Revisiting Monkey Island, from the three-headed monkeys to the final insult

Revisiting Monkey Island, from the three-headed monkeys to the final insult

Revisiting Monkey Island

Deep in the Caribbean, the island of Melee.

A seemingly ordinary phrase, but which for many brings back to a series of infinite memories, which echo like echoes along the bare corridors of a bygone youth. It would be useless to deny that, among the many video games released in the 90s, Lucasarts titles have always found a powerful niche of fans, although - perhaps - they are titles that have never imposed themselves on the "general public". This is certainly true for Italy, already in the previous decade, games like Maniac Mansion and Zak McKracken had found many ready to welcome them. Of course, one of the reasons was certainly the excellent average quality of the Lucasfilm / Lucasarts products, but is there more?

Considering how easy it is, even today, to find fans of the saga in our country, it would make us think how we were immediately ready to welcome with joy the adventures of ghost pirates, three-headed monkeys and rubber chickens with a pulley in the middle. Can we, peacefully, define an audience particularly linked to the "point and click" genre? It would seem so according to John Holder, he was president of Leader, one of the major video game publishers of the 90s. "The Italian public has always been made up of great fans, at least at the time there was no 'casual' market" comments Holder. "Games characterized by the components of adventure and with a story with strong humorous veins, were always received very well."

Yet, nostalgia for a saga like that of Monkey Island is not so easy to interpret for those who, perhaps, have never played any of the titles in question. What's so special about the adventures of Guybrush, LeChuck and Elaine? Trying to give an answer, it is a fantastic little universe created with care and passion by, at the time, young writers influenced by pirate stories and some playground experiences.

The originality and creativity that characterized the drawing of the characters and some of the puzzles are difficult to find in other titles, even in the adventures published in the same period. Indeed, for some of the fans they are rare qualities even in subsequent Lucasarts titles. So, the question arises: is it a series of equal value in all its parts or is there some monkey, sorry sheep, black?

The Secret of Monkey Island

The speech is complex, so I think it is worth starting from a peaceful affirmation: the first two titles of the series are considered essential by all fans. Maybe there are those who prefer the latter to the former or vice versa, but the fact that they were both supervised by the original creator, Ron Gilbert, makes everyone agree. In "The Secret of Monkey Island" we follow the story arc of the pirate apprentice Guybrush Threepwood, his encounter with the arch enemy LeChuck and falling in love with the daughter of the governor of Melee Island, Elaine Marley. In the second title, in fact, "LeChuck's Revenge" we find a mature Guybrush, as well as more arrogant and "rude". The same will clearly be a source of inspiration for as many point and click bad boys as Simon the Sorcerer.

In the games, the team capitalizes on what they have learned in previous adventures, with a significant design innovation: now onwards, in the Lucasarts adventures it will be impossible to die. Or rather, death will not be an event that will force the player to throw hours of play into the bucket. In fact, it is no coincidence that the very first title contains several digs at the Sierra Entertainment competitors, who will keep the idea of ​​death in graphic adventures well beyond the mid-90s. Sure, Guybrush can die if left underwater for more than ten minutes, but considering how - post mortem - buttons turn into "order hint book", the sarcastic intent is all too obvious. The iMUSE interactive music system will be another bow arrow, debuted in LeChuck's Revenge: a soundtrack that follows the player in every place, adapting and changing according to the situation and the tone of the scenes.

Monkey Island The first flaws in the series begin with the Revenge finale, where - spoiler alert - it seems that the entire plot was simply the dream of a kid lost at the carnival. Or not? Apparently, Gilbert's original idea was just that, already for the first title: it was then Tim Schafer who convinced him to change direction. The team then, at the last moment, undecided on how to conclude, decided to fish out that original idea for Secret of Monkey Island, leaving - intelligently - the door open for other sequels. On the other hand, Gilbert himself had left shortly before the end of the development of Revenge and the team had, somehow, to come up with something to put an end to it. As much as the theories are wasted on what the enigmatic ending really meant, which I personally have always adored, let us affirm another certainty: after Gilbert's exit from Lucasarts, fans start to divide.

The Curse of Monkey Island

The Curse of Monkey Island So we come to 1997 and the third title, The Curse of Monkey Island. In the third chapter, Guybrush inadvertently ends up making a marriage proposal with a cursed ring, turning his beautiful Elaine into a statue. The poor pirate will spend the entire game trying to lift the curse, only to end up trapped by LeChuck in a haunted amusement park. Guybrush goes back to being a bit of the naive and clumsy pirate of Secret, losing that arrogance and self-confidence of Revenge.

Made by two fans like Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley, he was certainly lavishly received, between the many The Games Machine rewarded him with 95 (incidentally, the same rating given to Revenge). In recent years, however, the status of a worthy following has been repeatedly questioned. In this regard, Larry Ahern himself commented that the growing market for nostalgic products had a probable influence, "certainly, having used a more comic style of graphics, we knew it would create divisions, but the hypothesis of continuing with in any case, the same graphics of the first two have never been taken into consideration. Even if Ron Gilbert had done that title, surely he too would have changed his style, after all five years had passed !. "

The Curse of Monkey Island In the finale, several elements will be uncovered about the infamous Big Whoop treasure, which was Guybrush's great goal in "Revenge". Ahern in this regard remembers trying to get in touch with Gilbert to get suggestions on what his ideas were about him, but never having received feedback. "I had the impression, perhaps wrong, that he himself had no idea where to lead the story after the second ..." concludes the designer. Considering what we know about the infamous Monkey Island 2 ending, Ahern's theory doesn't seem all that wrong.

