Return to Monkey Island Review
It’s astounding to me that The Secret of Monkey Island is over 30 years old. When the game came out, H Dubya Bush was the president of the United States, the USSR existed, young people could afford to buy houses and I wasn’t even a thought in my parents’ brains. And now, in 2022, the legacy of the game still lives on even though the American Commander-in-Chief … (insert your thoughts on Joe Biden here), the Soviet Union is just a wet dream for the current Russian dictator, and this now-existent reviewer is old enough to drink a bottle of scotch in one sitting. Save for Doom and Wolfenstein, no other title has had such a lasting impact on the gaming industry, which means Return to Monkey Island didn’t really need to exist. But, like a new-aged IBA cocktail, it perfectly mixes the best parts of ‘90s culture with modern mechanics to create one of the best titles in recent memory.
The story here picks up after the events of 1991’s Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. After a brief introduction and homage to the original two games, you take control of a now-aged Guybrush Streepwood who decides to set out on yet another adventure to the notorious Monkey Island. Per a very polite email from the developers we can’t talk too much about what happens after that, but we can say that the title’s roughly 10-hour-long narrative is equal parts witty, engaging and strangely heartwarming.
This is in no small part because, even outside of the narrative, every character in Return to Monkey Island is absolutely charming. Much like the target audience of the title, its various pirate-y cast members have gotten significantly older since we saw them last. This means that they all have a certain wit that can only be acquired with age, and even though you can technically skip their dialogue, it’s one of a select few games where literally every line is comedically heartwarming gold.
It certainly helps that Return to Monkey Island’s animation, voice acting, graphics and music are superb, too. Although it isn’t the first game to use the “kind of realistic but kind of cartoony” artstyle, it is one of the best examples of it. Every technical aspect of the game blends perfectly to create an experience that’s weirdly immersive for a 2.5D swashbuckling adventure, and when it comes time for everyone to give out their annual game-related awards, Return to Monkey Island will deserve every single one of the dozens it’ll inevitable receive.
However, its gameplay probably won’t enjoy the same praise. Whereas the graphics of Return to Monkey Island help modernise the title, the point-and-click adventuring of it has remained largely unchanged since the ‘90s. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, seeing as the original game was one of the less stupid puzzlers of its time, but the bulk of the gameplay in this entry into the Monkey Island franchise still involves a lot of going back and forth between locations and solving logic-based riddles.
Again, this isn’t really a bad thing because unlike, say, Willy Morgan and the Curse of Bone Town, its easy enough to figure everything out, but it’s still worth noting none the less. It’s also worth noting that if you aren’t a fan of puzzles, you can also just get the solutions to Return to Monkey Island’s gameplay challenges with an in-game book that offers you hints and solutions to the litany of the title’s non-dialogue related aspects. For the now-ageing target audience of the title, myself included, that’s one of its most important features, because it allows you to play the game even if you have distractors/hangovers to contend with.
If you don’t though, you can also up the game’s difficulty to make its puzzles more involved. While I’m not quite sure why anyone would do that, the fact that the option is there is a huge deal that ensures Return to Monkey Island can be enjoyed by not only casual players but also those looking for a classic ‘90s puzzle game experience.
And that last bit is what makes Return to Monkey Island so bloody great. Regardless of whether you’re an old fart looking for some USSR-era nostalgia, a masochist who gets pleasure from perplexing puzzles or someone who’s never heard of Monkey Island until now, there’s something in this title for you. Thanks to its fantastic dialogue, stirring and swashbuckling narrative and amazing technical design, the game is not only one of the best ‘90s-inspired games, but one of the best adventure games to come out in recent memory. As long as you can palate a passively un-progressive approach to point-and-click gameplay, Return to Monkey Island is a must-play for anyone who’s remotely interested in grog, grottos and the grievances of pirate-era governors.
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