Return to Monkey Island is a point-and-click adventure game by Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman, the team at Terrible Toybox and publisher Devolver Digital. Terrible Toybox worked on Thimbleweed Park which was a fantastic return to form for P&C games, although nothing beats a game from Rob and Gilbert, and I am pleased to say the 30-year gap between Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and this new game was well worth the wait. Return to Monkey Island is out now on Steam and Nintendo Switch and while I played and thoroughly enjoyed the PC gameplay, I have heard from friends that it plays really well with the Switch controls too.
The Secret of Monkey Island was the very first point-and-click adventure game I ever played back in 1990 on 5.25″ floppy disks and using the dial-a-pirate wheel to get past the game’s security questions. Nine-year-old me couldn’t comprehend what I was playing, to the point where I spent literally a year just walking around the early stages of Melee Island, marveling at the talking pirates, barking dogs and the grog references. The Monkey Island games are full of fantastic and clever puzzles, and for my younger self, I got stumped many times and couldn’t work out what to do next.
I did not know how to get past the barking dogs at the Governor’s mansion as my innocent mind had no comprehension that poisoning meat and giving it to the dogs to put them to sleep was the solution to getting past them. Nor did I think using a rubber chicken with a pulley would work, or that the phrases, “I am rubber, you are glue”, or “you fight like a dairy farmer”, would be engrained in my memory forever, giving a subtle nod to my time in Monkey Island games every time I see them.
When I first started playing Return to Monkey Island and after a quick welcome back to the puzzle and exploration mechanics, the clever puzzle design was at the forefront. Little things like seeing a duck in a pond and one of your tasks is to feed it. You see bread on the floor, but two bystanders won’t let you have any of it. There’s another way to feed them, but trial and error prevails and often it’s an unlikely pairing that you overlooked as your first thought is, “surely that wouldn’t work.” There were multiple examples of this for me where I had the right tools, but I hadn’t connected the dots or talked to the right people. There was a lot of back and forth but thankfully it never felt cumbersome to do so.
There were so many things I liked about this game, and they were more poignant given I had played the previous games back when they first released. The new graphics style is certainly a change, but I got used to them early, and it was fantastic to see all the elements of Melee Island in glorious modern graphics. I loved talking to familiar characters from the original games and visiting those old locations. It was cool to see some things hadn’t changed while others had changed enough to give a subtle nod to the past.
I also appreciated that there were some sequences we played in The Secret of Monkey Island that had similar undertones or objectives, told in a new way in this game. It was one of many nods to the past but will be fun for new players to the series to figure out these for the first time. One great feature that surprised me was that if you load an older save game, Guybrush will give you a quick recap of events thus far. It’s not something I have seen in games like this and a godsend for those times where you return to the game after years and are trying to remember where your cloud saves were at. Amazing!
I liked the fact we are given a hint book early in the game and while I tried not to use it for a few hours, eventually I caved. I was very pleased that it didn’t give the direct answer straight away, rather it gave you enough of a hint to point you in the right direction without making it too easy. I am always eventually reaching for a walkthrough in most P&C games as they’re too clever and witty for my small brain. Most of the time I have the tools I need in my inventory, I just hadn’t explored all options with them, or hadn’t used them enough times together. It was great to keep the player within the game with the hintbook rather than alt-tabbing out and possibly losing the player’s focus.
I rolled credits just shy of 10 hours taking my time to explore all locations and listening to all the incredible dialogue. The writing is superb and the puns on point. There are a couple of alternate endings too depending on decisions you make through the game. With my ending, I was initially hit with a little deja’vu but just like the final scene with Guybrush in deep reflection, I thought back on the journey, not just of this game but of the first two back in the 90’s and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I really appreciated the final touch added to the scrapbook once you finish the game, so if you skipped that part, it’s well worth having a read and getting an insight into Ron and Dave’s vision.
Overall, Return to Monkey Island met all my nostalgic desires for the series while creating some fantastic new memories. The point-and-click genre has had a renaissance over the past four or so years with many great titles proving that this genre is well worth keeping alive and Return to Monkey Island shows that Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and the team at Terrible Toybox haven’t lost their stride. I would love to see more Monkey Island games from the team; however, I would just be happy if they continue to make great point-and-click adventures in any IP for many years to come.