Return to Monkey Island, which places series creator Ron Gilbert in the series director’s seat for the first time in 30 years, is a similar ride. It’s a fun, beautiful, polished and well-played story, full of puzzles that are both fun and challenging for anyone who values a good adventure game. A Return wisely offers “Guybrush’s Scrapbook” on the main menu as a fun, visual way to recap previous Monkey Island games narrated by Guybrush. But for people like me, for whom Monkey Island’s earliest games were a formative part of our gaming youth, meeting would-be pirate Guybrush Threepwood feels like a homecoming. For this, I love the not-so-hidden Trivia cards scattered across multiple scenes, testing your knowledge of the franchise.
The most obvious way that Return to Monkey Island differs from its predecessors is through the art style. Gilbert may have gone down the path of pixel art to pick up some extra low-hanging nostalgia fruit, but instead walked away with a much bolder modern look. I admit: I didn’t like it when I first saw it. It’s a blatant departure from the games I love, but then again, much like the first game after Gilbert Monkey Island, Curse of Monkey Island, which used a Disney cartoon style that I loved. The art direction of Return is more abstract, but it took me somewhere in 11 hours to finish a story that I loved. It uses a large chunk of the color palette, and her exaggerated character design fits nicely with Monkey Island’s sense of humor.
But while at first glance you will never confuse Return to Monkey Island with any other game in the series, the stunning music can easily trick you into thinking you’re still in 1991. Composers Michael Land and Peter McConnell are back with another, pleasantly Caribbean music. , and it’s a long way to go to make you feel like a proper return to Monkey Island. The same goes for the voice cast, whose main character is Dominic Armato as Guybrush Threepwood, who brings a reserved, heterosexual sensibility to a game filled with often absurd scenarios, though he’s not afraid to throw a bit of sarcasm when the situation calls for it. Everyone in this world knows Guybrush is a mess of good intentions, but they can’t help but cheer on this hopeless underdog and befriend him anyway. Armato’s performance was a big reason why I felt the same way; there is Guybrush’s innocence that shines through.
What about the plot? Return takes place right after Monkey Island 2, but is framed in a clever way that I didn’t expect. This showed me a new side to Monkey Island: her big heart that quickly becomes visible in the playable Prelude that I won’t spoil here and that she keeps calling me to. Its overarching story includes – what else – the search for the Secret of the Monkey Island, and this mission revolves around Guybrush’s endless rivalry with the pirate zombie villain LeChuck and their not-so-threesome love Elaine Marley. In fact, Return is obsessed with a fundamental mystery far more than any of its predecessors, and is played with a recurring comedy effect. Our decades of wondering if Gilbert will ever reveal the true Secret of Monkey Island is reflected in the game, and even Guybrush’s wife, Elaine, wonders why our hero still sticks to it. In the process, he revisits famous places such as Melee Island and of course Monkey Island and takes us to new ones; same as bringing back familiar faces (like Murray!) and introducing tons of new characters. Greetings to Locke Smith, whom you will visit several times and who knows perfectly well that her name alone is a play on words.
A great story and unforgettable characters are only half the equation of a classic puzzle game: the other is a series of puzzles that are both challenging and rewarding to solve, serving as the basis of any great point-and-click adventure. Return serves a generous serving here, always featuring a comedy plot that runs through the traditional question of which item to use on what person or place at each corner. Solving puzzles is just as satisfying a dopamine punch as ever, and the Monkey Island iteration in 2022 learned to avoid the infamously blunt “adventure game logic” that so often made people bounce off the originals throughout the day.
Back to Monkey Island – Gamescom 2022
The structures and solutions to puzzles don’t take new ground, but none were so abstract that I would wonder how the hell I would have come up with a solution once I had figured it out. And while nothing ever frustrated me to the point that I wanted to quit and try later with a refreshed mind, sometimes I got stuck a bit in the mud as is normal in these games – like when I had to use a “frog apology” to regain favor Melee Island Governor Carli. So I took advantage of Guybrush’s always-available book here and there, and quickly found that I didn’t have to swallow my pride completely before I referred to it. This is a much welcome evolution of a feature first introduced to the franchise in LucasArts’ Monkey Island 1 and 2 remasters from 2009, and it’s free from guilt to use as it’s not just a spoiler volume like using the manual . Instead, it gives you layer-by-layer clues, pointing you in the right direction while still maintaining the sense of satisfaction that comes with finally solving the puzzle. Actually, only once did the book tell me something that I really didn’t want to know at this point. The new to-do list also helps you keep track of everything you’re currently working on trying to solve without giving the impression that you’re being led by the nose.