the right-hand man for the ghost pirate LeChuck, Guybrush Threepwood’s nemesis from MI1. Largo is out to make his own riches, in any way possible; usually stealing. You have Wally the cartographer (map maker) who on the surface of it is a simple background character but later becomes quite the player in Guybrush’s tale. There’s the barkeep who hires monkeys to play piano in his bar, the Men of Low Moral Fiber who as always are doing absolutely squat, and of course the wonderful Voodoo Lady returns after her efforts from MI1. You can visit the local graveyard and dig up some bodies, sing songs at the beach, or even go traversing a swamp in a coffin. Truly the island of miracles.
Phatt Island is run by Governor Phatt himself, an extremely obese ‘leader’ who runs the place from his bed. Unable to get out of his sleeping quarters, he is fed his meals from pipes overhanging his bed. A very unhelpful individual, Guybrush eventually gets the best of him with a bit of the good ol’ book swapping shenanigans. In comparison to Scabb Island, Phatt is an oasis of waterfalls, cliff-side cottages, and Phatt’s mansion as a few places you can visit. On the surface of it then, a wonderful beautiful location with many sights to cheer up your needy eyes. A fisherman seeks success in the water, the Phatt Island Library is available with thousands of books available for your perusal, and you can even partake in a bit of under-handed gambling, in more ways than one. it’s a welcome change from the dark seediness of Scabb Island, but we’ve saved the real fun for the third island.
Booty Island is the last isle of the three featured here, and it feels like there is always a big party going on here. Guybrush’s love interest from MI1, Elaine Marley, resides on the island and is hosting a Mardi Gras style party during the events of the game. Guybrush, in spite of his still having feelings for Elaine, still tries to advantage of the fact that she has in her possession part of a map he is desperately seeking. She figures out his intentions and shows him just what she thinks by throwing the map piece out of her bedroom window into the windy sky. Heart-breaking stuff. Stan makes a return from MI1 with his new venture in second-hand coffins, there’s a costume shop featuring many famous faces from various franchises we know and love, and you even get to do a dance with the re-animated skeletons of your long-dead parents. It’s a fun island, and contains one of the games absolutely best puzzles; the Spitting Contest.
Following on from completion of the three islands, the game weaves an insane weaving story through the ghost pirate LeChuck’s ocean fortress, which then explodes Guybrush across to Dinky Island where he hopes to finally uncover the secret of Big Whoop; more on this later. Dinky Island is very reminiscent to Monkey Island from MI1 but with a tremendously different final battle against LeChuck. The final third of this game really has to be seen to be believed. Having anyone explain what happens, you’re likely to call rubbish on them. Video-game helplines, underground medical waiting rooms, and even an elevator which leads you back to a small area of MI1. It’s insane, yet feels so normal within the confines of the Monkey Island series. The series probably never got as unique as it did during this final sequence and I absolutely loved it.
So the plot. MI2 features an absolutely addictive storyline, with Guybrush looking for the long sought after secret of Big Whoop. What IS Big Whoop? Is it a physical item, a place, and idea? Guybrush is determined to find out for himself, and hopefully get rich in the process. The game opens with Guybrush dangling by a rope from the entrance to a giant pit he currently finds himself swinging in. His former love Elaine Marley sidles on down her own rope and instead of helping him, she insists on hearing his story on how he managed to get in to this predicament. Thus begins one of the greatest video gaming tales ever. Taking you on a bonkers adventure around the ‘Tri-Island Area’ of the Caribbean, Guybrush gets himself into some severe hi-jinx in so many different manners you wouldn’t believe. He’ll cross-dress to sneak into a party. He’ll steal an innocent worker’s monocle and replace it with a part from a plastic lighthouse model. He’ll even phone the official Lucasarts help-line to see if they’ll help him when all else has failed.
This of course is all done through the magic of the ‘point ‘n’ click’ cursor. You can play the game using two buttons on your mouse, and that’s as much as you need to get enjoyment from it. No tutorial, it simply throws you in to the deep end and has Guybrush Threepwood mugged within a minute of the game starting. Puzzles can be as simple as using an item on another, or pushing a lever, but can get as tricky as timing a button press so you catch something at the right time, or watching your surroundings so you know the correct moment to carry out a certain action. Timing is the key to a lot of the harder puzzles and the Spitting Contest is probably the best example of really nailing down that ‘moment’. Some puzzles require a bit of cryptic thinking, such as the back alley wheel of fortune. You’ll need to look through library catalogues, remember the lyrics to a song you heard in a dream, and even beat an ol’ seadog at a drinking contest because sword-fighting is for ‘wimps, weenies, and sissies’. There’s always something new around the corner and I guess the only frustration is the waiting you have to endure for something different to happen because you’re stuck on a certain conundrum. Persevere however and you’ll continue to witness gaming art at its finest.
