The journey to get this game made in the first place is about as epic as the adventure itself.
With three instalments made since the last time Ron Gilbert headed up a Monkey Island game, many never believed he’d get to finish the series his way. Do things on his terms.
With Dave Grossman, the talented team at Terrible Toybox and the epic publishing power of Devolver at his side, however, Return to Monkey Island is very real. And unsurprisingly, very good.
Continuing right after Monkey Island 2, the game follows the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood once again as he clashes with his eternal nemesis, Le Chuck, over the love of Elaine Marley. But this time, the adventure is one we’ve all waited for and wondered about. What is the Secret of Monkey Island?
In true Gilbert and Grossman style, the answer perhaps isn’t as simple as you might expect. And it’s not the only story at play either, with new characters entering the mix, new locations to discover, and a galleon full of puzzles that tax and torment.
The thing that really struck me about Return is how it both feels like a Monkey Island game, but also feels fresh, current, and relevant in this climate. There’s the classic, silly humour and charm you know and love, as good as ever, familiar characters and voices that you feel like you never left, with smart puzzle design, and an intriguing story you just want to see through.
But on the flip side it’s a game unafraid to reinvent itself. From the art style – which I adored – to the user interface and the direction it takes that opens up the series in ways I hadn’t expected.
Everything about this game is balanced, delicately. When you meet familiar characters, how you stumble across them. The places you visit and why you have to go there. How the puzzles feel a part of the story perhaps more than in any recent adventure game.
I’m trying to be careful with spoilers, because even saying the slightest thing can hint at where the story might lead and telling you who might be involved could give a clue as to where things progress and narrative is so very important to this game. It is everything.
All you need to know is Dominic Armato is back as Guybrush, the story continues following the conclusion of Monkey Island 2 in a most unexpected way, and there is a whole new adventure that, amazingly, still manages to tie into events that happened in preceding games.
That, in itself is miraculous. Monkey Island definitely took some twists and turns after LeChuck’s Revenge, and there was a clear narrative shift. Return to Monkey Island feels like those original classic adventures, though, and it’s all the better for it with its meta focus, layered with charm and slight sinister undertones. Terror Island is a trip!
It’s like meeting with old friends you haven’t seen in years and making new ones who will go on to become fan favourites, whether this ends up being the end of the series or not.
RTMI is also very smart in its UI choices, not going with conventional Verb systems or the old school Use / Pick Up / Give you’ve come to know from the genre. Instead, everything you can interact with comes accompanied with a Guybrush quip that’s his way of looking at it and deciding if there’s any interest beyond that.
You can still use things in your inventory on people, on each other or things in the world, but it keeps everything conversational, humorous, fun and easy to interpret for players who didn’t grow up with these games. Despite being a sequel people have waited years for, RTMI is amazingly still a game you can play without never touching the originals.
And that really is the magic is that it does appeal to such a wide range of audiences, more than any other Monkey Island game. Even with an art style that proved to be so divisive at first, but for me, personally, might be my favourite looking of all Monkey games right next to Curse. The stunning lighting, the reflective surfacing, the expressions in character’s eyes. It’s beautiful and complements every scene, and every line of dialogue perfectly.
Then there’s the puzzles, not at all watered down for modern audiences. Some of them still keeping a challenging, unexpected edge that you’ll recognise from the classics. Some that nod and wink at the more modern Monkey games. But you’ve got access to a constant hint book should you find a puzzle too difficult and a To-Do list that helps you keep a constant track of your objectives.
Return to Monkey Island also fits like a glove on Switch, even conveniently offering full touch screen support should you want it over the full mouse and keyboard support on PC. Though using Switch analogs works very well by just guiding Guybrush around the islands and moving from place to place.
Return to Monkey Island is a smart reinvention of the adventure game that caters to new audiences while still managing to appease long-term fans of the genre. From the smart dialogue, to the beautiful visuals, the excellent voice acting, and the clever puzzles, this is an adventure you won’t soon forget from beginning to end and a joy throughout.
+ Stunning visuals
+ Smart puzzles
+ Well written
+ Clean UI that works well and makes you laugh
– Some puzzles a little too easy to solve / did repeat
Return to Monkey Island is out now on PC and Switch.
Code Kindly Provided by Devolver