Just the words “Return to Monkey Island” can mean something different depending on who you are. For creator Ron Gilbert, it means returning to a series he first worked on back in 1990 and adding another page in his plucky protagonist’s scrapbook of memories. For the pirate protagonist himself, it means continuing the journey he started several games ago and getting into new adventures to find that elusive secret he’s been trying to find for decades. And for you, depending on when you played the original, it can be nostalgic voyage of rediscover and reflection.
I actually didn’t play the original game until a few years ago so Return to Monkey Island was a unique experience for me, feeling both familiar and fresh at the same time. However, if this is a game you grew up on, then it will definitely make you feel like you are seeing your old friends again as this point-and-click adventure revisits elements of previous games to make you feel right at home. From characters you may have forgotten about, to clever lines that pull the story together, to even more challenging puzzles that keep you invested in figuring them out, Return to Monkey Island is a treasure trove of fun.
What I really enjoyed about Return to Monkey Island is that the events in the game are told by Guybrush Threepwood to his son on a park bench in the present day. This framing also lets us realize that Guybrush is older now and his son is part of a new generation of pirates with their own ideas of what adventures should be like. When you consider the original game is over 30 years ago, this framing also gives this installment a very nostalgic, albeit meta, feel to it. Like Guybrush, you are older, too, and each time he mentions something that happened in a previous game, you can’t help but reminisce alongside him.
To add to this nostalgia, the first few minutes in the game introduce you to characters from the original that any fan of the series will instantly recognize. Because the game starts you off on Melee Island, the original’s location, you will run into familiar faces such as Elaine Marley, the Voodoo Lady, and even the eccentric Stan. What’s more, characters like Cobb and his meme-worthy “Ask me about Loom” button will remind you of an era of video games gone by, as happy or poignant as that may make you feel. Oh, and you can ask him to repeat the line, too!
- A soothing experience that you want to complete from start to finish;
- Witty and clever brand of humor;
- Puzzles that challenge you and leave you feeling accomplished.
- Lots of back tracking near the end;
- Some backstory is required to fully enjoy the game.
What’s unique about all of this is that the game will feel familiar without actually looking a pixelated floppy disc game from 1990. The updated art style gives the various locations you visit a charming warmth that lulls you in. Even the creepy locations on Terror Island make you want to explore them as their backgrounds not only contain subtle animations but are also filled with so much detail and personality. Of course, the whole point of the game is for you to explore everywhere you go in search of clues to your next point of interest so it makes sense these backgrounds are as lavishly decorated as possible, but even quick cutscenes during item exchanges bring the game to life.
Similarly, its soundtrack has also been reworked but still features classic sounds like catchy Caribbean beats and LeChuck’s theme song. These songs add a soothing tone to the overall game that make it a relaxing experience you can play at your own pace. It may take you about 7-9 hours to beat it depending on how quickly you solve everything (even faster if you use hints), but its soothing soundtrack wants you to savor every moment of it—and you should.
Despite all the fan-service, Return to Monkey Island also offers plenty of new characters and a fresh story that bring the series to the present. These new characters are just as interesting as the ones fans have known for years and add a new layer of intrigue and conflict to the game’s plot, which, as usual, requires you to do some puzzle-solving to move forward. From borrowing books to impersonating zombies to going on a quest to become queen, the tasks the game has you doing continue the clever humor the series is known for but also involve some thinking on your part to figure out.
Compared to past titles in the series, the puzzles in this installment are fair in difficulty and will require some keen analysis to determine their next step. You will often need to combine items or show them to others to complete certain demands, but logic is also involved in remembering where and when to pull out an item or how it serves a purpose later on. Some will leave you scratching your head when trying to figure out where to go next, while others are a breeze to figure out. At the end of the day, solving these puzzles and making progress is a great feeling and is sure to leave you feeling satisfied.
From characters you may have forgotten about, to clever lines that pull the story together, to even more challenging puzzles that keep you invested in figuring them out, Return to Monkey Island is a treasure trove of fun. For fans that have waited so long for this sequel, the wait has been worth it as the game not only closes the chapter on a classic series but it also lets you revisit a past that is unique to every player.
The game is also accessible to players who have never played a Monkey Island title before and offers you two difficulty options where one lightens the load of certain requirements to complete a puzzle to make it easier to get to the end of the story. For example, you may need to find clues to craft an apology letter in regular difficulty whereas the easier one simply lets you bypass this step. And even if you get stuck somewhere, a simple hint book is always available for you to browse through for some guidance as to what to do next. Even this hint book gradually reveals your next steps so you can use it as liberally or as sparingly as you want and still enjoy the ride.
Updates and Misses
Return to Monkey Island also modernizes its classic point-and-click format by offering more detail to what the screen says when interacting with objects. Sure, you can “steal this”, “talk to”, or “use this”, but instead, the game offers you more context to each of your actions painting a clearer picture of what Guybrush is actually doing when he uses his knife on a tree, for example. In fact, there is a moment in the game that Guybrush has to improve his storytelling talents by learning to add in more descriptive words to his stories—perhaps a nod at what the writers are trying to achieve in this sequel.
As good as the puzzles are, there are instances near the end of the game that the solution for various errands requires a lot of backtracking or returning to the same place you just left a few minutes ago. Luckily, the game skips over certain transitions and sometimes skips to the part you just left off, but it does feel tedious especially if you don’t know the solution right away and are just going by a process of elimination.
The secret of Monkey Island has always alluded Guybrush Threepwood in each game, but each adventure gets him closer to finding out what this treasure actually is. Each game offers you unique puzzles to solve and a story that is filled with clever punch lines and a cast that will grow on you. Return to Monkey Island is no different and actually feels like a welcome return to where the series left off. It feels comforting.
Our reviews are featured on Metacritic.
Both fans and newcomers will feel this warmth when they play through the game and discover new and old friends, colorful locales, and a puzzle style that made the series so popular decades ago. The game is soothing in how it plays but offers you a clever script that will make you determined to keep going. For fans that have waited so long for this sequel, the wait has been worth it as Return to Monkey Island not only closes the chapter on a classic series but it also lets you revisit a past that is unique to every player.
Giancarlo Saldana | Gamepressure.com