No doubloons? – The Secret of Monkey Island review6 minute read

The Secret of Monkey Island reached favourable reviews years after its original release. Is it worthy of The Vintage Vault?

Each Vintage Vault review looks at the games of our past and decides whether they stand the test of time. If they do they become Vaulted and gain eternal protection from The Great Eye – Loganius. If they fail they get thrown in The Pixel Pit and receive eternal damnation. Let the trials begin.

What young boy has not fantasised at some point in their life about being someone else? An astronaut? A rock star? A race car driver? A pirate? Well, like Guybrush Threepwood I too dreamt about becoming a pirate – regardless of the fact that I cannot swim and the sea freaks me out somewhat.

The Secret of Monkey Island is a game that allows you to stand in the shoes of Guybrush and begin your very own adventures as a wanna-be pirate. Does such a daydream-adventure have what it takes today to gain access to The Vintage Vault?

“I am Guybrush Threepwood, mighty pirate.”

The Secret of Monkey Island released in 1990 by LucasFilm Games. It begins with Guybrush arriving at Melee Island. He has arrived to pursue his intention to become a true pirate. Along the way there are many buckles swashed and GuyBrush soon learns that there is much more to this Island than first thought.

To become a pirate Guybrush must pass three challenges. Winning a sword duel, finding buried treasure and stealing a valuable possession from the mansion of the governor. Along the way you soon learn of the Ghost Pirate LeChuck who apparently died in an expedition to Monkey Island. Add some action, romance, explosions, fireworks, swordplay and excitement into the mix and you have the basic premise that Ron Gilbert created when writing the game.

On top of this epic action adventure title comes the dry and sarcastic humour which was as much funny in the 1990’s as it is today. A lot of the dialogue was improvised and some of it was actually from the developers’, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman included, personal experiences. However they formulated the writing of the game, it gives a very humorous but also personal feel to the game and the overall story.

“Look behind you, a Three-Headed Monkey!”

The gameplay model is point-and-click and is heralded as one of the major games from this franchise. Ron Gilbert has designed all of the puzzles therein before development started and had deliberately modeled his vision around an opposite to what Sierra On-Line were producing at the time.

Sierra On-Line in Gilbert’s opinion were designing games that we “a cheap way out for the designer”. This was purely because of the games killing the character if the player made a mistake.

Gilbert set out to fundamentally change this mechanism for his title. The development team then made it impossible for the protagonist to die, focusing more on the environment and gameplay of the title.

The game uses a SCUMM-bar as do most LucasFilm Games titles, which makes it feel familiar and easy to use. The graphics are basic in areas but they do the job they are required to do. I wouldn’t say that even for it’s time it was graphically advanced, but it is another thing that wasn’t heavily focussed on.

“I wanna be a pirate!”

The gameplay itself shows focus when you realise that you can travel pretty much anywhere as soon as the game has loaded. This freedom of movement added not only a chance of real-world escapism but also the real sense that this is truly an adventure. You actually felt as though you were a wanna-be pirate exploring new lands.

The puzzles themselves seem unique. Some are based on timing, and some of items. A few of them are based on dialogue and it is this rich variety that truly builds a great point-and-click adventure.

But of course, one of the greatest elements of this game, are the exchanges between characters. The utter sarcasm and dry humor that emanates from this game is what makes it a much-loved classic.

“You fight like a dairy farmer.”

“How appropriate. You fight like a cow.”

The Secret of Monkey Island

The music within the game is also commendable. Composed by Michael Land in MIDI format, it was his first project within LucasFilm Games. When the game was released on CD-ROM format an updated variant of the MIDI soundtrack was released and it is obvious as to why the music has remained popular.

“Never pay more than 20 bucks for a computer game.”

The game is phenomenal in size, gameplay and writing. Gilbert really used the franchise as a means of getting the world some amazing, comedic writing all within a fantastic game to play.

The game has been reworked within a special edition which contained newer graphics and voice work for the characters. The original charm was not removed from the title released 19 years prior. The game truly holds up even 31 years after release and utterly deserves a place within The Vintage Vault.

Guybrush: At least I’ve learnt something from all of this.

Elaine: What’s that?

Guybrush: Never pay more than 20 bucks for a computer game.

Elaine: A what?

Guybrush: I don’t know. I have no idea why I said that.


Overall 7.5/10

Rating: 7.5 out of 10.