One note - I was playing the PC version of the game, and it was £6.99 on Steam. It also represented the first time I'd paid money for a brand-new game in quite some time. What can I say? I'm a massive cheapskate.
The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition
And so LucasArts goes full circle. Having been reduced from a once well known and respected company to becoming second only to EA for franchise-murdering, they've decided to try their hand at starting over and remaking one of their most beloved classics. Only they haven't, really. Just splashed a bunch of paint over it and hoped we wouldn't notice.
I'm going to mention the positives first, because they're what I paid my £6.99 for. The most impressive feature, right from the off, is the new graphics, which look stunning. The backgrounds are nothing short of beautiful, and the character redesigns all fit the characters perfectly. The music is also fantastic, and the tunes have never sounded better. Having the game being fully voiced is also a major boon, and the characters really do benefit from this, making the dialogue come alive in places. Finally, it's quite possibly the most faithful remake anyone has ever made, with absolutely no changes to the script or story whatsoever. For better or worse, this is exactly the same game people first played back in 1990.
Right. That's that over with - let's start nit-picking.
One of the major problems I have with the game is the fact that, aside from the voices, it doesn't make use of any of the advances made in adventure games over the 20-odd years since the original was released. This was presumably a concious decision to make the game as faithful as possible, but in the end the stupid idea to create the Special Edition on top of the original creates more problems then nostalgia can overcome.
As a result of the game essentially being built upon the old SCUMM engine, the characters which looked so good in screenshots fall apart whenever they move, because they all have a limited number of frames for each particular action. As a result, their movements all look stiff and unrealistic, making the game seem like a particularly well-made fan game. You'll adjust to Guybrush's movements pretty quickly since they're the best ones, but it's the other characters that cause concern. Take the pirate swinging from the chandelier at the SCUMM bar. A few more frames would have made the animation look much better, but instead the whole thing just feels flat and rushed.
The dialogue also suffers from a similar problem - while the lines are all well delivered, there can be a brief pause between lines lasting anything up to two seconds. The dialogue's simply being delivered faster then the game thinks it should be, much like games translated from other languages. And, rather stupidly, you cannot skip lines of dialogue in the new version, despite it being an option in the original. This is an utterly inexcusable omission, particularly since the target audience of the game will be people who have played the original and may want to skip certain sections of dialogue. This will likely become a problem as you learn the art of sword-fighting, and get tired of hearing the same lines over and over - the only way to skip them is to switch to the classic view and then press the period button. If they could include the option in the old version of the game, why not the new one?
The most shocking oversight though is that the new interface, where you have to press different keyboard buttons to bring up both command or inventory screens, is incredibly fiddly to use. If you want to use an item in your inventory with someone or something, you have to press a button to bring up the command menu, press another button to select give/use, then a third button to bring up the inventory, a fourth button to select an item, and then a fifth button to actually use the item. While this may work well for the XBox version of the game, when it comes to the PC version, this is a ludicrously tedious way of doing things, and compared to most other adventure games these days, it just seems overtly complicated.
A good example of this is freeing Otis from jail at the end of the first act, where you transfer grog between gradually melting mugs. Because you have to keep bringing up different screens, you end up going through the above-mentioned process several times in quick succession, making the whole process even more convoluted then it was originally, which even the most ardent fan of the series will find hard to overlook. While it helps having the same keyboard shortcuts as the original (S for Push and Y for Pull*, for example), it's not an acceptable replacement for a flawed control scheme.
While being able to flip between old and new editions of the game is a nice idea, I can almost guarantee that the feature will hardly ever be used, and even when it is, it'll mostly be to compare the two versions. If the developers hadn't included this feature and instead just created a new engine for the remake, a huge number of the problems I have with the game could have been avoided.
Sadly, this is a textbook case of how not to do a remake. Other such games, like Bionic Commando: Rearmed, only changed the basics such as graphics, leaving the core gameplay aspects untouched. With this title, they've updated things that didn't need to be altered, and they did so in such a way as to make the game more complicated as a result. All of which means, as much as I want to, I simply can't recommend this.
Addendum: Out of curiosity, I figured I'd have a look at other reviews to see what others thought of this. Amazingly, I could only find one other review that mentioned the awkward control scheme, along with the other problems I picked up on. Nostalgia really is more powerful then I thought.*S for Shove and Y for Yank. I'm really showing my age by knowing that.