Return to Monkey Island has been on the top of point-and-click adventure game fans’ wishlists for three decades, so long that most probably though it would never happen. While there have been five Monkey Island games in total, there hasn’t been one since 1991’s Monkey Island 2 that has satisfactorily resolved that game’s surprisingly surreal cliffhanger, nor one that has had series’ originator Ron Gilbert’s direct involvement. Return to Monkey Island not only features Gilbert returning as writer, director and designer, but also features series’ stalwart Dave Grossman, coming together to make a sequel that not only honours everything that came before, but delivers one of the finest, and funniest, adventure games of the last decade.
To speak too much about the story would ruin some of the surprise that comes with the surprising and frankly ingenious framing device, which not only builds off Monkey Island 2, but manages to leave room for all the other tales that have been told by other games as well (even the one with the giant monkey mecha in Escape from Monkey Island). The set-up this time will be familiar for fans, as polite pirate Guybrush Threepwood arrives on The Secret of Monkey Island‘s original Melee Island determined to find, well, the Secret of Monkey Island. For real this time. Despite a happy life with anti-scurvy activist Elaine Marley, Guybrush is driven like never before to get that darn Secret, whatever it is, so it’s unfortunate that his nemesis, the ghost pirate Le Chuck, has essentially the exact same plan.
The narrative hits some of the same beats as the original games, and in its beginnings starts to feel like what Hollywood would call a ‘legacy sequel’. That wouldn’t be entirely correct, however, as some sharp right turns in the storytelling subvert and expand Guybrush’s world, with plenty of plundering pirate politics and off-beat set-pieces. While the story builds in ridiculous ways, it also holds Guybrush, and the player, to account and asks some surprisingly pertinent questions out of adventure gamers. It’s also completely hilarious, from Guybrush’s polite-yet-brash insensitivity, to Le Chuck’s boundless rage but fondness for paperwork. The dialogue is as witty and sharp as it was when Gilbert left in 1991, and aside from a few returning fan-favourites like Murray the Talking Skull and Stan the Used-Ship Salesman, there’s a whole new raft of amusing oddballs added to the cast, voiced ably by a great cast (with some returners like the irreplaceable Dominic Armato as Guybrush).
Return to Monkey Island, of course, is an adventure game the way that genre was described in the 90’s – a point-and-click adventure game. The main thrust of the gameplay involves you moving Guybrush from screen to screen, talking to characters, examining objects for quick jokey descriptions, and picking others up which could prove useful, and then using them to solve puzzles to advance the story. It still works here because it all relies on the absurdity of the writing, where you often can’t think about the literal, realistic way things would work in the real world, but have to think about things from a cartoon-logic point of view. Is there a way to make ‘hot’ food without spice, and does it involve dangerous burning implements? If the game wasn’t as funny as it is, the logic would all fall down, and it often did in more serious adventure games in the past, but Return to Monkey Island has the right mix down pat.
Adventure gamers from the 90’s might even remember having to look up plain-text walkthroughs to get past impossible puzzles, trying to decipher the moon-logic train of thought that was driving the developers. Return to Monkey Island expertly bypasses this need with an inbuilt and well-crafted hint ‘book’. It essentially has every puzzle solution you would need, but doles out small amounts of guidance separated into various pages, so you can stop yourself when you’ve heard enough. It’s actually refreshing to be stuck on a particularly tricky stage of a puzzle, just want some general advice on where to start, and then cut yourself off from any further info.
The artstyle is a departure from previous Monkey Island games, feeling far more painterly and abstract than anything that’s come before, resembling some kind of paper cut-out puppet show. It doesn’t take long to get used to it, however, as the animation and designs serve to highlight character wonderfully, and the weird and colourful environments evoke not only the original Monkey Island, but other LucasArts adventures like Day of the Tentacle.
On Switch, you obviously gain the benefit of enjoying the game’s art on both a large-screen TV and in portable mode, and the game comes with a quality adjuster that seems to affect resolution and speed. Honestly, keeping it on high seemed like the best option and didn’t have any real noticeable impact in performance. The only slight detractor from playing on Switch comes in the loss of a mouse – the primary tool for playing point-and-click adventures – and although the developers more or less work things out, with Guybrush manoeuvrable with one analogue stick, and the ability to select points of interest with the other, there are frequently times when you’ll find yourself selecting the wrong thing as you just brush over what you actually wanted to select, or find Guybrush defaulting to a POI that’s close-but-no-cigar to the one you actually wanted.
That said, in just about every respect Return to Monkey Island is a return to form for the series, providing more wacky puzzles, hilarious chit-chat and pirate antics that Monkey Island is known for. It’s a series that holds a special place in the hearts of a lot of gamers who grew up in the 90’s, and for them it’s not just a warm blanket of nostalgia, but a genuinely worthy continuation of everything they loved, without ever feeling stale or overly pandering. However, newcomers to the genre would still probably be best served by checking out the series’ origins, even through the (relatively) recent remasters that were put out, before they embark on this particular voyage. Either way, it’s a fantastically funny adventure, three-headed monkeys notwithstanding.
This review is based on review code provided by the publisher.
-Hilarious return to form for Monkey Island, feels like the series hasn't missed a beat since the 90's/br> -Well-crafted adventure gameplay that works just as well today as it did in the 90's -Hint system is perfectly implemented
-A couple of puzzle solutions muddied by imprecise controls on Switch