Game review: Return to Monkey Island (PC)
The creator of the classic Monkey Island games, the legendary Ron Gilbert, returns to the franchise with the aptly named Return to Monkey Island. Will Guybrush Threepwood finally get to uncover the island’s secret in this new installment?
Back in the early 90s, The Secret of Monkey Island was an eye-opener for me on the Commodore Amiga. The pixelized art and cinematic presentation were ahead of their time. It was unlike any game I’d seen before. The catchy music and witty dialogue sucked me in as I followed Guybrush Threepwood on his adventures. The sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge continued Guybrush’s adventures with the same pixelated graphical style and humour.
Since then, I’ve played various iterations of the two original games as they’ve been remastered and reissued over the years. I also picked up the sequels: The Curse of Monkey Island (1997), Escape from Monkey Island (2000), as well as Telltale’s episodic Tales of Monkey Island (2009).
The original games’ co-creator, Ron Gilbert, departed from Lucasarts after LeChuck's Revenge. The subsequent games, whilst doing a pretty good job of capturing the humour of their successors, were still left somewhat lacking.
Over the years there have been many attempts to do what Ron Gilbert did with Monkey Island, the closest being Gilbert’s Own Thimbleweed Park. After all these years, is Return to Monkey Island a worthy successor to the classic adventure games series?
The first thing that I noticed when firing up the new game was the art style. It’s an acquired taste. This drastic change is also noted within the game’s self-referencing dialogue. The original games' visuals were just pixels (as was the norm in those days) and Gilbert used this same retro look for Thimbleweed Park. Return to Monkey Island really needed a unique art style to separate it from the later Monkey Island games and the remastered originals. I must admit the game’s presentation did grow on me.
The game has an older Guybrush Threepwood recalling his quest for the secret of Monkey Island to a young lad, the story starting on a very familiar Melee Island. Once again, the hapless pirate must thwart the ghost pirate LeChuck and get himself to Monkey Island.
Despite the different art style, Return to Monkey Island is still a point-and-click adventure, the same as the original games. Items are collected, combined, and used, the same as in The Secret of Monkey Island.
The context-driven character conversions provide clues that allow Guybrush to continue his quest. Much of the dialogue is irreverent to the point of silly. But this is very much in keeping with the charm and humour of the original games. Expect bizarre discussions, insults, and pirate banter, from some of the most peculiar characters you have ever seen in a video game, many of which are making their return to the franchise.
The game is incredibly self-aware with fan service paid in a very tongue-in-cheek manner. If you are familiar with the games, expect to see many familiar characters and references back to the first two games. Don’t forget to stop by the Scumm Bar and ask about Loom.
The retro point-and-click gameplay will be a novelty for newcomers and nostalgic for old hands. It still works a treat, delivering a challenge that rewards players with an engaging story.
When stuck on a puzzle there is a hint book that can give out cryptic and, if pressed, direct hints to keep the game moving. Old timers that remember hitting the wall in the original games (pre-Internet), will likely appreciate this addition and wish that there was something similar back in the day.
Return to Monkey Island retains the charm and wit of both The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2, whilst still feeling fresh and new. The art style may be off-putting at first, but it really suits the game and is something that you get used to. It's great to revisit old characters and enjoy some pirate humour. It’s a fun game with an engaging story and some fiendish puzzles (the difficulty of which can be adjusted).
Fans of the original Monkey Island games and Mr. Gilbert’s other LucasArts adventure games should rush out and grab Return to Monkey Island. Fans of pirates, adventure games, and quirky self-referencing humour should also enjoy the game.