"You'll laugh so hard, milk will come out of your nose."
After the well-deserved critical and commercial success of 1990's The Secret of Monkey Island, Ron Gilbert and his team at LucasArts developed a sequel that was to go down in history as one of the best adventure games ever made. It realised the company's potential for making games with a strong cinematic flavour (to be taken further with the following year's Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis), telling a coherent, well-thought-out story yet at no point compromised the flow of the gameplay. And all this several years before the industry was swamped with crappy, (non-)Interactive Movies with the advent of CD-ROM.
The story picks up a few months from the ending of the previous game (the ambiguity of what has come to pass after the credits rolled in MI1 intriguing Monkey fans while neatly avoiding a dependency on old material for first time players). The protagonist, Guybrush Threepwood, has found riches and grown some sparse facial hair. He's on the trail of a legendary treasure called Big Whoop. Soon he learns that his nemesis, the Ghost Pirate Le Chuck, has returned from the grave (literally) and is after the treasure himself.
The action takes place on several islands, each one dotted with beautifully hand-painted locations. The game is a bit darker in its humour than the original with voodoo, spitting and rats being prominent themes. Stan the salesman, Elaine Marley, the men of low moral fibre, Herman Toothrot and the Voodoo Lady make a return from the first game (as well as certain others).
The game is divided into four acts. The first is an introductory section that restricts you to one island (Scabb Island), the second provides the meat of the game, being a non-linear, four-part quest set over three islands (as well as some other locations), the third taking you to LeChuck's Fortress, and the fourth ... well, leading up to the X that marks the spot.
The ending is often discussed by fans, as it is something of a 'twist' to say the least. It is unfortunate that Ron Gilbert did not stay at LucasArts (or obtain the license) to continue the series, as it is known that he had written at least part of the story for a third game (which was not available to the developers of the third and fourth games in the series).
Technology-wise, they really pulled out the stops by 1991 standards. 256-colour VGA graphics, iMuse adaptive music, and a more polished version of the SCUMM system (now with an iconic inventory) which is put to dozens of imaginative uses (such as a card catalogue in the library). Maybe one day LucasArts will produce a talkie version of this and the first game, possibly reinstating some of the scenes that were cut from the design to fit the game on six floppy disks. But, even as it stands, it has aged remarkably well.
The game is extremely difficult, even for the veteran adventure gamer. However, unlike the fourth game in the series, the puzzles are always logical. The main problem is that at some points in the game you have dozens of inventory items, which, coupled with the very extensive number of "hot-spots" in some locations, can lead to a lot of unsuccessful experimentation. These criticisms could be leveled at almost any large adventure game though. Thankfully, the huge amount of things to do, see, and people to talk to (with fantastic dialogue, of course) keep the game interesting, even if you seem to be hopelessly stuck.
Monkey Island 2 is one of the truly great adventure games. It is also one of the few that is as enjoyable to replay just to watch the great story as it is to solve the puzzles. I can't recommend it enough. A small warning though : don't resort to the "easy mode"... it's far too easy. There was supposed to be a medium difficulty level but it was one of the cuts made to squeeze it onto those tiny, little floppies.
Other Monkey Island Games