What was so special about Monkey Island 2?

Well, if you haven’t heard the news already, LucasArts are releasing a special edition remastered version of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Originally released in 1991, it is regarded by many fans as the greatest of the Monkey Island games, and perhaps even one of the best video games ever made. But what was so special about this classic game? I’ve done a lot of thinking about this question as I’ve worked on my own Point & Click adventure game, and here are my thoughts.


Building on a Strong Foundation

In many ways, LeChuck’s Revenge is the big-budget elder brother of the original Secret of Monkey Island (see my analysis of that here). Whether it’s the artwork, the music, the scope of the story, the intrigue – LeChuck’s Revenge takes everything that’s great about the original and pushes it to another level, made possible by the extra resources and the advance of computer technology. Where SoMI was charming in its simplicity, MI2 is a true epic, reaching the dizzy heights of storytelling that show a development team on top of their game.

A Feast for the Senses

Initially I had intended to comment separately on the different aspects of the game: its stunningly beautiful background images, its intricately woven musical score, its razor-sharp script. But the truth is that you can’t separate one from another – they all work together perfectly to create one of the most atmospheric experiences of my childhood. It’s a feast for the senses, and it rocks!

Much of this was enabled by the technological advances going on. The increased resolution and colour depth, combined with the advent of scanners, meant that Peter Chan and Steve Purcell were able to hand-draw and colour their backgrounds before scanning them in, making them look absolutely gorgeous. Michael Land and Peter McConnell were able to use spare processor cycles to develop their cutting-edge iMUSE technology to power the music: it is this that makes the seamless musical transitions possible, synchronising the score with the action as it takes place.


As an example of how it all works together, take one of the scariest moments from the game: when you first enter the swamp on Scabb Island to visit the Voodoo Lady. Standing on the river bank, you just get the eerie chords of a hammond organ. As you step inside a make-shift boat fashioned from an old coffin, a simple drum beat is added in. Then as you sail your way deeper into the swamp, you begin to hear the haunting bass line. And so it continues to build as you enter the Voodoo Lady’s house – combined with the background art it works to create what is perhaps one of the most atmospheric experiences gamers had ever known at the time.

Mystery and Intrigue

I believe it was one of the Monkey Island developers who said that people love questions more than they enjoy hearing the answers. LeChuck’s Revenge pushed this philosophy to the extreme – it is full of mystery and intrigue that still has people discussing it today. It is full of clues as to a deeper truth regarding Guybrush’s identity and family history, yet it never provides a clear answer. Done badly, this would just be frustrating, but Monkey Island somehow manages to pull it off in a way that leaves you clamouring for more.

The key to this is the sense of depth to the game. There is more to these characters and the world they inhabit than simply meets the eye – you get the distinct impression that these are real people with a real history. Somehow they exist beyond the brief window into their lives that we’re given during the events of the game itself. I guess that this is why people find the conspiracy theory that suggests the whole game takes place in Guybrush’s imagination so deeply unsatisfying.

The Special Edition

So what does all this mean for the new Special Edition, due out this summer? Fans all over the net seem to be rejoicing that the art style of the original backgrounds appear to have been kept, whilst being updated to be nice and shiny and high-res. There is some concern that updating the music to feature a full orchestral score will allow the magic of iMuse to continue to function – but personally I’m cautiously optimistic on this front. I long to hear some of those classic tunes in all their digital glory! And perhaps the addition of developer commentaries from the likes of Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer will finally offer some closure to that greatest of all mysteries: what IS the Secret of Monkey Island?

Roll on the summer!

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