That nostalgic backstory is why “Return to Monkey Island” is so important. It’s not just a return for the series, but also for creator Ron Gilbert, who left the series after 1991’s “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.” This latest game finally answers the question fans have been speculating about for decades: what is the secret of Monkey Island? Other designers after Gilbert have provided their own answers in sequels. “Return to Monkey Island” reveals the secret straight from the original creator himself – and definitively.
“Return to Monkey Island” didn’t quite live up to 30 years of pent-up fan theorization, forum debate and hype from hardcore fans whose tastes are still locked in a time capsule of ’90s adventure games. Not because it’s a bad game (on the contrary, it’s good). delightful), but because Monkey Island is a modest series that has been unfairly saddled with an unachievable epic expectation. The series has always been about a dumb pirate going on crazy adventures, and “Return to Monkey Island” is very aware of this position; The game’s most impressive achievement is how deftly it navigates that conundrum, harnessing the merry energy of Monkey Island’s earliest games while also tempering the nostalgic dread of a time that can’t be recaptured.
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For the uninitiated, “Return to Monkey Island” stars Threepwood, a funny and remarkably lovable pirate who sails across the Caribbean during an anachronistic version of the Golden Age of Piracy. The world of Guybrush is a cartoon version of Saturday morning piracy, in which sword fights are defined by the 18th-century equivalent of “yo momma” jokes, ship captains grumble about red tape and zombies are extremely vulnerable to root beer. Since the game is a sequel (specifically to “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” in the timeline of the series), you’ll also need some background information before playing.
To that end, “Return to Monkey Island” has a digital scrapbook where Guybrush himself tells the key plot points from the previous titles to catch up with you. Most of those plot points involve Guybrush’s nemesis, the undead buccaneer LeChuck. LeChuck is also looking for the secret of Monkey Island and is also in love with Elaine Marley (Governor of the fictional Tri-Island Area and Guybrush’s wife).
Everyone can enjoy “Return to Monkey Island”, whether you are an adventure game veteran or a total novice. The game is designed as a classic point-and-click title made with a modern sensibility: simple user interface, puzzles that encourage unconventional thinking and snappy dialogue combined with a vibrant cubist art style and highly customizable difficulty levels. There is a Casual mode for players who want to enjoy the game’s story with minimal puzzles and a Hard mode for those who want a more cerebral challenge.
My favorite feature was the Hint Book, an in-game inventory item that provides spoiler-free tips on solving a puzzle or continuing a quest. Not only does the Hint Book save you from alt-tabbing to a browser for help, it’s also scalable: you can rely on it as little or as much as you want. The first few hints for a quest are just nudges in the right direction, but you can also go through an entire item to work it all out for you. As someone who loved playing the game on Hard, but needed a little push every now and then, the Hint Book was a godsend. There is also a button (or button for controllers) to highlight all interactive items in an area.
But even with all these new dressings and increased accessibility, “Return to Monkey Island” is a title made for lifelong fans. It’s full of self-referential throwbacks, inside jokes, and cameos from characters introduced in other Monkey Island games. The game’s humor is dry, absurd and often breaks the fourth wall – all of which jeopardize Gilbert’s authoring brand. For fans of Monkey Island, the opening title sequence of “Return to Monkey Island,” which shows Mêlée Island at night with the game’s theme music, is as iconic as the opening crawl in Star Wars.
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“Return to Monkey Island” is everything the developers claimed it to be. It’s a wonderful, heartfelt adventure game that made me laugh all the time. The only clunky thing to note is the pace. The game starts off at a steady pace and then reaches a sudden and massive peak. I went from a clear, focused mission for a specific area to suddenly being saddled with a dozen objectives that had me frantically traveling back and forth between multiple islands.
Still, the payoff from the game’s final act – and the entire journey that leads to it – makes “Return to Monkey Island” a game well worth your time. Monkey Island is a series that has stood up surprisingly well to the sequel escalation that is hitting other long-running video game franchises. Aside from “Tales of Monkey Island,” which featured a zombie plague outbreak in the Caribbean, the series has consistently focused on the personal. Monkey Island is not about saving the world. It is about the adventures of the kind and wide-eyed Guybrush Threepwood – his dream to become a famous pirate, marry the love of his life and find the secret of Monkey Island. He’s the kind of life that would be celebrated with mugs raised in a quayside tavern, not trumpeted in a cathedral where kings and queens attended. But over time, Guybrush and Monkey Island have been elevated to something they are not by his fans.
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In June, Gilbert announced he would stop talking about “Return to Monkey Island” and shut down comments on his personal blog after angry posters wrote insulting comments in response to the game’s art direction. Some commentators demanded that Gilbert rework “Return to Monkey Island” or cancel it outright because it wasn’t made in the pixel art style of the first two Monkey Island games. They defended the harassment, saying it comes from a place of passion, deeply shaped by the Monkey Island series since childhood.
Those people longed for a Monkey Island that couldn’t possibly be recreated. After 30 years, the original developers behind Monkey Island are now different people. They grew up and Guybrush had to grow up next to them. While playing “Return to Monkey Island”, I got the distinct feeling that this was a game about revisiting the past, not reliving it. During my moody between the years, Monkey Island taught me that being silly and laughing at stupid jokes is much more fun than a judgmental grumble. After I finished the game, I felt like I had said goodbye to a part of my childhood.
By officially revealing the secret and bringing the series to a close, “Return to Monkey Island” intentionally closes a chapter in the franchise’s life. It’s not the end of Guybrush Threepwood or Monkey Island, but it’s a swan song for the bygone era from which they emerged.