Tricks, Treats, and Feats: Old look vs. new style in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Earlier this year, I played The Secret of Monkey Island for the first time. Or, more specifically, I played its “Special Edition,” which featured revamped graphics, music, a voice track, and new hint system.  And what a perfectly splendid time I had. While I’ll admit that I didn’t connect with the game on the same level that I have with other LucasArts games (i.e. Sam & Max), it was still loads of fun. Little did I know at the time that the game held a little trick to invoke a few plaintive and nostalgic “awwwwws.”

While the trick is no big secret now, I stumbled upon it about midway through my playthrough when I accidentally hit the “back” button on my controller. With that, suddenly the game’s graphics changed from smooth to pixelated. Gone was the voice track, replaced by subtitles. And up popped an old-timey menu that was once ubiquitous in point-and-click games.

It was like 1990 (when the game was first released) all over again!

[Back in 2009 when the remaster of the game was first released, IGN offered up this comparison video.]

But, so what, right? So what if Disney/LucasArts offered up the “old” style of the game alongside the new version?

So everything!

Even though we live in a gaming world where people appreciate classic games alongside modern experiences, it’s easy to take older games for granted. Really, it’s no wonder with Microsoft’s and Sony’s recent push into high-high-HIGH resolution everything when it comes to games (Nintendo remains a blatant exploiter of its past). Sure, it’s fun to remember the past and play all those older games that you always wanted to, but surely nothing can compare to the realism, the quality, the stupefying beauty of high-definition, 4K graphics! NOTHING at all, as sure as the sun rises and sets, right?

This “you gotta put your behind in the past” mentality seems especially true with the recent remaster trend, when games old, and not so old, are amped up graphically, and sometime more so, like in the case of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition with its brand new voice track. Honestly, I didn’t know that the old game didn’t have one until I discovered the switching ability. With it, I became mildly addicted to switching back and forth during various scenes. I’d play the game for a few minutes in silence with big pixels and subtitles, and then I’d switch back to the new, pretty game without a hitch. Beyond being an enjoyable point-and-click game, it turned into a nutshell of the genre, showing how point-and-click games have evolved.

I use “evolve” lightly here because the strange truth behind the switch trick in The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition (and likely other similar games – I know it exists in Sam & Max Hit the Road) is that point-and-click games haven’t drastically changed. The controls and graphics have changed to meet current standards and console needs, but the basic mechanics of discovery haven’t. They still require players wrap their heads around different scenarios in order to progress. It’s the same whether you’re looking at the prettiest pixels the 1990s had on offer or the butter-smooth lines of the 2000s.

If anything, perhaps the real trick is that remakes and remasters make players feel as if they are participating in something new. I certainly felt the twinges of that upon starting The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. Switching to the games’ old graphics only added to the sense that the new version was something special, even if the only things “special” were that it looked better and was made accessible via a game controller. In the end, perhaps it only goes to show that our gaming pasts are not as “past” as we think.


  1. Imtiaz Ahmed says:

    The special edition was neat. It was the first time I played it and like you, I discovered it by accident I still played majority of the game with the voices and new graphics, but I certainly do appreciate them providing the option for the retro version.

    It’d be neat if all remakes could implore switching back and forth like this, but I can only imagine that it isn’t that simple for other games.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      It would be kind of neat with some games to be able to switch between old and new graphics in game. But yeah, there’s probably a lot more to it than what was involved with a simple (comparatively speaking) game like The Secret of Monkey Island. It’s a cool way to explore a game’s past, and I’m glad that the developers opted to give players that option here. I couldn’t imagine playing the whole game in silence and with subtitles, but so many folks did back in 1990. It’s interesting to see the game through their eyes.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Weird coincidence, I just finished this on PS3 two weeks ago! Like you, I liked switching back and forth between the different graphics. It garnered the remaster a lot of attention at the time, and I think it might have been one of, if not the first, game to pull off something like that seamlessly. I much preferred the old-school graphics for the most part, the only problem was I wanted to hear the voice acting! I grew up on the later Monkey Island games so I love Dominic Armato’s Guybrush voice. Even so, I found using the new-style interface on PS3 so clunky at times that I swapped just to use the old interface. I understand that the remaster of the second game fixed many of my issues with the first, so you can, for instance, play with the old graphics with the voice acting turned on. Sounds good to me!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. cary says:

      I found the old graphics to be really charming, as well. The game was still so pretty, and it was fun having to use the menu just like in the olden days. (Ha!) It stinks, though, that the “new” game’s interface on the PS3 was cruddy. I played on the PC using an Xbox 360 controller, and I thought the controls worked really well.

      Now, I’m pretty sure that I have the game’s sequel in my Steam library, so I know I’ll give it a go at some point. It would be pretty awesome to play with the old graphics on while hearing the voice track.

      As much as it felt like my love of LucasArts games once flourished, I only ever played Sam & Max and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. I’m glad I caught up some with The Secret of Monkey island, but I’ve got a long way to go!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. cary says:

    Reblogged this on Recollections of Play and commented:

    October ma be over, but I’ve got one more “Tricks, Treats, and Feats” post from Virtual Bastion to share! And this one might be my favorite. 🙂 Because The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition is very special indeed. Not only can you play the game in its beautifully-rendered and updated graphics, but you can also switch to play the game in its original, menu-based form. It’s an amazing trick that elevates the game in allowing players to experience the past and the present together.


Comments are closed.