I love Lucasarts' graphic adventures. I played them all back in the '90s: Indy, Day of the Tentacle, and my favourite: Monkey Island. But even putting personal taste aside, Monkey Island 2 defines what smart, awesome iPad gaming should be.
Lucasarts' graphic adventures are legendary. The humour, the graphics, the animation, the puzzles... whoever plays them falls in love with the art, the dialogue, the characters, the music and everything else. The Monkey Island series are considered to be the epitome of the genre. It tells the story of one of the best game anti-heroes ever: Guybrush Threepwood. His objective in the first game is to become a pirate and find the Secret of Monkey Island. He doesn't find it, but lots of things happen instead. In Monkey Island 2, he is on to find the biggest treasure in the Caribbean: Big Whoop. Instead, he will find one of the best endings I can remember in any game.
New art and music
The Monkey Island 2 Special Edition team did an amazing job, from top to bottom. While the first had some problems with the user interface (more on this later), this one is pure joy to play. Sure they missed out the opening title scene - which I loved in the original - but the rest is a flawless rendition of a classic. The art, the music, the animation, the extra content, the attention to detail... everything in its production feels like a real game. I wish all iPad games had this quality.
Like Monkey Island Special Edition for iPhone, MI2 also has two modes. You can play in classic mode - which is an exact reproduction of the old game - or in the new special edition mode, set by default. To change between modes you only have to swipe two fingers across the screen.
The special edition mode Monkey Island 2 is much better and detailed than Monkey Island 1, thanks to the higher resolution available in the iPad. It captures all the charm and rich colour of the original game, with every single detail of every scene. The animation is great too. Instead of using sprites for the characters, the game seems to implement a new 2D animation engine that reminds me of puppetry. The effect is great.
The game also maintains the iMuse, an interactive music system that mixes tracks dynamically to fade between soundtrack themes. In the special edition, the quality of the samples and the music is great. The voice work is really good too, and you can use it on the classic mode as well.
The first time I saw an iPhone, I instantly wanted Lucasarts to re-release all their classics for it: These games were made for touch control. Sadly, the first Monkey Island 1 for iPhone didn't implement direct touch control. It required you to drag the cursor on the screen - just like you would do with the mouse on the PC, Mac or Amiga - and then use commands which were displayed in a window. As a result, it took some time to get used to the awkward control scheme, detracting from the overall experience.
In Monkey Island 2, however, the touch interface is perfect. You just have to use it like you would use any iPad application. Touch the screen where you want Guybrush to go, and he will go there. If something can be picked or used, just double click and the action will happen. It's natural and a true joy to use.
The game also helps you to identify the objects you can use, pick (steal, really) or inspect: By tapping once with your two fingers, they will light up on the screen briefly:
The extra cool stuff
The game also comes with a hidden treasure of its own: audio commentary. Some would not care about it, but those who played the original games would love to hear legendary Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman - the designers of the game - talking about many of the scenes, telling anecdotes and going into completely random ramblings.
They even take a dig at Sierra's graphic adventures (and anyone who has played King Quest would know why):
The audio commentary feature is perfectly implemented, and can be activated at any time by clicking on the top right corner microphone icon. I only wish there was more of it.
The game also has some hidden Easter Eggs. One example that is not exactly hidden, since it was in plain view in the original game: In the last part of the game - in the island where Big Whoop is hidden - you will find a phone on a palm tree. It connects you to Lucasarts' hint line (back in the beginning of the '90s, with the web still in its infancy, hint lines were big for companies like Lucasarts). In the special edition, you get to talk to some random guy, but in the classic you get to talk with another legendary member of Lucararts: Tabitha Tosti. Back in the time, Tabitha used to be in charge of customer support and ran Compuserve's Lucasarts forum - God only knows how many times we exchanged messages back then, chatting about Monkey Island, Indiana Jones, SWOTL, X-Wing and TIE Fighter.
A must play
Monkey Island 2 Special Edition is $13, but it's absolutely worth every single cent. For people new to the game, the price is well justified with hours of joyful gameplay. It is actually inexpensive. For people who have already played it - and for old farts like me, who have played it a dozen times - it's even more inexpensive: In addition to the awesome new art, music and user interface, it has the extra charm of nostalgia.
Go get it. It's the best, smarter and funniest gaming you will find on the iPad today.