Monkey Island, and its clumsy conquest by Guybrush Threepwood, has a storied history that’s as old as me, give or take a year. It’s rooted in an era when adventuring was a point-and-click soirée, although its genetics have endured through Ron Gilbert’s Terrible Toybox, who until now are best known for Thimbleweed Park. Although it’s a series that has seen a handful of entries to this point, Return to Monkey Island—the sixth instalment ushering in the return of series creator Ron Gilbert—seeks to resolve the controversial ending of LeChuck’s Revenge while serving up a swashbuckling caper that manages to be both nostalgic and industry-leading in all areas of concern for point-and-click adventuring.
Return to Monkey Island picks up right where LeChuck’s Revenge leaves off, with a tiny Guybrush and “Chuckie” being ejected from the inner-workings of a fairground attraction. It was a twist that, at the time, pulled back the veil of Guybrush piracy pursuit and cast it into an odd uncertainty. Where other sequels refused to address the cliffhanger, Gilbert deftly resolves it in ingenious fashion, clearing the slate for another glorious Caribbean campaign for Guybrush, his bride Elaine, and a whole host of familiar faces from the series’ glory days. And that’s kind of what Return to Monkey Island is all about.
Bruce Springsteen sang about them, but Guybrush’s glory days are something he fondly clings to and Monkey Island’s long-sought ‘secret’ fuels his foolish gambits. Return to Monkey Island sees him boast of his age-old triumphs to piracy’s indifferent new wave, burn bridges quicker than he can build them, all in the pursuit for the island’s secret which, to him, means relevance. As charming as Guybrush is throughout—and it is terrific to hear Dominic Armato back in the role—there’s a certain melancholy to his return. It’s nostalgic and tackles the same notions of ‘greatness versus simplicity’ that Nathan Drake’s last chapter did.
It’d serve nobody to delve into the game’s story beats or puzzles, but I do believe Return to Monkey Island, as a direct result of Gilbert’s wit and creativity, is absolutely a worthy successor to LeChuck’s Revenge. With that said, Return to Monkey Island—as its predecessor did—ends rather abruptly and dramatically. It, too, is oddly open to interpretation, I can see it creating a gulf in the fan base although I quite liked the contemplative nature of the closing moments.
Return to Monkey Island very much follows the blueprint of past games, it’s a charming point-and-click puzzler that’ll do plenty to challenge even the most lateral of thinkers. I don’t believe there’s anything quite as obscure as the infamous “monkey wrench” quandary, but it can demand a bit of out of the box thinking. One thing in Return to Monkey Island that really impressed me was how accessible they sought to make it.
There’s a casual mode that delivers simpler puzzle paths, as well as a slightly harder option that’ll add an extra step to most tasks. On top of this, Terrible Toybox introduced an elegant hint system unlike anything I’ve seen in the genre. Presented through a magical tome whose pages hold all of the answers, it’s sure to negate the need of seeking out Neoseeker. There’s no limit to its use, so you could spam it breeze through the game’s brain teasers comfortably. I feel as though Return to Monkey Island’s casual difficulty still feels rewarding while respecting your time, so opt for that if the regular game seems taxing.
Although I’d be curious to know how the handheld version of Return to Monkey Island plays, for the purpose of this critique I made my way through the adventure on PC. It’s in the name, point-and-click games are at home on keyboard and mouse and this legacy sequel is no different. Navigating inventories is quick and efficient, as is moving Threepwood from scene to scene, there’s something quaint about how simple and uncomplicated these games can feel for the player, even if there’s a lot going on with the back end.
There’s so much fan service packed into Return to Monkey Island. As soon as the merry and all-too-familiar theme accompanies the title card, I felt a merriment that had me floating buoyantly like a cloud. And although the new faces of Melee Island and the surrounding high seas serve their purpose, much of the game’s nostalgia is built on the back of the plentiful cameos from the likes of eccentric salesman Stan S. Stanman and Murray, the disembodied skull. The game’s open world is littered with trivia cards that, once collected, grant the player a chance at a question that plumbs the depths of Monkey Island lore—a fun distraction, to say the least.
The main source of negativity I expect to hear surrounding Return to Monkey Island is the grand departure in terms of its art direction. While it’s far from conventional and a far cry from the game’s iconic pixel art beginnings, I found that the colourful palette and charming animation quickly endeared itself to me. It won’t be for everybody, but I think a cartoonish front is apt for a game full of such hijinx and buffoonery.
Return to Monkey Island is a refreshing return for one of the medium’s most storied franchises. It’s a rich adventure, steeped in nostalgic whimsy that’s matched by a cute art direction that’s silly and charming and all things in between. I particularly loved how Gilbert and the team innovated on genre norms, introducing something as novel as an integrated hint system.
When it comes to pure fan service, there won’t be many better this year than Return to Monkey Island. It feels like the true sequel to LeChuck’s Revenge and it feels as though its clever, self-referential wit is a product of Gilbert’s return. As sad and nostalgic as parts of Guybrush’s newest tale can be, I had a wonderful time revisiting familiar people and places in yet another golden-age adventure.
A nostalgic caper on the high seas
Creative and enjoyable puzzles
The fun new art style
I love the hint integration
The ending might be too abrupt and open-ended for some