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Although point-and-click adventure games dominated the software market a couple of decades ago, their popularity has rapidly dwindled with the demand for graphically-stunning shoot-'em-ups and simulation games. LucasArts, the mastermind behind legendary adventure games such as the Monkey Island canon, Grim Fandango and Sam 'n' Max Hit The Road, bid adieu to a long tradition of point-and-clicks with their final release, Escape From Monkey Island (4th in the series) in 2000. They assured disappointed fans there would be no future Monkey Island installments and they've held true to their word - sort of.
Enter the advent of iPhone app popularity and a growing demand for mobile games that arguably prompted the team's dedicated project of revival, culminating in the revamp of the first ever 1990 installment, The Secret of Monkey Island - featuring mild-mannered Guybrush Threepwood on a quest to become a pirate. What exactly does this 're-vamping' consist of?
New platforms: The new release is PC, Xbox and iPhone/iPod-friendly. Yes, the original version was a PC one, but fans hoping for a nostalgic replay had to do so with the help of emulators, and newer fans hoping to play the series' debut would not have found it easy to get their hands on a playable copy (the first version being on floppy disk, while the game itself was never released for free download as 'abandonware' like other classic games).
Voice-acting: The characters were first given voices in the 3rd (still two-dimensional) installment, The Curse of Monkey Island, and it would be hard to overstate its enhancement of the gaming experience. The brilliant Dominic Armato is perfect as the loveable, witty - but sometimes pathetic - main character Guybrush, while the supporting characters ooze pirate-ness (piracy?) - but none so much as the roaring demon captain LeChuck or headstrong governor Elaine Marley. The game's script is chock-full of quips and comic relief, and the voice actors never miss a beat, all ensuring that newer fans can finally enjoy the classic game with this modern twist while older fans can explore a favourite game come to life.
Graphics: The game's artwork has been given somewhat of a make-over, making it great quality for an iPhone game even in comparison to brand new applications. It remains two-dimensional, but the colours are brighter and the scenery more detailed, all with much smoother edges. The game's unique selling point has to lie in the ability to switch to the 'classic' version with a mere swipe of two fingers at any point during gameplay. Great for nostalgic players, or those curious to see what point-and-clicks looked like in their heyday. Additionally, there is a zoom-in function on the iPhone/iPod (using a pinching motion), although you cannot pan the camera view until you have zoomed out again.
Music and sound effects: The game's charming theme music has been recorded with new and impeccable quality (no more the lacklustre MIDI sounds of the 20th century!) and never bores or annoys. It is catchy and piratey, complete with accordions and horns, with an occasional hint of the Caribbean. It accentuates perfectly each scene and immerses the player into a world of swashbuckling adventure, mystery, and enviously tropical landscapes. Likewise, we can now enjoy the sounds of rushing waves, crunching footsteps, creaking doors and rowdy pirates chattering and clinking their mugs of grog in the infamous Scumm Bar.
Gameplay: As would be expected, a serious overhaul of the original game controls was necessary for touchscreen playability. The entire screen acts like a mouse touchpad, meaning you can drag your finger anywhere and the pointer will follow it (tapping anywhere will click the pointer on wherever it is resting). Thus, without having to drag the actual cursor you do not have to obscure what it is you want to click on. In addition, there are 9 'verb' actions (Walk, Give, Pull, Talk, etc.) but the default action of the cursor varies according to where it is positioned - for example, while it is mostly set to Walk To or Look At, placing it over a brass counter bell will let you Use the object without having to search through the action verbs and find the appropriate command. In addition, LucasArts has taken advantage of the iPod's accelerometer by allowing access to the Main Menu (pausing) by tilting the console vertically - and a little shaking will bring up a hint on what to do next, if you are truly stumped but want to avoid Googling a full-on walkthrough (or are on-the-go with no access to one).
These are the main features of the new iPod version which in themselves are enough reason for gamers who had completed the original to give it another whirl. What about the game itself?
Adventure game fans: This is an absolute must-have. Not only because of it's legendary status, but because of it's rich and diverse characters - assertive Governor Elaine Marley, raging demon pirate LeChuck, halitosis Otis, the gruff Important-Looking Pirates. The lines are never short of comic relief, especially when it comes to insults, whether directed at generally unsavoury characters, the blind lookout, the bald pirate Meathook (who sulks, 'You just don't know when to quit, do you?', only to be met with 'Apparently, neither did your barber') or when used as a weapon during Insult Swordfighting. The story is compelling, owing in large part to the mysterious and kooky world of Monkey Island (and neighbouring islands) in which one finds old-fashioned buccaneers juxtaposed with vending machines and tacky illuminated signs, and a plucky main character one cannot help but empathise with.
There are myriad locations (ranging from 'Ye Olde Rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle Shop' to a dingy prison) with curious objects to collect (said rubber-chicken-with-a-pulley-in-the-middle), and the puzzles are largely logical, thus avoiding the trap of perhaps later adventure games where the solution to a problem may be the random combination of even more random objects. The Secret of Monkey Island lacks the over-saturation of collectable objects more recent games suffer from, so mere pixel-hunting will rarely be the solution to a problem. This has actually resulted in, for me, a hint of self-satisfaction after solving particular puzzles - logic, not luck, is the name of the game in this chapter.
For those who are unfamiliar with adventure games, give this one a whirl if you want to experience a classic game on the iPhone (very few older games have been released on this new platform) and see why it has been getting rave reviews on iTunes. If you, too, become a converted fan of point-and-clicks, fear not - for even now there is a plethora of older games to download for free or buy cheaply from HMV, and Telltale Games have acquired the rights to the series, recently releasing a 5th (episodic) chapter in the Monkey Island canon (Tales of Monkey Island) that, like a voice from the dead, has caused a flurry of excitement amongst adventure gamers. Even better, LucasArts are considering revamping Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge similarly, if feedback is optimistic. Judging by the iTunes reviews (some of which written by users who had never even heard of the series) the Aye Aye's have it - we want more great adventures!