Return to Monkey Island is a Saturday morning cartoon wrapped in a video game, and I mean that as a compliment in every way. It’s packed with colourful, often absurd adventures, a memorable and endearing cast of characters, and plenty of winks to the audience. As Guybrush Threepwood returns one last time to hunt down the Secret of Monkey Island, creator Ron Gilbert and Terrible Toybox have crafted a worthy farewell to Guybrush, his fellow pirates, and the Point and Click adventure genre as a whole.
The Point and Click genre has for years been kept from the grave by experimenting indies and nostalgia-fuelled solo developers. Its long since fallen off steam charts and the radars of AA and AAA developers. Return to Monkey Island resurrects the genre it defined for one final hurrah before it sails into the west. But make no mistake, it is a brilliant last hurrah; excellently paced over its engaging 10 hours, filled with humour but never insincere, and sticking the landing with a sweeping bow.
Worth noting that I have never played a Monkey Island game but can happily relay that no prior knowledge of the franchise or Point and Click adventures is required. There’s certainly no shortage of call-backs and unsubtle nods, but anything need-to-know is delivered in a charming opening menu scrapbook (which also serves as a refresher for returning fans) or is delivered seamlessly throughout the adventure.
Return to Monkey Island has a level of quality and polish that far outstrips many of today’s other new releases. Each pillar of the game (the characters, puzzles, music, art, and story) is balanced with the kind of apparent effortlessness that takes a hell of a lot of work. None of the many puzzles feel tedious, which is impressive for a genre that consists almost entirely of doing chores, and if at any time the player feels stuck, there is a hint guide handy to keep things moving. That’s not to say it’s perfect, or that everyone will be satisfied. Worth noting there are a few characters with incomplete arcs, some locations that don’t offer much more than spectacle, and the puzzles, even in hard mode, aren’t particularly challenging. However, I personally think this is a boon, as the puzzles are still entertaining and only one pillar of the overall experience.
The art style, which drew online criticism from those who enjoy tweeting their displeasure at game developers, is beautifully unique and very well executed. Clever use of lighting gives the 2D art style the convincing illusion of 3D, and places that might be claustrophobic with their limited screen space have an unexpected depth. Each character boasts a design that sets them apart and striking up a conversation with a new acquaintance is always sure to spark the imagination. The crew of LeShip in particular come to mind, each offering the calibre of style and voice performance other games would kill for.
Speaking of voice performances, everyone absolutely nails their roles, and the colourful cast are as entertaining to chat to as they are to look at. I find myself hurrying back to strike up a conversation or deliver a book, snack, or trinket, hoping to peel back their layers. The audio recording quality between characters is very occasionally sporadic, but that’s the nature of indie development and is a minor footnote below the overall quality of the dialogue and voice performances bringing the adventure to life.
No spoilers but Return to Monkey Island was certainly more philosophical than I expected. Those expecting a straightforward experience may not be on board for the kind of soul-searching Ron Gilbert and Terrible Toybox have offered up, but I certainly am. I found my lack of nostalgia for the franchise was no obstacle to enjoying the journey the developers have charted.
It’s very rare a developer gets the chance to close the iconic franchise they created. Seeing Ron Gilbert, David Grossman, and other Monkey Island veterans forge this final entry into the series is frankly heart-warming, and it’s even better to see them knock it out of the park. On top of being an excellent standalone game, Return to Monkey Island is a touching love letter to the genre they defined, and well worth a play.
Plus, you’ll learn a lot about anchors, and it’s all very interesting.
The writer received a review copy from the publisher. Return to Monkey Island is on Steam for PC and Nintendo Switch.
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