I used to, in a prior century, be an absolute fiend for adventure games. I loved Infocom more than anything. I would spend three or four months trying to solve a game like, say, Zork II, going at it again and again, trying absolutely every little thing, so that I could have the joy and satisfaction of solving it without degrading myself by getting a hint. Months.
Wow. I was a dope.
It hurts me deeply to say it. But. Is there a genre of computer game that suffered a faster, harsher, and more deserved downfall than the adventure game, with its obscure, illogical puzzles and its total lack of hesitation about stopping you stone cold because you didn't notice some 2x2 pixel detail on the screen?
I don't want to spend too much time kicking a genre when it's down. It has already been taken to pieces better than I ever could here and here.
But adventure games are not dead. Now the flame is kept alive almost solely by Telltale Games, makers of the Sam & Max, Wallace & Gromit, Tales of Monkey Island games, not to mention Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People. Good for them. It's a lonely vigil. (By the way, I've played Seasons One and Two of Sam & Max. Good games. Lots of fun, as long as you grab a hint any time you're stuck for more than fifteen minutes.)
Although my feeble old brain lacks the patience to bang away at adventure games like I used to, I do get the occasional nostalgic urge to play one for old times sake. And since The Secret Of Monkey Island is a classic which I managed to avoid playing, I jumped at the chance to play the Special Edition on XBox Live.
My review: If you hold down the 'X' button for a few seconds, the game gives you a hint. Do this every time you're stuck for more than fifteen minutes, and you'll have a fantastic time.
Longer version: It's extremely funny. It comes with an awesome feature where you can press a button to toggle between the original version of the game and the new spiffy version, which never stops being cool. Some of the puzzles are really ingenious. And, if you go too long without pressing 'X', it will remind you of everything that was horrible about adventure games.
An Example. (Warning! I am about to reveal the answer to a puzzle!)
So there's a fish on a dock. There is a seagull next to it. You need the fish, but you are afraid that, if you reach for it, the seagull will peck you. So you have to scare the seagull away.
This seems like it should be easy. You see, at this point in the game, you are carrying around a shovel and a sword. And I personally may be no pirate hero, but I assure you that I could use either of those items to scare away a seagull. Because, you know. Sword.
But that isn't the answer. You see, the board the seagull is standing on is loose. Note that there is no visual cue that the board is different from any other board. You need to walk around the dock until you hit the sweet spot and lift the board and knock the seagull away. Of course. The puzzle is solved by wandering around randomly. And hoping you step on the correct spot.
Getting stuck and needing to beg for help on something like this makes me feel angry and stupid. In any game, any bottleneck along the lines of "Be clever or be stuck here forever." is iffy design, at best. So now I mainly play games where the puzzle is how to get past the monster at the end of the hall and the only thing I have in my inventory is a big, big gun.
How Smart I Am ...
I needed about six hints to finish the game. Usually the hint just drew my attention to the door or little screen speck I missed. Playing the game in my TV instead of a monitor and moving the cursor around with a joystick instead of the mouse only makes it harder to find that vitally important hotspot that's about the size of an ant's booger. So be warned. You're gonna spend a lot of time staring.
But I shouldn't let this just be some big rant about adventure games. Monkey Island is really funny, most of the puzzles are neat, and it's a chance to sample gaming history.
But if you stop having fun, even for a moment, lean on that 'X' button and don't be ashamed. Every adventure game should have that feature. What do the developers care if I finish the game quickly? They already have my money!