Speaking of art, the game looks gorgeous, even today. Pixel gaming has become quite the gimmick these days and indie developers have milked it to the point of no return it seems. And still they’re unable to match the quality found within MI2. The attention to detail is truly something to behold and the locations you venture through all contain their own unique atmospheres. The game was remastered in 2010 (8 years already??) with a total revamp of the graphics throughout the game, and an updated soundtrack but… it still doesn’t have the charm that the original pixel graphics has. It’s too clean. The interface is simple and perfect. The verbs are laid out clearly, the items are listed sensibly, it all comes together to create a perfect experience for the player.
The animation is another facet of the game one can really get behind. Guybrush is a very animated character, and throughout the game, successful puzzle solutions usually reward you with a quick action which more often than not shows Guybrush in a comedic moment. You can enjoy him sticking the dog down his trousers and dealing with the sudden battle that seems to be going off in his pants. His reaction to LeChuck inflicting pain on him through the use of a voodoo doll is unsettling, and his being manhandled by Largo LeGrande is unfortunately funny. His reaction to his dead parents performing the skeleton dance is priceless when, after initially being gobsmacked by what he’s seeing, he soon starts digging the tune and begins to tap his foot in time with it. A lot of earlier point ‘n’ click games, like Maniac Mansion and Zak McCracken didn’t have anywhere near the extent of the animation on show here in MI2. It was a very welcome addition to the genre, and it was a shame that the following release by Lucasarts, Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis didn’t show anywhere near as much fluid artwork. Day of the Tentacle and Sam & Max certainly made up for that in this department however.
Finally, let’s look (listen) at (to) the soundtrack. Clocking in at an impressive 35 – 45 tracks depending on what version you’re playing, the soundtrack has something for everyone. Grim, cheerful, sad, moody, the songs work so well with their given locations and scenes. For years I only knew the Amiga soundtrack and loved it. Youtube came along and suddenly I was exposed to the IBM-PC recording and my God did it slap the senses out of me. A fully orchestrated arrangement had been there all along and there was silly old me making do with the old school Amiga version. It’s an incredible set of tunes which compliment the game itself so well. If pressed for one standout track, you need to listen to the Underground Tunnels, which features when Guybrush finally squares off against LeChuck toward the end of the game. It’s the longest track in the game and it. Is. EPIC. Like something from a Disney movie, you hear an orchestra perform in such a way that really shouldn’t have been possible for an early 90s videogame. Check it out on Youtube, it’s an eargasm waiting to happen. Just don’t read the comments, thar’ be possible spoilers for anyone who has never played the game.
There’s so much more we could talk about with Monkey Island 2. How did Stan go from the ship trade to the used coffin trade? Why are the men of low moral fiber still doing absolutely frig’ all with their lives? And what the HELL was going on with that ending? Some say it WAS the secret of Monkey Island, others say it was a dream, some argue it’s an alternate reality, me? I prefer to just accept that it was a very unique way of seeing a game out in such a way that you couldn’t tell if you’ve just been built up to nothing after playing the game for hours, or if you’d just witnessed the greatest ending in video game history. Ron Gilbert, the co-creator of Monkey Island 1 and 2 said that he knew what the secret was supposed to be, but having not worked on 3 and 4, he was never able to properly reveal it. Should he return to the series one day, he promises to reveal all… we can only wait and hope.
If you’ve never played the game, or have never bothered to give the point ‘n’ click genre a look at, you have no idea what you’re missing out. One of the funniest, most creative, and critically acclaimed games of all time, this game is a heavenly experience for all who experience it. I only wish my 9 year old self hadn’t played through it for the first time using a walk-through published by PC Power (I think it was called that anyway). Once those puzzles are completed once, the solutions are forever etched in your mind. Oh to be able to go back and play it all for the first time again and actually play it through blind. A legendary game for which there are not enough superlatives to describe it, and easily a personal top 10 video game of mine.
I will leave you with the content of Guybrush’s WANTED poster toward the end of the game. Initially, it features very few crimes on it because you’ve only played so much of the game, but after solving many of the games puzzles, you end up with this laundry list of charges. Enjoy!
WANTED: Guybrush Threepwood: For the murder of G. P. LeChuck, and also for the use of witchcraft on the person of Largo LaGrande, the thievery of clothing and medically-prescribed hair supplements for such witchcraft, graverobbing, trespassing, larceny without a permit, disturbing the peace, illegal gambling on a sporting event, use of falsified identification for the purchase of alcohol, exceeding allowable FDA limit for rodent parts in vichyssoise, premature entombment of a non-dead individual, reckless tampering with city-maintained plumbing without prior acquisition of environmental impact report, transportation of animals not in a mental state to give consent, vandalizing a historical miniature, reckless use of gardening tools, impersonating a woman in order to evade prosecution, two counts of unauthorized exiting from a penal institution, impersonating a federal mail boat, reanimating dead persons within city limits, possession of library books not specifically checked out to oneself, mixing drinks without a liquor license, and releasing a dangerous reptile in a populated area.