The Monkey Island series of adventure games is one of the great classics from Lucas Arts. It follows the mishaps of protagonist Guybrush Threepwood on his quest for happiness against a heavily romanticized and cartoonish backdrop of 18th-century Caribbean pirates. Every cliche is there: peg legs, parrots, grog, voodoo, corrupt governors and buried treasure and all of it is packed into a series of extremely witty games.
I chose to review the second installment because it’s the one that holds the fondest memories for me. It was given to me for my birthday in early 1992, which would make me 14 years old at the time. The computer I played it on back then was a 386 PC with an original Creative Labs Soundblaster 1.5 in there. With this game now almost 30 years old, I have yet to find a title that made the old Yamaha OPL2 FM synth sound better.
The in-game graphics were very atmospheric for their time. The backdrops were brush-painted by some very talented artists and scanned for use in the game. This gives the game a very vintage-like appeal, especially on the MS-DOS version where the VGA graphics permit the use of 256 colours on screen. The Amiga version is limited by its hardware and it really shows for the kind of art used in this game.
Sound and music
The best way to listen to this game is apparently through the use of a Roland MT-32 MIDI module. Unfortunately I never owned one and I have yet to set up proper emulation of one in combination with my MiSTer board. While this is apparently quite doable, I simply haven’t done it yet. For nostalgia’s sake, I’m just fine with the emulated FM synth on the MiSTer’s ao486 PC core. The bootable hard drive image of this game you can download here is preset to use the emulated Soundblaster.
The Amiga port feels sadly lacking in the audio department. Its audio hardware was top-notch for the time but it seems like Lucas Arts decided to take a few instrument samples from the PC’s FM sound card and created a heavily watered-down version of the PC’s audio track. The watering down is most likely due to the fact that the PC’s synth could use 11 voices to play back a MIDI sound track, whereas the Amiga was fully geared towards sampled music across 4 channels. On Amiga-originals this hardware absolutely blows the PC out of the water (really, listen to the audio on Turrican II or Pinball Dreams), but not so in this game.
Monkey Island 2 is a game in the long series of SCUMM-based adventures. SCUMM is a game engine written by Lucas Arts and was used to create a whole slew of top-notch mouse driven adventure games. The essence of the interaction boils down to the player picking one of a small set of key verbs from the lower left part of the screen, and pointing the crosshair cursor into the game world displayed in the top two-thirds of the screen or an item in the player’s inventory, right next to the verbs. In this way the player composes simple phrases like “use saw with peg leg” to create hilarious scenes.
These old SCUMM titles do show their age nowadays. The game essentially comes down to the player having to learn the colourful sense of humor of the game’s creators in order to beat the long sequence of puzzles. Yanking the undies off your decomposing zombie-pirate nemesis is only one small step towards winning this game.
While they gameplay mechanics feel very rusty in this day and age, this game is worthy of your perseverance if only for the brilliant, twisty story line and the surprise ending.