Return to Monkey Island is everything fans could have wished for and more
- Developer: Ron Gilbert, Terrible Toybox
- Publisher: Devolver Digital
- Release date: 19th September 2022
- Genre: Point and Click Adventure, Puzzle
- Platforms: Window PC (Steam), Nintendo Switch, MacOS
- Reviewed on: PC (Steam)
- Game Supplied by: Publisher
Return to Monkey Island Review
If you were around when the original Monkey Island games were released and have fond memories of playing those games, this review is easy. Check out the new aesthetic, and if you don’t mind Guybrush Threepwood’s new makeover (it has proved somewhat divisive with fans), I’m going to go ahead and say you’ll love this long-overdue return to Monkey Island.
For anyone new to the series, Guybrush Threepwood is the series’ protagonist – a witty, ambitious but unassuming pirate, and even more unlikely hero. Along with his arch nemesis, the zombie pirate captain LeChuck, and his ghastly crew, you are on a quest to discover the Secret of Monkey Island (yes, several games in and Guybrush is still none the wiser). Our journey takes us to Melee Island, which has taken a turn for the worse under new management. Many of the original residents remain, but they haven’t forgotten about our intrepid hero – a fact they’ll hilariously remind you of. Guybrush and LeChuck aren’t the only ones seeking The Secret, however, and our island-hopping tale features double-crosses aplenty, and boatloads of piratey adventure – Arrrr!
There’s a lot of self-referential humour in Return to Monkey Island, but it’s cleverly handled in such a way that even if you never played or don’t remember the original games, it still lets you in on the joke. I’m somewhat biased in this opinion, as I’ve played the originals as well as the Xbox 360 re-releases, so I can’t confidently assert newcomers will enjoy these games to the same degree. For fans, however, this game is everything you could wish for, and if anything, it made me want to play the original games yet again.
Quirky and humorous conversations make up the bulk of the point-and-click gameplay, with witty banter and cunning ripostes the order of the day. You’ll not only need to listen to every conversation but also pay close attention, as there are often clues to puzzles hidden in the most unlikely of dialogue. Explore every dialogue tree to its fullest, as it is brilliantly well written. Also, just because a conversation has seemingly ended, that doesn’t mean that’s it, as re-engaging with people can often give you additional dialogue. I missed this a couple of times and had to backtrack to speak to people again, but it’s a lesson I quickly learned. (A quick rule of thumb – keep asking questions until you start to get the same answer.)
Outside of talking to the wide variety of characters, old and new, you’ll need to scour each area for clues and collectable items to use and/or combine to solve the numerous puzzles. What may seem like a random item, a throw-away piece of dialogue or an unrelated poster on a wall could be a crucial clue in solving a puzzle.
The puzzles are excellent, but if anything, I found them a little easier than I remember from the original games. My brain is now pre-programmed to think outside the box when it comes to Monkey Island, but there has clearly been a concerted effort from the developers to keep the pace up. Multiple puzzles are active at any one time, and the story doesn’t rely on you solving one singular puzzle to make progress. In the previous games, I remember coming up against a metaphoric wall a lot of the time. I’d find myself desperately trying to combine every item I had found, having to backtrack and talk to characters again or re-exploring areas until I finally worked out some convoluted puzzle; Return to Monkey Island is far better paced, and I never felt like I was stuck or frustrated.
Return to Monkey Island is a very intuitive game to play, and Ron Gilbert and the team have added some excellent quality-of-life features to make this a very accessible adventure. Holding Tab will highlight all of the interactive elements on the screen, which is a huge help when searching for trivia card collectables or in case you’ve missed a (not so) obvious clue. Another welcome addition is the double-click sprint feature, which lets you move around the screen much faster than Guybrush’s sometimes laborious pace.
The inventory is very simple to use – you can click on an item and hover over other items to see if they can be combined, or drag them onto the main screen and hover to see if they can be used in the current scene. This, along with context-sensitive interactions and a simple reactive dialogue tree make this an incredibly relaxing game to play. If you bind the inventory, map and Tab keys to your mouse, you can sit back in your chair and point and click to your heart’s content.
The biggest addition, however, is a hints book located in the inventory that gives you stepped levels of clues to solve your current puzzle. They begin as cryptic hints, but if that doesn’t help, each layer becomes more forthcoming until it basically just tells you exactly what to do. If you’re the kind of gamer that keeps a walkthrough at hand in case you get stuck, this serves the same purpose but without drawing you out of the game to do so.
Although I’m sure there are people for whom the hints book that is ever-present in your inventory will be a handy crutch, and no doubt some will prefer the easy mode, with less complex puzzles to solve, but the Monkey Island games, in my opinion, are so good because of the often abstract solutions to the puzzles. The hints can be handy if you’ve left it for a few days and have forgotten what you’re supposed to do next, but it’s far more satisfying when you get that ‘Eureka!’ moment and things click into place.
Graphically, Return to Monkey Island is a huge jump up from the pixellated screens of the originals, which relied on a healthy imagination to fill in the gaps in the landscape. It’s a world packed full of sublime detail, with subtle animations interspersed with the stills that keep the world from feeling flat and lifeless. The art style is gorgeous, but beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I’m looking through a pair of heavily rose-tinted glasses.
By modern standards, it has a distinctly retro vibe. Some of the animations are akin to a flash player game you could play in your browser, but it suits Monkey Island perfectly. Frame rate, regardless of your system configuration, is capped at 60fps, so even a potato PC should run it with no problems.
The audio is also exceptional, with outstanding voice acting from much of the original cast, and the jaunty theme and incidental music have been modernised whilst keeping all of the original’s charm. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but for me, the presentation of Return to Monkey Island is impeccable.
Return to Monkey Island is everything fans of the original will have hoped it would be. The self-aware and referential humour hits pretty much all of the time, and the audio and aesthetic presentation is superb. Although the story may not go the way many predicted it would, it’s a wonderful journey filled with the series’ trademark silly/convoluted/random/abstract puzzles that make the Monkey Island games so great.
If you’re a fan of the originals, you’re going to love Return to Monkey Island, and if you’re new to the series, it still works well as a standalone adventure (but seriously, play the first two games). There are enough modernisation updates to the mechanics and subtly explained throwback jokes that you won’t feel out of the loop, and the hint system, though I’d recommend avoiding using it, will prevent you from getting frustrated if you get stuck. It may have taken 30 years, but it’s been worth the wait.