Return to Monkey Island is a return for fans and developers alike. Monkey Island 2, released all the way back in 1991, ended in a confusing manner, which immediate sequels never resolved. Ron Gilbert and the team are back to finish what they started all those years ago, in not only the best point and click adventure game of the year, but one of the most charming games overall in 2022.
The signature of early Monkey Island games is the sharp writing, the wit, and humor, and here in Return to Monkey Island we get all of that and more in the opening section of the game. Before we dive into a swashbuckling adventure with Guybrush Threepwood and co, we’re introduced to a couple of kids playing as pirates. The opening of the game is classic Monkey Island humor, with the writers switching things up on the player and keeping them on their toes. This is a short sharp burst of memory lane, and then we’re re-introduced to Guybrush Threepwood himself, who tells the tale of Return to Monkey Island.
Familiar characters are back including Wally The Cartographer, Guybrush himself albeit a little older and wiser, and the infamous Le Chuck, the main villain of the early games. While characters and settings are familiar, things are different too. We start off in Melee Island, much like we did back in the original game. Guybrush soon takes to the high seas in search of adventure on Monkey Island, Terror Island and Brrr Muda. Guybrush is determined to find the secret to Monkey Island, and Le Chuck in on his tail once again.
There are plenty of returning characters in this latest installment of Monkey Island, however, some of the best moments come from new characters. Putra, Le Chuck’s Chef aboard his ship, is instantly memorable with great one liners and gags-a-plenty. Melee’s Locksmith, aptly named Locke Smith is also a great character, with a cool, calm demeanor and a shutdown of Guybrush’s attempts at humor. New and old characters alike, the writers are on top form.
Return to Monkey Island is classic point and click adventuring, although thankfully it’s taken on board much of the modernization techniques found in similar games. For example, you can hold down a single key and see all the inter actable items, the UI is very clean and the items and menus aren’t confusing, plus you can’t get stuck in a frustrating loop. Early in the game you get given a hints book, which you can use when you get stuck. It also gives you a few levels of responses; ask once and the tip will be vague, ask again and it’ll get slightly more specific and so on until you are pretty much given the solution. This is great if you get frustrated by puzzles, and want to simply enjoy the story.
This feels like point-and-click adventuring at its most refined. Walk around and have a chat with all the weird and wonderful characters, they’ll either make you laugh, engage you in some puzzling or send you off on your merry way with a clue in hand and an idea for where to go next. The puzzles have been given a refresh or modern feel to them, they don’t feel rehashed from previous entries, they feel unique to Return of Monkey Island. While some of the puzzles are collecting items, combining items and ultimately figuring out what this random collection of items in your inventory is for, the best puzzles are reserved for conversations with characters. Throughout Return to Monkey Island you’ll laugh, plus there are a number of ‘Ah-ha’ moments, where you’ll realize just how clever the game is too.
Puzzles in the latest entry do have much more pace to them compared with previous entries in the series. The game isn’t necessarily easier than previous entries, but it does guide you towards the solution in a much smoother manner than previous titles. If you want to sit back and relax and not worry about puzzles, this is possible through the new Casual mode. This actively simplifies the puzzles and keeps the focus on the narrative in the game. If you just want to find out the secret to Monkey Island after all these years, then this could be the game mode for you.
There are other useful helpers in the game to modernize things. I’ve talked about the hint system, but there’s also the ‘speed up’ mode where you can double click the ground to make Guybrush Threepwood walk faster. This is useful given the amount of times you have to travel through environments, perhaps the first time you’ll want to take things slowly, but after the fifth time through the same environment double clicking is a modern day time saver, and I’m all here for it.
Moving on to one of the most contentious parts of the game and that’s the art style. It’s not pixel art, it has it’s own style, which is beautiful in it’s own right, but it’s evoked a lot of strong feeling and feedback from the audience. So much so that Ron Gilbert continued to get negative feedback, he ended up quitting twitter for a short time and taking down his personal blog, and posting saying he was less inclined to share in the future given this response. While it’s OK to give constructive feedback, this veered into unhealthy territory and downright rude. I don’t blame Ron for not wanting to share, but it’s a real shame because he’s one of the genre’s defining developers, and to scare him off like this isn’t really acceptable behavior. Personally, I don’t mind the art style. I like pixel art just fine, but this has it’s own style and is good looking with it’s own merits. I don’t tend to question these things, I look at it, take it in, and it tends to fade away when I play the game into the background. I’m quite content to play the game as is, and accept the art style presented to me, because artists and designers qualified for the job have decided this is the art style.
Overall, Return to Monkey Island is a fantastic journey with some classic characters. I don’t want to go into spoiler territory with the narrative, but it’s excellent, plus you get a word from the developers in there too. Much like players are returning to Monkey Island to discover it’s secrets, the developers are returning to a long lost franchise of their past, one they swore they’d never return to at one point. I am very glad they did decide to come back, even though it’s 30 years later.
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, macOS, PC, Xbox Cloud Gaming
Release Date: 19th September 2022