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Brad Cook Takes A Look At Monkey Island 2 Special Edition
July 21, 2011 | IMG News

Monkey Island 2 Special Edition: LeChuck’s Revenge: Once More, With Feeling
by Brad Cook

“The Secret of Monkey Island is a videogame classic, but Monkey Island 2 is widely considered a masterpiece,” says Craig Derrick, who served as project lead for the Special Edition of that masterpiece. “The Monkey Island 2 storyline expands the mythology of the Monkey Island series in a similar way to how ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ builds on ‘Star Wars.’ There are just more characters, dramatic and humorous situations, places to explore, and puzzles to solve.”

“I really like the world,” adds designer Ron Gilbert, looking back on his formative years at LucasArts and the game that helped him and fellow designers Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer make their mark on the industry. “When you’re first creating something, it’s hard to see how it will all play out, but I was very happy and excited about what came out of the first game and I wanted to jump back into that world.”

Gilbert continues: “I also had a larger story in mind. It wasn’t fully fleshed out, but doing a second game allowed me to do that. The first game not only introduced the characters to the player, but also in some ways to the three of us. With the second game, we knew who they were and that was the opportunity to really grow them, to go deep into who they were and start bringing out the subtle relationships and quirks they had. The relationship between Guybrush and Elaine was probably the biggest.”

LeChuck Strikes Back

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge opens with a narrative device that, at the time of its original release in 1991, had been oft-used in movies and novels but not so much in videogames, if at all: our hero, Guybrush Threepwood, hangs from a rope inside a pit, desperately holding onto a treasure chest with one hand, when his love interest, Elaine Marley, slides down another rope. She asks him about his predicament, and he proceeds to tell the tale of how he arrived there. We travel back in time with him, and the gameplay begins.

Guybrush has become a successful pirate in his own right after defeating LeChuck in The Secret of Monkey Island, and now he seeks the legendary treasure known as Big Whoop. His first stop is Scabb Island, where he encounters Largo LaGrande, LeChuck’s former henchman and Guybrush’s first nemesis. Largo is terrorizing the islanders and preventing any of them from leaving; Guybrush must defeat him to continue his quest.

Unfortunately, in the process of doing that, he gives Largo the means to resurrect LeChuck. Guybrush leaves Scabb Island and searches for the four pieces of the map that will lead him to Big Whoop, but now Largo and LeChuck seek it too. Guybrush once again relies on the Voodoo Lady for guidance, and he reunites with Elaine, although that encounter doesn’t end well. As in the first game, Guybrush’s quest also involves conversing with oddball characters and solving fiendish puzzles.

An Even Better SE

“We improved on the original Special Edition features for this one,” Derrick remarks. “We redesigned all the characters, added more animation frames, improved Guybrush’s look, added more visual effects, and let fans have the new dialogue track over the classic game, if they want.”

The features found in the first Special Edition return, including the three-level in-game hint system, a revamped musical score, and a dialogue track. New features include direct player control for those who don’t want to point and click, object highlighting to help find hidden items, an in-game art viewer showing never-before-seen concept art from the original game, and a developer commentary — similar to a movie commentary on a DVD — with Gilbert Schafer, and Grossman.

Of the commentary track, Derrick recalls: “I couldn’t believe we got the three of them together. What happened after that was one of those moments I’ll remember forever. It was awesome to hear them share stories and their experiences making the original game. It’s one of my favorite features in the Special Edition and I’m ecstatic that gamers will get to share in the experience.”

Untwisting Everything

One of Monkey Island 2’s most memorable moments arrives after the story comes full circle to the beginning: Guybrush’s rope breaks before Elaine can help him, and what he finds at the bottom of that pit turns his world upside-down, complete with nods to “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi.” “The ending really caught people by surprise, but it wasn’t unfair,” Gilbert says. “The only thing I regret about the ending is that I couldn’t follow it up with a third game and explain what was going on.”

Gilbert left LucasArts after the game was released. He and fellow LucasArts alum Shelley Day started Humongous Entertainment, sold the company to Disney, and then founded Hulabee Entertainment. Both companies focused on adventure games for kids.

As for the Monkey Island series, the third of which appeared in 1997 with the release of the non-Gilbert-designed The Curse of Monkey Island, Gilbert muses: “I thought Monkey Island 3 was very well done, given that they had no idea where I was taking the story after the second one’s twisted ending. The only thing I didn’t like about it was Guybrush and Elaine getting together.

“As for doing another Monkey Island game? Yeah, it might be fun to do. Untwisting everything and getting back to my original story would be a fun challenge.”

Perhaps Gilbert might then reveal Monkey Island’s secret, which has led to much speculation by gamers over the years. Derrick offers his take: “I believe the secret has something to do with the light at the center of the island under the giant monkey head, and how it acts as a cork that keeps pure evil from entering and destroying the world. Oh, wait — that’s LOST.”

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