Return to Monkey Island Review (PC)

Return to Monkey Island Review: Thirty Years In The Making

Return to Monkey Island

I’ve rarely played a game that is going to hit players in so many ways as Return to Monkey Island. The first game in the series in over a decade, with development led by series creator Ron Gilbert whose last serious involvement with the series, came with 1991’s Monkey Island 2, people have been waiting 30 years to see where he would take these characters. There’s no way the game could have lived up to everyone’s expectations, and the development team clearly knew that. Return to Monkey Island is as much a game about that pressure, of growing older and feeling like you still need to reach some goal or live up to expectations, as anything else. While dripping with nostalgia and references to earlier games in the series, it won’t give every player what they’ve been looking for all these years. If you’re able to engage with It on its own terms, though, you’ll find an incredibly clever, funny, well-made game that is absolutely worth your time.

Return to Monkey Island, like the rest of the series, again stars our old friend Guybrush Threepwood, a not very good pirate who is desperate to find the secret of Monkey Island. Having never truly found what he was looking for on past adventures, he sets off again, only to find his old nemesis, ghost pirate LeChuck, is also once again after the secret. With his plans to create his own expedition thrown off by changes in local pirate leadership, Guybrush has to come up with a different strategy to beat his old enemy to the punch.

 

Limit Your Expectations

 

Return to Monkey Island

This is as good a place as any to admit that my familiarity with the Monkey Island series is somewhat limited. I’ve played several of the games in the series over the years, but this is the first one I’ve actually completed. I’ve always found them charming, but for a long time, I didn’t have access to a gaming PC, and while console ports did allow me to check the games out, I always found the interfaces on a controller felt unnatural. That means I recognize some characters certainly and have a passing familiarity with the history of the series, but I’ve also not spent the last thirty years longing for the definitive ending to the saga. I think that matters here.

Even I recognized some of the locations and characters here, though, as Return to Monkey Island is filled with familiar faces and locations, while new additions to the cast are often highly entertaining as well. Those hoping to see what Guybrush, Elaine, Murray, Stan, Carla, the Voodoo Lady, and many others have been up to will not be disappointed. They’re all here, though some have less to do than I might have liked, particularly Elaine, who feels like she is mostly around because players would have been upset if she weren’t. New characters like a local locksmith and the crew of LeChuck’s ship are also highlights, offering some of the funniest moments of the entire game.

 

Easing Things Up

 

Return to Monkey Island

Through five chapters, you’ll solve a ton of puzzles, working your way through all kinds of roadblocks that are preventing Guybrush from making his way to Monkey Island and figuring out the secret he’s sought for so long. Compared to some of the earlier games in the series, the puzzles here are definitely more manageable, but I think players who didn’t grow up on adventure games will still find some of them plenty tricky. There’s a lot of running back and forth, figuring out how to use items, and finding just the right person who will tell you how to proceed. No need to pixel hunt, everything you can select is clearly marked on screen, which actually makes this far more playable with a controller than the genre traditionally has been. Long-time genre fans will probably find it on the easy side, even on the hard difficulty, but there are definitely some puzzles here which will trip players up.

Whether that’s what you want is ultimately up to you, though. Some quality of life improvements for the series, such as a hint system which can provide only minor hints or pretty much spell entire puzzles out for you, are available. I’ll admit that once or twice I made use of it in situations where I would likely have used a guide in an older game, but usually, I preferred to work my way through puzzles myself, as that’s really the point of these games.

The new graphical style of Return to Monkey Island has drawn mixed reviews from fans, but personally, I loved it as it makes the characters and world feel incredibly vibrant. Strong voice acting and a great soundtrack also help to enhance this adventure and make it feel like the epic that it should be. Production values are top-notch, and I’d love to see pretty much everything return for any future installments.

 

Conclusion

 

Whether that’s something the creators are even interested in is up in the air, though. In many ways, Return to Monkey Island feels like a final statement on the series for creators who have worked on it for a very long time. While Guybrush may be looking for that secret once again, I don’t think the creators were all that interested in exploring that. Instead, they wanted to explore the series legacy, and what Monkey Island means to them and to players after more than thirty years, and if that sounds interesting to you, I think you’ll love this latest installment. Those wanting a more traditional sequel, though, and not interested in a slightly meta take on things may find it isn’t the game they were hoping for.

I don’t think either side is wrong, ultimately. The creators knew they couldn’t make this the game all players wanted, so they instead made the version of the game that interested them, hoping many players would find it just as interesting. I can only speak for myself, but I definitely did. Return to Monkey Island is consistently funny, with a ton of charm and interesting puzzles to work through. The interface is the best in the series, and it’s incredibly well-paced. It may not be what every fan of the series has hoped for, but I think those who can look at it for what it is rather than what they might have hoped it would be will have a wonderful time with it.

 


Final Verdict: 4/5

Available on: PC (Reviewed), Switch; Publisher:  Devolver Digital; Developer: Terrible Toybox; Players: 1; Released: September 19th, 2022; ESRB: E10+ for Everyone 10+; MSRP: $24.99

Full disclosure: This review is based on a retail copy of Return to Monkey Island.

Andrew Thornton
Andrew has been writing about video games for nearly twenty years, contributing to publications such as DarkStation, Games Are Fun, and the E-mpire Ltd. network. He enjoys most genres but is always pulled back to classic RPG's, with his favorite games ever including Suikoden II, Panzer Dragoon Saga, and Phantasy Star IV. Don't worry though, he thinks new games are cool too, with more recent favorites like Hades, Rocket League, and Splatoon 2 stealing hundreds of hours of his life. When he isn't playing games he's often watching classic movies, catching a basketball game, or reading the first twenty pages of a book before getting busy and forgetting about it.

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