I want to be a mighty pirate!
— Guybrush Threepwood
The Secret of Monkey Island (usually just referred to as Monkey Island) was developed by LucasArts using SCUMM (Story Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion). It was the brainchild of Ron Gilbert, who ended up leaving LucasArts after this game was made. It was originally released in 1990 for the Amiga, MS-DOS, Windows, and the Mac OS. It is considered by many to be one of the finest games ever made.
Why? It has everything you'd ever want in a puzzle game, everything you'd want in a humorous game, and just about everything that you'd want in a pirate-related game.
The plot follows Guybrush Threepwood (named after the first image file for his character,
guy.brush, and the Threepwood family from P.G. Wodehouse's books), who wants to be a mighty pirate. He comes at Mêlée Island in pursuit of this goal. Upon arriving, he steps into the Scumm Bar, where the Important Looking Pirates reside. They tell him that he must complete three tasks in order to become a pirate: mastering the sword, mastering the art of thievery, and mastering the Quest — treasure hunting.
And so the game begins. Along the way, Guybrush falls in love with the beautiful Elaine Marley, governor of Mêlée Island (and semi-widow of the ghost pirate LeChuck), meets a lot of pirates, fills his pockets with red herrings and other fun stuff, learns to hold his grog, sails the seas, and finds out the Secret of Monkey Island (maybe).
Like many other Scumm games, the game window is split into two panes. At the top is your view into the world, containing backgrounds, characters, and dialogue. To the bottom left is found the actions that Guybrush can perform in the world. These are:
Open Walk to Use
Close Pick up Look at
Push Talk to Turn on
Pull Give Turn off
To the bottom right is your inventory. Depending on the edition of the game you have, this will either be a list or a set of images. The inventory fills with all manner of crazy crap during the course of the game, ranging from food to weapons to clothing to wax lips to flowers to treasure to tools to human heads. Some of the best jokes in the game came from the horrible puns that the developers inflicted on you with the inventory.
Interacting with the world is simple: click which action you want to perform, click the object, and the game interpolates everything from Give Stylish Confetti to Heavily Armed Clown to Kick Soda Machine.
Clicking in the top pane moves Guybrush, and clicking over objects in the world, sometimes after selecting an action, interacts with them. Other than being able to select options from a list while talking to people, this is the entirety of the game's interface. Being so simple allowed the game to have a great deal of depth with a very shallow learning curve. A good decision that few modern developers make.
The first part of the game, The Three Trials, takes Guybrush all over Mêlée learning to fight, solving puzzles, breaking into the Governor's mansion, talking to pirates of all sizes and smells, digging up treasure, and generally improving himself. The second part, The Journey, follows Guybrush and his crew of Carla the Sword Master, Meathook the Trainer, and Otis the, um, Prisoner on their journey to Monkey Island. I won't give away the contents of Parts Three or Four — why spoil a good game?
The sword-fighting contest sticks in many gamers' minds as one of their favorite quests in any game. Basically, pirates don't just bring steel to steel while fighting with swords — they insult each other. In order to become a master swordsman, you need to learn a number of insults and the proper responses to them. A sword fight is won or lost depending on how well a pirate can insult and counterinsult. When challenging the Sword Master of Mêlée Island, you are faced with a new set of insults and responses on her part, but all (if you use your brain) correspond to responses and insults that you already know. This was expanded in the third Monkey Island game, wherein Guybrush learns that Caribbean pirates not only insult each other, but make their insults rhyme. Highlights include:
”I once owned a dog that was smarter than you.”
”He must have taught you everything you know.”
”I got this scar on my face during a mighty struggle.”
”I hope now you've learned to stop picking your nose.”
”I'm not going to take your insolence sitting down!”
”Your haemorrhoids are flaring up again, eh?”
And everybody's favorite: (this became a running joke in the series)
”You fight like a dairy farmer.”
”How appropriate. You fight like a cow.”
As you can already probably tell, the game is half jokes and half puzzles. And difficult puzzles they are. I won't give any away, because they won't translate well to this medium at all, but I will tell you that most people won't be able to run through a Monkey Island game in one go without cheating. You will hit a wall. You will get frustrated, and not play for a couple of days, and suddenly the answer will come to you. And it will be wrong. But you will be thinking the right way, and soon solve the puzzle anyway.
With one exception, you cannot lose at this game. You get stuck and not be able to figure out a puzzle no matter how you bang your head against it, but it will not kill you. However: Guybrush mentions at the beginning of the game whilst being interviewed by the Important Looking Pirates that he can hold his breath for ten minutes. Later in the game, he will be submerged underwater. Two clicks will bring him back to the surface. However, fail to click and Guybrush will slowly drown after ten minutes and a lot of frantic arm-waving and color-changing. The actions in the bottom pane will change to:
Decompose Order hint book
Because the game was developed and published by LucasArts, it makes constant references to other Lucas properties. A pirate in the Scumm Bar wears a button reading Ask Me about Loom; upon spotting a chalice in the voodoo lady's house, Guybrush quips, “Now, THIS is the cup of a carpenter;” the troll at the bridge is actually George Lucas wearing a mask, and so on.
The Secret of Monkey Island was followed by three sequels: LeChuck's Revenge, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Escape from Monkey Island. All are still being sold today. All are worth playing. In fact, as you progress through the series, the puzzles actually get harder, even if the humor doesn’t. (Many fans of the series say that Ron Gilbert’s departure after Monkey Island II has killed the series, and that the sequels are not as clever.)
If you want to play Monkey Island today, there are two ways to do so. The first is to buy and install it, and hope that it works with your system. And it probably will. But the far better way is to install ScummVM (available from http://www.scummvm.org), a virtual machine which can run many old LucasArts games made with SCUMM and other engines. ScummVM runs on just about any platform you can think of, including PDAs and the iPhone. The first three Monkey Island games will run within the engine, although the fourth was made with a new 3D engine, and cannot be run in ScummVM. The program is easy to set up and provides a lot of graphical and aural filtering and enhancement that the games need to feel great on today's monitors and sound systems.
Monkey Island's charm is inescapable. It doesn't matter how much or how little contact you have had with the genre, gaming in general, the developers, or anything else. The game is a product of love, and it shows constantly, in the humor, in the presentation, in the writing. Poking into the game's lore turns up story after story about how much effort people put into development and writing, about in-jokes, hidden secrets, and obtuse references. I challenge anybody to finish this game and not be glad they played it.
Monkey Island has had an enormous impact on gaming. There have been countless adventure games which have attempted to equal the humor, difficulty, and intuitivity of the interface that the Monkey Island games possess. Almost all have failed. Beyond that, basic conceptions about how to approach a genre game have been heavily influenced by Monkey Island — even Sid Meier's Pirates! features a hero who looks suspiciously like Guybrush. If you have not played the Monkey Island games, you have missed out, and should play them at your first available opportunity. You'll be a mighty pirate yet.
Grog may contain one or more of the following: