In 1990, Ron Gilbert created the seminal point-and-click adventure The Secret of Monkey Island. He grabbed hearts and hasn’t let go for 32 years. In 1991, he concluded Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge on an explosive cliffhanger. In 1992, he left Lucasarts, and the secret third part of his trilogy became legend like a sunken ship. Fan communities theorized and fantasized for a couple of decades about where the story might have gone, desperate for confirmation from Gilbert or his colleagues.
In 2013, Gilbert wrote, “I always envisioned the game as a trilogy,” one he could only make with “full control over what [he] was doing and the only way to do it is to own it.” In 2015 she wrote: “Monkey Island is now owned by Disney and they have shown no desire to sell the intellectual property to me.” The last breath of the fans And yes? was shaved. He mourned April Fools annually on his blog, proudly holding it as “Free April Fools” for 18 years. He once tweeted: “If I ever get to do another Monkey Island, I’ll announce it on April 1st.”
On April Fools’ Day 2022, Ron Gilbert joked, “I’ve decided to make another Monkey Island.”
And here we are. To say that Return to Monkey Island is highly anticipated fails to capture the mental and emotional pilgrimage of older gamers who were swept up as children onto the shores of Booty Island by a pair of mocking demon eyes. This is a event gameand perhaps the only conceivable event game in what is, despite a few scattered bright lights over the decades, a frustratingly serious genre.
But what is this “return”? A return to the past: retrograde fan service for 40-somethings? A return to commercial interests: Monkey Island watered down to make room for later sequels of dubious canonicity? Or it could be… maybe…a return to form for the adventure game genre, when you didn’t know what point-and-click would do next, and you were entranced by what it did.
Terrible Toybox, under the direction of Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, has set out to offer something new, but at the same time, the entire game is filled with musings on the question “What it is The secret of the Monkey Island? – the war cry of giant monkey heads around the world. We’re invited to join Guybrush on parallel expeditions for both the Secret of the Game™ and a larger, more momentous secret about exactly what we’ve longed for all these years, and if any of them ever existed.
It’s immediately clear that Return is going to lean into his story. The title screen menu directs players to a scrapbook that provides an overview of the story so far. This politely covers all of the Monkey Island games, but it’s clear which ones take precedence. Monkey Islands 1 and 2 get a glorious multi-page narrative through images painted in Return’s new art style, with each buckle lovingly adorned. The Curse of Monkey Island has a neat distribution of high-level plot points…and there were two other games.
The most hypersensitive fans of Monkey Island will detect a selective respect for the works after Gilbert. Perhaps it was our imagination, but little digs are made into the directions in which the story was taken, with particular interest in how Elaine Marley was portrayed. When Guybrush looks back at the image of Elaine frozen in a statue in The Curse of Monkey Island, her comment that LeChuck “thinks of her like a piece of furniture” could easily be directed at the writers of that third game. It is emphasized at every opportunity that the Elaine of the first two games never needed to be saved by Guybrush. It’s ironic that Gilbert and co-writer Dave Grossman have to go to great lengths to save her here.
Despite all of this looking back at the series so far, Return to Monkey Island feels fantastically fresh. He owns the nostalgia that surrounds him and confidently turns it into the fabric of his story. New characters abound that immediately won our hearts (friends and foes) and the sheer scale of the adventure allows space to be experienced in reimagined versions of familiar locations, while also conjuring up tons of new locations filled with mystery and fun. The jokes and pervasive goofy seriousness are fresher than ever since 1991, choosing the right moments to recall classic lines, but without making them the main attraction. The new art style speaks for itself and is gorgeous in motion and of course also harvested for metafictional jokes. The variety of perspectives on the action, the depth of the setting, and the delightful complexity of the characters’ little worlds is outstanding.
But the biggest triumph is probably the new interface, which provides the framework for all aspects of the game to come together in a rich player experience. On Switch, this is with direct joystick control of Guybrush, using ‘R’ and ‘L’ to highlight interactive elements and cycle through them. This provides the exploratory experience of mousing around to investigate the landscape – the first joy of arriving in a new area. In an adventure game sense, there are no “verbs”, no selectable on-screen action types to apply to objects in the world. However, in a more general sense, verbs are infinite. Where some modern adventure games have reduced all interactions to “doing things to things”, Return to Monkey Island displays text to show what it will do when you press a button. So instead of always seeing “Walk to…”, “Pick up…”, “Talk to…”, “Look…”, etc., Guybrush can “Brave…”, ” Steal…”, “Clear the air with…”, “Praise be to the excellent…”, etc. This is treated as another space for writers to play: a place for more jokes, surprises, and rewards for progression.
The combination through this interface of the graphics, the writing, the excellent voice work, and the new ideas and joyous reworkings in the music is sublime. There is a strong sense of authorial control over the entire experience, everything flows together to deliver a cohesive vision: a story of fun, adventure, liberation and sentimentality, depicted through thoughtfully designed and inspiring puzzles, interwoven with set and aside pieces. that kept us laughing.
Given the depth of the well of fan passion, it would have been absurd for Return to Monkey Island don’t draw on it. Given the specific clamor for Ron Gilbert’s follow-up to his first two games, it would have been absurd not to play him. Likewise, it would be absurd to oppose the dependence of this game on its roots. Yes, people who are not fans of the first two games for a long time. Will Have a lot of fun with Return to Monkey Island, but Terrible Toybox has harnessed the incredible storytelling potential of fan fervor to deliver something rare and spectacular for those in the crosshairs of the target audience. If that’s you, go ahead and add a point to the score below.
Perhaps Return finally found a way to exist thanks to the multimedia remake fad as a genre, but if that’s the case, then it hasn’t had an influence on the game: it’s designed with complete integrity and an infectious joy that shines through every scene.
Return to Monkey Island reaches into your heart, plucks out your desire to know THE SECRET and slams it in front of your face. As hard as it is to admit that The Secret of Monkey Island™ could always have been a McGuffin, it’s heartbreaking to contemplate that your 30-year longing for the Monkey Island 3 could be the same. Delighting you as you shudder, Return presents your transfigured gaze with a phenomenal point-and-click adventure brimming with passion and fun. All the way through, you’ll be achingly hoping for the big reveal, and then…