"His voice betrayed a craving for terrible things." -- Don DeLillo

Send all adoration/vitriol to marc@shadowbloom.com

July 13, 2009

"I'm selling these fine leather jackets." -- OR -- "Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!"

It's quite a momentous time to be an old-school gamer. Back when DOS prompts and adventure games dominated the interactive landscape, there were two companies that stood above all the rest: LucasArts (aka Lucasfilm Games) and Sierra. The myriad series pumped out by these two developers in the late 80's/early 90's read like an Adventure Game Hall of Fame. There were three games in particular, though, that had an enormous influence on my young gamer mind and continued pushing me along the path to becoming the obsessed gamer I am today:

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure (1989, Lucasfilm Games)
Quest for Glory I: So You Want to Be a Hero (1989, Sierra)
The Secret of Monkey Island (1990, Lucasfilm Games)

Twenty years later, I can still recite pages of dialogue and the solutions to numerous puzzles. To pat myself on the back and show my nerd street cred, I'll point out a few pieces of my treasured memorabilia from these games, including the full Grail Diary that came with the first versions of Indy, the original box for Hero's Quest (before a copyright fight with the board game (which I also owned) necessitated changing the name to Quest for Glory), and an old 5 1/4" floppy with a demo of Monkey Island.

While adventure games died a slow death during the 90's as flashy 3-D graphics and high-octane gameplay pushed aside the more stately-paced, thoughtful genre, happy times are here again! Just last week, LucasArts released their first batch of classic games on Steam, including both Indiana Jones adventures (Last Crusade and Fate of Atlantis), Loom, and The Dig (a long-delayed, uber-hyped sci-fi collaboration with Steven Spielberg). That alone would be enough to set my gaming heart aflutter, but at the same time, after nearly a ten year absence, the Monkey Island series returned with a new episodic release from adventure mavens Telltale Games (who already brought my boys Sam & Max back a couple years ago). Let me channel my inner infomercial announcer by adding, "But wait, there's more!!!" This week brings the release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, featuring updated graphics, full voiceover work, and even a retro mode that lets you switch to the original 256-color graphics on the fly. I'm getting teary-eyed just thinking about it all...

For those of you who haven't experienced their glory, there's never been a more opportune time to see what all the fuss is about. While Monkey Island and Quest for Glory are well-established classics, I'd like to raise a glass for Last Crusade. I've long felt it was one of the most underappreciated of the old SCUMM adventures and I'm delighted that it's being given the proper respect today with its new release. Simply put, it's one of the best movie-to-game adaptations ever made. Filled with tons of wit, humor, and challenging puzzles (my 8-year-old self definitely needed the hint book and you will too), it impressively expands upon the movie (including an epic trek through Castle Brunwald) and never once does a disservice to the film. While the still-developing SCUMM engine creaks a bit now, the VGA graphics look terrific and seemingly every scene is packed with little in-jokes (check out the Sam & Max statue in Indy's office). In a then-radical innovation, the game even features multiple ways to clear many of the puzzles. Need a ticket on the zeppelin? Feel free to steal it from a fellow traveler, trick him into giving it to you, or just go buy your own. Need to get past the big bruiser in the castle? You can get your ass kicked in a fair fight or get him sloshed on grog first. While most people focus on 1992's Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (a great game in its own right), for my money it doesn't get any better than following Indy on the quest for the grail. A measly $5 gets you hours of classic gaming. If you've ever had any affinity for the point-and-click adventure days, you owe it to yourself to hop on Steam and pick this one up now.

There's plenty of Monkey Island love on the web already, but I'd be remiss if I didn't offer my share. No exaggeration, it's arguably the single funniest game ever made (and certainly the funniest series). Even my Mom still vividly remembers the wacky puzzles (such as finding a helmet before getting shot out of a cannon). The interface, having been fine-tuned after each earlier Lucas release, reaches just the right level of simplicity and elegance. There are so many iconic moments that it's hard to choose even a few, from the infamous forest stump easter egg ("Insert disk #114") to the thoroughly bizarre unseen battle with Fester Shinetop in the mansion walls ("Use staple remover on tremendous dangerous-looking yak"). The dialogue trees alone are so entertaining that you'll keep restarting conversations just to get the rest of the jokes, something that's never clearer than in the glorious insult swordfighting. Just a few treasures:

"I got this scar on my face during a mighty struggle!"
"I hope now you've learned to stop picking your nose."

"I've spoken with apes more polite then you."
"I'm glad to hear you attended your family reunion."

I could go on and on, but just pick up the Special Edition when it hits Steam and Xbox Live Arcade this week. You'll thank me later.

As for the new episodic entry in the series, I'm only a few hours into the first chapter, Launch of the Screaming Narwhal, but it definitely does justice to the hallowed name. Just wait for the goosebumps once that familiar theme song starts...

I'll save my Quest for Glory toast for the next inevitable re-release, but I'll leave you with one word: "schwertfisch" (wink, wink, nudge, nudge).

See ya next time...