‘Return to Monkey Island’ review: A swan song for a golden age of games

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Available on: PC, Mac, Nintendo Switch

Developer: Terrible Toy Box | Editor: Devolve Digital, Lucasfilm Games

“Return to Monkey Island” is the fulfillment of a promise made over 30 years ago. Since the release of “The Secret of Monkey Island” in 1990, the series has been considered a paragon of the adventure game genre. When enthusiasts remember the golden age of adventure games, Monkey Island is usually referenced as the standout example that defined the point-and-click zeitgeist of the 90s, even when stacked with other powerful hits of the era such as “Full Throttle,” “Grim Fandango,” and “Under Skies of Steel.” The swashbuckling franchise starring self-proclaimed mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood widely loved by fans and praised by game designers (Naughty Dog co-president Neil Druckmann is a super fan rated).

This nostalgic story is why “Return to Monkey Island” is so important. It’s a return not only of the series, but also of its creator Ron Gilbert, who left the series after “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” in 1991. This latest game finally answers the question fans have been speculating about ever since. decades: what is the secret of Monkey Island? Other designers after Gilbert provided their own answers in sequels. “Return to Monkey Island” reveals the secret straight from the original creator himself – and in a definitive way.

“Return to Monkey Island” hasn’t quite lived up to 30 years of pent-up fan theories, forum debates, and hype from die-hard fans whose likes are still locked in a game time capsule. ’90s adventure. Not because it’s a bad game (on the contrary, it’s quite delicious) but because Monkey Island is a humble series that has been unfairly saddled with incredibly epic anticipation. The series has always been about a dumb pirate who embarks on goofy adventures, and “Return to Monkey Island” is very aware of this position; The game’s most impressive achievement is how it deftly navigates this conundrum by tapping into the joyous energy of the early Monkey Island games while tempering the nostalgic angst for a time that can’t be taken back.

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For the uninitiated, “Return to Monkey Island” features series protagonist Threepwood, a wry and remarkably likeable pirate sailing the Caribbean during an anachronistic version of the Golden Age of Piracy. Guybrush’s world is a cartoon version of Saturday morning piracy, where sword fights are determined by the 1700s equivalent of “yo momma” jokes, ship captains complain about corporate paperwork and zombies are extremely vulnerable to root beer. Since the game is a sequel (specifically to “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” in the series timeline), you’ll also need some background information before playing.

To that end, “Return to Monkey Island” has a digital scrapbook with Guybrush himself recounting the main plot points from previous titles to catch you up. Most of these plot points involve Guybrush’s nemesis, the undead buccaneer LeChuck. LeChuck also seeks the secret of Monkey Island and is also in love with Elaine Marley (fictional Tri-Island area governor and wife of Guybrush).

“Return to Monkey Island” can be widely enjoyed by everyone, whether you are an adventure game veteran or a total newbie. The game is designed as a classic point-and-click title designed with a modern sensibility: a simple user interface, puzzles encouraging unconventional thinking and hard-hitting dialogue paired with a dynamic cubist art style and highly adaptable difficulty settings. There’s Casual mode for players who want to enjoy the game’s story with minimal puzzles, and Hard mode for those who want a more cerebral challenge.

My favorite feature was the Hint Book, an in-game inventory item that provides spoiler-free advice on how to solve a puzzle or progress on a quest. Not only does the Hint Book save you from having to alt-key to a browser for help, it’s also scalable: you can rely on it as little or as much as you want. The first hints of a quest are just nudges in the right direction, but you can also skim through an entire entry to explain everything to yourself. As someone who liked to play the game on Hard but needed the occasional boost, the Hint Book was a godsend. There is also a key (or button for controllers) to highlight all interactive elements in an area.

But even with all those new band-aids and increased accessibility, “Return to Monkey Island” is truly a title made for lifelong fans. It’s full of self-referential flashbacks, inside jokes, and character cameos introduced in other Monkey Island games. The game’s humor is dry, absurd, and often breaks the fourth wall, compromising Gilbert’s mark of authorship. For Monkey Island fans, the opening title sequence of “Return to Monkey Island” showing Melee Island at night with the game’s theme music is as iconic as the opening Star Wars crawl.

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“Return to Monkey Island” is everything the developers claimed it was. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt adventure game that kept me laughing throughout. The only weird thing to note is the pacing. The game opens at a steady pace, then hits a sudden, massive peak. I went from a clear, focused mission for a specific area to a dozen objectives that sent me frantically back and forth between multiple islands.

Still, winning the game’s final act — and all the journey leading up to it — makes “Return to Monkey Island” a game well worth your time. Monkey Island is a series that has been surprisingly resilient to the sequel escalation affecting other long-running video game franchises. Besides “Tales of Monkey Island,” which featured a zombie plague outbreak in the Caribbean, the series has always focused on the personal. Monkey Island is not about saving the world. It’s about the adventures of kind and wide-eyed Guybrush Threepwood – his dream of becoming a renowned pirate, marrying the love of his life, and finding the secret of Monkey Island. It’s the kind of life that would be celebrated by cups raised in a dockside tavern, not trumpeted in a cathedral with kings and queens in attendance. But over time Guybrush and Monkey Island have become fan idols into something they are not.

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In June, Gilbert announced he would stop talking about “Return to Monkey Island” and closed comments on his personal blog after angry posters wrote abusive comments in response to the game’s art direction. reviewers demanded that Gilbert rework or outright cancel “Return to Monkey Island” because it was not made in the pixel art style of the first two Monkey Island games. They defended the harassment saying it comes from a place of passion, having been deeply shaped by the Monkey Island series since their youth.

These people yearned for a monkey island impossible to recreate. After 30 years, the original developers behind Monkey Island are now different people. They grew up and Guybrush had to grow alongside them. As I played “Return to Monkey Island,” I got the distinct impression that it was a game about the past, not reliving it. During my Between two bad-tempered years, Monkey Island taught me that being goofy and laughing at stupid jokes is way more fun than being a critical brat. After finishing the game, I felt like I said goodbye to a part of my childhood.

By officially revealing the secret and bringing the series full circle, “Return to Monkey Island” deliberately closes a chapter in the life of the franchise. It’s not the end of Guybrush Threepwood or Monkey Island, but it’s a swan song for the bygone era that brought them into being.

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