To be honest, that headline is a bit misleading because you really should play all of the Monkey Island games.
But I wanted to make a case specifically for Curse of Monkey Island as it’s some of Lucasart’s finest ever work, yet it’s rarely ever talked about in the same breath as its predecessors.
I get it. There was a Cel-Shaded art style which was really controversial at the time. Voice actors were finally introduced and people were unsure about the casting, and also in 1997 the point and click adventure was starting to lose its appeal.
And because the original creators, Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer weren’t involved, many people refused to see the game as canon or even acknowledge it. Which is a shame as it’s still a fantastic adventure game in its own right and it deserved much better.
In 2022, Curse remains an interesting conundrum as it was marketed as the sequel to Le Chuck’s Revenge. But with the imminent Return to Monkey Island, Gilbert has said the new game continues directly on from the events of Monkey Island 2, seemingly suggesting Curse’s place in the Monkey Island timeline will shift. Perhaps?
Whatever the case may be, I’m here to encourage you not to stop at Monkey Island 2 or risk missing out on some true series highlights. Here are a few reasons why…
Murray the Skull
Yes, you heard me. The demonic talking skull is one of the highlights of later Monkey games. Appearing for the first time in Curse of Monkey Island, Denny Delk’s performance is as iconic as anything else you’ve seen or heard from these games. Whether it’s talking about devilish, nefarious schemes that he’ll never be able to commit, or appearing in places you’d never expect, Murray is a brilliantly written and casted character.
He’s so good, in fact, that he’ll be back in Return to Monkey Island. Gilbert and Grossman are fans, regardless of whether he appeared in the first two games or not. He even popped up in the trailer so has a significant part to play. You wouldn’t want to miss out on that context, would you?
For years and years, people wondered what Guybrush Threepwood would sound like. How whiny or overbearing he might be. Whether he had a gruff voice or a squeaky one. They had their own ideas and put their own spins on it, but Lucasarts finally gave the iconic character a voice in Curse of Monkey Island.
Now it’s hard to imagine anyone but Dominic Armato playing the titular role. He’s been kept in the recording booth ever since and even went back to do voice work for the original games via re-released Special Editions.
Curse was Dominic’s first take on the role and to my mind, he does his best work here, breathing real life into the character. At least until Return to Monkey Island, surely.
Singing Barbershop Pirates
Lucasarts would eventually bring back MI favourite, Insult Swordfighting, for Curse but not before giving us some glorious sea shanties. There’s a real musical flare and charm to Curse that seperates it from any of the other games and the crew you find yourself sailing alongside are a real assortment of absurdity and hilarity.
Curse was unafraid to tap into that vintage Monkey Island humour, something that seemed to get lost in Escape and the Telltale series, and was always willing to have fun at its own expense. For me, that’s why it still holds up incredibly well despite the mixed reception it had around its launch.
Speaking of things holding up well, let’s talk about Curse’s art-style. Before the game came out, I remember all sorts of comments were being thrown out about the game. Guybrush is too tall, he looks too weedy, the game is trying to be too Disney-like and doesn’t take itself seriously enough. It was polarising and a looming shadow always seemed to hover over Curse for reasons out of the game (and its developer’s) control.
But playing it again recently, I personally feel it holds up better than any other game in the series. Escape’s clunky control scheme and 3D modelling hinder it. The original games have remastered art, though sometimes I prefer to view scenes in the older style. And the aesthetic of Tales of Monkey Island titles just don’t feel as memorable or hit in quite the same way.
Curse is beautiful. Its animated cut-scenes are marvellous and it really is a sight for sore eyes. This is a game that truly deserves its flowers and needs to be played by more people.
It’s actually canon
So you know that whole thing about anything after LeChuck’s Revenge not being canon? Not true. Gilbert and Grossman have confirmed events in Curse, Escape and Tales are very relevant to Return to Monkey Island.
How exactly remains to be seen, but Curse references what happens in Monkey Island 2 extensively and later games also tie up with things that have happened before as you re-meet old friends and enemies and visit familiar places.
Curse has some great puzzles to solve, fun scenes to play into, and interesting characters to meet. It’s extremely important to the Monkey Island games as this is a series that has always been unfraid to try new things and continually evolve itself. The question is, why wouldn’t you want to dive in?
Curse of Monkey Island is out now on PC (Steam, GOG) and playable through ScummVM.
Return to Monkey Island launches September 19 on Steam and Switch