I've spoken before about my love of the Monkey Island series of games. The franchise was not only my entry point into the world of point and click adventure games, but it was one of the first games that really made me appreciate the difference that great game design made. The lack of unwinnable situations or game overs, the complex-for-the-time yet intuitive interface, the logic to the progression: all things that made for a much more enjoyable experience compared to other games of the time. Over thirty years later, Guybrush returns once more in Return to Monkey Island. But in a world that has seen so many advances in gaming, can he still have the impact he once had?
Let's start with the elephant in the room; the art style is quite different to previous titles. Even after completing the game, I'm honestly not sure if I like it or not. It has a kind of Ren and Stimpy feel when there are close ups, which I thought felt strangely right, but I never quite got used to the swaying movement of all the characters and the angularity of everything. I think I probably would have preferred something more like The Curse of Monkey Island or the remastered originals, but that doesn’t mean that this isn’t a beautiful game, it’s more telling of just how lovely I thought the earlier games looked.
Something I really enjoyed was how many of the original creators and cast have returned for this project. As well as designers Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman at the helm, Clint Bajakian, Michael Land, and Peter McConnell have all been brought back to score the game. In addition, almost all of the original voice cast for the main characters have reprised their roles, with the exception of LeChuck’s original voice actor Earl Boen, who is enjoying his retirement and gave his blessing for Jess Harnell to take over. As you might expect, it feels completely right from an aural perspective. The music is familiar but with a cleaner and more modern-sounding edge, the characters sound right and dialogue feels natural.
What I also want to call out is the accessibility of the game. As well as the usual difficult level adjustments and subtitles (which can be switched on before the introductory cutscene plays, something that so many games forget!), there are also a number of visual adjustments that can be made such as turning off visual distortions and ship motion. There probably could have been better options for the colour blind, as the subtitle colours can’t be changed, and backgrounds can only be differing shades of dark up to black. As the game can be played entirely with a mouse only, or with the face buttons of a gamepad, it should be accessible for the majority of players with dexterity issues. For me personally though, the best part was the “Previously On Feature”. This works very much like the “Previously on ER” sequences that were so famous. As someone with ADHD who can forget what they are doing whilst they’re literally in the middle of doing it, this was a life-saver. There are so many games that I have come back to after a while and had to restart because I just couldn’t remember what I was meant to do next (I’m looking at you Final Fantasy VIII) so this was a massively welcome feature, and one that I would love to see in more games in the future.
“But enough of all these bells and whistles Dominoid”I hear you say, “how does the blasted thing play?”. Well, I’m pleased to report it is just as much of a joy to play as the previous titles. There’s no insult-based combat this time, but a similar system exists for telling tall tales to other pirates about your adventures which is a nice twist on an old theme. Puzzles are quite often tricky but always logically solvable, and there’s a hint book if you really get stuck. The design is intuitive, with the game world opening up at, in my opinion, just the right kind of pace to not overwhelm you with locations too early. In addition, there is a lot of extra content to find such as collectible trivia cards scattered around the game, and little hidden puzzles. There are numerous post-credits sequences to unlock and two endings. Personally, I wasn’t a big fan of either of them, but I’m not certain anything could have lived up to the hype in my own head after over 30 years so I won’t hold that against Ron and his team.
The way that you interact with the world has changed a bit, with the old verb-based system being replaced by contextual cues that change with the object in question. This makes perfect sense and whilst it took me a little while to get my head around the change, once I did, it seemed more intuitive overall and I didn’t miss the previous way of doing things. Newcomers to the franchise will probably have an easier time with Return to Monkey Island than the earlier titles because of this system, but veterans like myself will probably have a small adjustment window.
Overall, the long wait for a new Monkey Island game was well worth it, as Ron Gilbert has returned with a game that features all of the charm, wit, and craziness that you would expect. The writing is great, the art is gorgeous (even if it’s not everyone’s cup of tea), the puzzles are clever, the voice acting is sublime… I could go on but I’m sure you get the idea. It’s a tremendous game that I absolutely loved the pants off and quite frankly, if you haven’t already got it then you are missing out in my opinion.
Return to Monkey Island (Reviewed on Windows)
Outstanding. Why do you not have this game already?
Guybrush’s new adventure is every bit as fun as his previous ones. This is a triumph of a game that manages to live up to exorbitant amounts of expectation and ticks every box.