This is a spoiler-free review.
I have to admit something in this review. Monkey Island is the game that got me into adventure games. More accurately, it got me into point-and-click adventure games. So I could be deemed biased. However, some of the games on the broader series were very disappointing. Anyone outside of Monkey Island 1, Monkey Island 2 and Curse of Monkey Island was a bit…meh. But Return to Monkey Island is the official Monkey Island 3 from the original creative team. With expectations high after a twenty-year wait, I’ve binged the game this week. Here’s what I think.
I’m going to kick off with the artwork; for good reason. When Return to Monkey Island was announced it attracted a mixed reaction. The new Dinkey Engine replaces the classic SCUMM engine. I’ll admit when the first trailers came out just a few short months ago, I felt uneasy. While Return to Monkey Island is the third game from the original creators, the third Monkey Island game was Curse of Monkey Island. This was the defining game for me.
Curse of Monkey Island introduced a voice for Guybrush Threepwood, our lead protagonist swashbuckling mighty pirate; voiced by Dominic Armato. The artwork in that game was beautiful. The game was an all-around modern take on what the game should be. I was young playing it and had no idea about the move away from the original creative team.
To be honest, when I first saw the style of Return to Monkey Island, I wasn’t sold. It seemed almost childish to me. But I waited and didn’t just jump on Twitter to critique it. I watched the trailer a few times in the following days, and I started to warm to the style.
Now, 13 hours of game time and having completed Return to Monkey Island, I can see why this artwork was picked. It bridges the gap between generations perfectly. Beyond the style, how the animations and in-game transitions are directed is just genius. I will say Curse of Monkey Island remains my favourite style of all, but this game is gorgeous. I expect it to win awards.
The original Monkey Island games defined point-and-click adventure gaming. The “verb” system was so unique, so clever, but so simple. Before that, you would have to type your instructions and hope your spelling was on point.
But Ron Gilbert, one of the original creators, said any modern take on the game would get rid of this system. Sure enough, it’s gone in Return to Monkey Island.
Instead, you now have a simple mouse-focused control system (for PC/MAC at least). Left click to investigate and right click to interact. This extends to items in the Monkey Island world and in your inventory.
It’s simple. It’s straightforward. It’s once again designed to suit original fans of the series without alienating newcomers.
One thing that is abundantly clear in Return to Monkey Island is that the programmers care about the player more. In the original games, some long trips from one island to another could be torture. Even worse if you’re stuck and need to go back and further several times. Travel is fast in this game and little shortcuts reduce gamer frustration.
The puzzles in this game are so satisfying to solve. Don’t worry, I’m not going to mention any specifically. I want to keep this spoiler-free. I played through on what fans of the series will know as Mega Monkey – the full game, full story on the hardest difficulty. Now it’s just called Hard Mode.
As with all Monkey Island games, there are a few puzzles that make you hate the game for at least a few minutes. Take a breath. Walk away. Take a nap. Don’t play after a beer. Come back to the game again and try to mix random things in your inventory and see if you get lucky.
When you complete the game, do go into your scrapbook. It’s well worth a look.
Return to Monkey Island: The Verdict
Return to Monkey Island is kind of flawless.
The story is simply brilliant. The puzzles are entertaining. Throughout the game, you’ll laugh and probably curse once or twice. Often that cursing is at how silly you are for missing something. But that’s the joy of point-and-click adventures.
Return to Monkey Island delivers something that few games could achieve after 20 years away for the original creators. It has enough to keep the original fans happy. It incorporates some elements from beyond the original series. And modernises for newcomers without losing the brilliance of Monkey Islands DNA.
I will finish with the big selling point. Return to Monkey Island costs a little over €20. For over 13 hours of entertainment, that’s a good price.