Even worse fate fell to Monkey Island Escape, the latest title in the series developed by Lucasarts, in 2000. Here too, the reception, although generally positive at the time, did not lack criticism, especially aimed at a title that was too much aimed at seeking a new audience, even on consoles, without success. Yet the pedigree was all there, since it was developed by Michael Stemmle (among the designers of Sam & Max) and Sean Clark (The Dig), certainly not the latest arrivals. But the atmosphere in Lucas' company had changed completely, with the arrival of new managers who seemed - from the tales of the few survivors - only interested in creating products that they sold, rather than continuing the sagas successfully, respecting the fans who they were waiting for a new chapter.

Escape from Monkey Island It is no coincidence that Escape was commissioned because "the company had decided so", remembers Stemmle, as long as it was done exclusively in 3D. Perhaps it is no coincidence that the entire plot of the game seems to be particularly keen to criticize the "commercialization" of a product. The sincere and spontaneous essence of a work is commodified in order to create fast food chains and Z series products. Fuga, in fact, almost seems like the Saint Augustine of the Monkey Island saga, from the very first minute. The verdict of many on Fuga, however, is unanimous: it is not a chapter up to the previous ones and the 3D graphics have always dissatisfied everyone.

Returning for a moment to our relationship with Lucasarts products, the versions nostrane of the saga - until 2000 - were curated by the C.T.O. of Bologna, with the dubbing entrusted to Studio Florian. In general, both the Curse and the Fugue have received rather careful adaptations, also due to the great attention that Lucasarts herself paid to their products on the international side. Precisely for this reason it is difficult to explain how a very funny moment of "Curse" was mercilessly cut off in all European versions. At one point, Guybrush's crew starts singing a song, "A Pirate I Was Meant to Be", from which the poor pirate can only escape by finding a word that is impossible to rhyme. A very funny moment, unfortunately lost by us, despite the fact that the C.T.O., according to the translator Gabriele Vegetti, had a demo of the song ready. Larry Ahern confirms he does not know anything, the decision to cancel the song did not come from the designers, it was probably a (very bad) choice of the internal localization team.

On Fuga, there is a curiosity which often caused discussion: a - actually rare in the videogame panorama - vocal rotation for the protagonist. While in the original dubbing, Guybrush always remained entrusted to the good Dominic Armato, in Italian the voice, from Curse to Fugue, passed from Giuseppe Calvetti to Massimo Antonio Rossi. The Bolognese voice actor laughs when I remind him of this little diatribe and comments "in reality there was no mystery, Lucasarts simply requested new auditions and, among many others, he chose me. We talked about it often with his friend Calvetti. we laughed about how some journalists almost made a mysterious plot out of it ...! ". Unfortunately, our voice actors will not return to the final title, for now, of the saga.

In 2009, in fact, a new chapter arrives, Tales Of Monkey Island, edited by Telltale Games which, as usual, came out in format episodic. Again with Michael Stemmle in charge and the cooler Mark Darin, the series always uses 3D graphics, this time in real time. Unfortunately, the graphics have suffered a little from the need to adapt to different platforms, but the character design is somewhat traditional. It is certainly a more mature chapter of the past, without too many plot changes or characters from the past.

Fans are divided on how much to think of Tales, but, in general, as much as we recognize the identity of the series, we will rarely find anyone engaged in philosophical discussions about how "canon" the events narrated are. Including a fairly cryptic epilogue. For many it remains little more than a good divertissement, awaiting the return of Gilbert who, in fact, did not wait that long (less than 15 years at least ...). As anticipated, Tales was the first product of the series not to be dubbed in Italian, but simply adapted with subtitles. The same fate will probably also befall Return. The reasons are various but, first of all, it should be emphasized that the Tales budget has been much lower than in the past chapters and the cost of a full dubbing of a game is such that, by now, it is reserved only for titles AAA.

Tales of Monkey Island With the recent announcement of the first title in the saga directed by Ron Gilbert after more than thirty years, expectations are high. In short, just think that many, upon hearing the news, seem to have shed copious tears. Whatever the reaction of the fans will be when they finally play Return, we can bet that he will never be able to satisfy everyone. Return will be correctly judged, too, compared to other adventures which, as easy as it is to think, are certainly not a dead genre. Quite the contrary, they are in excellent health, as so many Wadjet Eye titles have shown. On the other hand, the emotion that is still felt by playing the originals is, for each of us, exquisitely personal: an intimate relationship that binds us to the story of pirates with dubious morals, monkeys and sellers of used ships. A nostalgic relationship that would seem more linked to the years we were living than to the Monkey Island product itself. Thinking that you can feel the same emotions today could be too much of an expectation. Still, we are here. After a quick refresher, we are ready to return to Melee Island.

Deep in the Caribbean.

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