There’s no bigger name in the point-and-click adventure genre than Monkey Island. It’s a series that has sustained relevance and inspired countless adventure titles over its more than 30-year existence (32 years to be exact), despite only releasing one new entry between the 2000 release of Escape from Monkey Island and the beginning of this year. As someone who grew up playing the Monkey Island games, it’s a series that has been with me for a long time, and although I had long given up on seeing Guybrush Threepwood go on another adventure, I always hoped that one day he would…return. So when Return to Monkey Island was announced earlier this year with series creators Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman at the helm the excitement was sky high. But after so long between adventures, there’s always the worry that the glory days are in the past. Thankfully Return to Monkey Island is the game that fans have been waiting years for.
Guybrush Threewood returns after a long layoff
If you’ve never played any Monkey Island game or need a refresher, there’s a delightful scrapbook that can be viewed before starting your journey which will smartly explain some of the key moments from the series and give context to events that are about to unfold.
Return to Monkey Island is largely set after the events of the second game, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, and sees our loveable larrikin pirate Guybrush Threepwood, now older, on the hunt for the secret of Monkey Island. Naturally, Threepwood’s nemesis, the ghost pirate LeChuck, has the same idea, thus beginning a race between the two rivals to discover the secret first, and it’s as silly and goofy as you’d expect.
However, there’s a slight problem for Guybrush as he arrives on Melee Island at the start of his journey – LeChuck has a ship and a crew, and is on the verge of departure, while Threepwood has neither and Melee Island has changed a lot since his last visit. Some businesses have boomed while others have gone bust, and the city has seen a changing of the guard in more ways than one.
Gilbert and Grossman haven’t taken the games and lore that came after their departure and shackled and sunk them to the bottom of the ocean. Instead, the pair have embraced parts of the series’ canon, with characters and events from those games present and referenced throughout.
When booting up Return to Monkey Island you’ll be asked to choose between Casual Mode and Hard Mode. Casual Mode allows players who want to experience the story but with less challenging puzzles, while Hard Mode is the authentic Monkey Island experience.
LeChuck and his cronies are also chasing after the secret
If you were expecting some form of revolutionary point-and-click experience given the length between releases you’re going to be disappointed. This is as point-and-click as any adventure game can be and features all the hallmarks of a Monkey Island title. In saying that, this isn’t a game ripped from the 90s, instead like most modern point-and-click adventures, it’s refined areas of the original formula that would have felt dated by today’s standards.
Moving Guybrush through the locations feels modern thanks to a simplified user interface. Guybrush has access to an inventory where he can use items he’s acquired on characters or objects in the world, and interacting with the world just feels easier thanks to the two options available to Threepwood, which are essentially examine and interact.
The Monkey Island games have always had very clever and witty writing, and Gilbert and Grossman haven’t missed a beat here. There are a ton of throwbacks to earlier games, silly jokes that mostly land, and the dialogue is excellent thanks to the fantastic voice acting. Perhaps the only knock on the story is that the ending may not satisfy everyone, and if I am being honest, I’m still not sure where I sit on it.
The art style is simply fantastic
As expected, puzzles are at the forefront of the story’s progression, and unsurprisingly they vary between simple and brain-busting. Some may be as easy as finding an item or gleaning some information, while others may require more busywork and backtracking. Most puzzles do have some logic to them, so you often know what you need to do, it’s more of how do you do it. There are a couple however that push the boundaries difficulty-wise and will have you trying every combination of items to solve it. Like most adventure games, puzzles that are hard for the sake of being hard can often slow momentum right down and ultimately hinder a player’s enjoyment.
Thankfully there is a hint book, and it’s an addition that will likely see some adventure game elitists sticking their noses up, but its implementation is fantastic, giving subtle hints based on your progress and items you’ve acquired. If you’re really stuck you can ask for the solution, but the game does its best to make you figure it out for yourself.
Easily the most contentious aspect of Return to Monkey Island is the art style, but I have to admit I am a huge fan of the game’s visuals. It’s a style that looks like digital marionettes and honesty it fits perfectly with the style and tone of the game. It’s fun, colourful and light-hearted, just like the series and anyone filthy that the game didn’t use the original pixel art style needs to just get over it. I’ll take Return’s gorgeous art style over the pixel art style any day of the week.
Guybrush’s search for the secret will take him to many islands
Monkey Island is an institution of the point-and-click adventure genre, and while the genre may have evolved since the first two games graced computers more than 30 years ago, Terrible Toybox has managed to capture the magic and charm of the originals while painting it with a more modern (Guy)brush. Very few IPs could have a lifespan this long and still put out quality experiences, but it just shows that Monkey Island is a timeless series, and Return to Monkey Island is proof that traditional adventure games are still just as captivating today as they were in the 90s.
Reviewed on PC // Review code supplied by publisher
- Terrible Toybox
- Devolver Digital
- Switch / PC
- September 19, 2022