Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review

Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review

The original band of LucasArts developers is back together for the thoroughly satisfying Return to Monkey Island, and I couldn’t be happier.

It’s been thirteen years since the last chapter in the Monkey Island series, the episodic Tales of Monkey Island, released in 2009 by Telltale Games. It’s been even longer since series creator Ron Gilbert has worked on the series, with his last official entry being Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge in 1991, before his departure from LucasArts.

Flash forward to 2022, when Ron Gilbert’s Terrible Toybox studio announced that they were partnering up with publisher Devolver Digital, along with series co-writer/designer Dave Grossman, and composers Peter McConnell, Michael Land, and Clint Bajakian to create the sixth entry in the iconic series, Return to Monkey Island.

I wanted the art in Return to Monkey Island to be provocative, shocking, and not what everyone was expecting.

The marketing for Return to Monkey Island caught everyone off guard when the game was announced out of the blue this past April. The one thing everyone commented on was the game’s dramatically different art style. I’ll admit, I was a little skeptical about how it looked too, but now that I’ve played the game, not only have I gotten used to it, but I can honestly say that it fits perfectly with the game’s world and has a gritty, hand-drawn charm that’s uniquely its own.

On his blog, Ron Gilbert explained the reasoning behind the change in art styles, saying “When Dave (Grossman) and I first started brainstorming Return to Monkey Island we talked about pixel art, but it didn’t feel right. I didn’t want Return to Monkey Island to be just a throwback game, I wanted to keep moving Monkey Island forward because it’s interesting, fun, and exciting. I wanted the art in Return to Monkey Island to be provocative, shocking, and not what everyone was expecting.”

Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review 2

If that was his goal, then Gilbert and company have succeeded in spades. During my twelve-hour playthrough, I found that not only does Return feel like a breath of fresh air, but it’s also a welcome return to the classic point-and-click adventure games of the 80s and 90s, albeit with some much welcome quality of life improvements (not the least of which is a handy to-do list you can always refer back to if you’re uncertain of what to do next).

The story in Return to Monkey Island begins rather simply but soon spirals into an intricate web of intrigue, adventure, and double-crosses. Series protagonist Guybrush Threepwood has recommitted himself to finding the fabled Secret of Monkey Island, something he never actually found out, despite the original game’s title. However, his arch-nemesis, the evil zombie ghost pirate LeChuck is also after the secret, and he’s allied himself with dark forces that threaten the entire Caribbean should they get their grubby hands on it before Guybrush. Things only get more bonkers from there.

Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review

For the purposes of this review, I won’t go into too much of the story, since that’s half the fun of these types of games, but I can say that the quality of everything in the game, from the visuals and writing to the gameplay and voice acting is top-notch.

Return to Monkey Island is an adventure game in the most classical sense, but one that has eschewed a lot of the frustrating elements that led to the genre’s downfall in the late 90s and early 2000s, namely, pixel hunting, backtracking, and illogical puzzles.

Pixel hunting has been eliminated by having characters and objects clearly defined by the crisp and detailed artwork, and the game’s treasure map-style X-shaped cursor distinctly shows the name of the item above it. When solving puzzles, if an item can be used, the cursor will display a context-sensitive prompt. Any other items that aren’t relevant to a particular puzzle will have a bright red no symbol next to them.

Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review 3

While Return to Monkey Island does have its fair share of headscratchers, for the most part, the puzzles make sense. Even if you’re stuck on one, you usually have the option of working on a couple of others. For those who get completely flummoxed, there is an in-game hint book you can use (which I chose not to use), but the temptation to overuse it might be too much for some.

In an effort to minimize backtracking, the game offers several fast travel options both within islands and the game’s overworld sea map. Guybrush also has the added ability of now being able to cover ground more quickly with a double click of the mouse, eliminating time spent travelling between areas.

Return to Monkey Island is a triumphant return to form for a series that’s been synonymous with the adventure game genre for decades.

When you start the game you have your selection of two difficulty modes to choose from, Casual or Hard. Casual mode includes all the story and fun but with “casual puzzles for the busy on-the-go player”, while Hard mode has more and harder puzzles “for the pro-adventure gamer who wants it all.”

I choose Hard mode. I didn’t wait thirteen years for a new Monkey Island to take the easy way out. Even so, I flew through the first few chapters of the game with ease, only getting stumped a couple of times. Having said that, there’s a point in the game where the map opens up and the puzzles become much more complex and challenging. That’s when the game got hard, but not impossible.

Return to Monkey Island (PC) Review

I maintain that there has never been a bad Monkey Island game. The closest the series got was Escape From Monkey Island (2004), whose biggest sin was that it was mediocre, though there’s still a lot to love about it. Return, however, is a triumphant return to form for a series that’s been synonymous with the adventure game genre for decades.

Return to Monkey Island is a game that any fan of the series should love (regardless of its initially unorthodox art style) and one that players can tailor to their particular skill level. Having spent many hours navigating its treacherous islands, sailing its high seas, and matching wits (and swords) with an endearingly quirky cast of characters, I can easily say that this is one adventure you won’t want to miss the boat on.