It’s been 32 years since Guybrush Threepwood’s 1990 adventure, The Curse of Monkey Island, the tale of a wannabe pirate seeking glory. In a long-awaited return to the classic 2D point-and-click adventure, the veteran team from LucasArts are back with a new crew at Devolver Digital and Terrible Toybox to bring the surprise entry, Return to Monkey Island, available on PS5, Xbox Series X/S, Nintendo Switch, Windows and MacOS. The next chapter picks up straight where it left off after the cliffhanger of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991) and seeks to finally answer the decades-old question, what is the secret of Monkey Island?
As a long-standing fan of the original titles, there’s a feeling of a long-awaited reunion from the moment the game starts. Starting at the Island of Mêlée, preparing to set sail, attempting to sneak onto zombie-pirate arch nemesis’ ship, and back to the mysterious Monkey Island, the game presents quite a trek. For those who aren’t privy to Guybrush’s absurd antics, you’re in for a wild ride. As the journey picks up directly after LeChuck’s Revenge, the first thing you’ll need is a refresher, so be sure to visit the handy Scrapbook from the main menu to get a recount of the story thus far from Threepwood himself.
While the essence of the series remains intact, it is, as returning character Otis remarks of Guybrush’s revamped appearance, looking “….different somehow, new art style?” With a new coat of paint, the world is reimagined in a stylized picture book form that perfectly fits the content. The art direction is a departure from the classic pixellated and fairly realistic aesthetics of the original series, but for me, this made the return stand out while still finding ways to be faithful to the source material. Environments are lush, inhabitants are anatomically bizarre, and found items defy any realism, which fits the incoming shenanigans perfectly.
The saga continues with most of the crew intact from way back when, including game creators, Ron Gilbert and David Grossman. Through a bumpy phase of games in-between by other teams, they’ve officially taken back control, steering the ship to shore. The charm and wit are all there, feeling authentic to what fans love but modernised and fresh.
As expected of a 2D point-and-click, the gameplay involves interacting with the world and its cast of colourful characters to solve strangely elaborate puzzles. This time, puzzles aren’t as nonsensical and defy all logic like the infamous Monkey Wrench riddle in LeChuck’s Revenge, but they still require a great deal of steps. Logic is still fairly nonsense but somehow makes complete and total sense on closer inspection.
Difficulty can be set to casual or hard, where the key distinction is how elaborate puzzles are and the amount of guidance given. For seasoned adventurers, the hard mode may be the way to go, whereas casual provides a much more streamlined experience with in-game dialogue from Guybrush, a hint book, and a checklist for each step of the way. There’s no punishment for missing something, always offering chances to reapproach, and absolutely no risk of death.
While there was enough to keep the puzzle-solving process interesting, backtracking to previously visited zones could become overly repetitive. Thankfully, most locations are small and easy to revisit without long commutes. Despite this, taking the time to explore, alternate conversations, and interacting with completely irrelevant objects can yield some incredibly satisfying responses that make the extra trip worth it.
Speaking of cheesy conversations, every dialogue option is fully voice-acted by an incredibly strong squad of vocal talent. Dominic Armato reprises his role as our hero, Guybrush, in true form with a perfect delivery of witty remarks that land almost every time, and the original composers return to reprise their music. It took me to that classic feeling of adventure game exploration, delivering a lighthearted score that feels distinct to the Monkey Island series.
While the game technically is a continuation, it does enough to call back without going overboard. There’s nostalgia in the sensations that only 90s adventure games could tap into and there are plenty of in-jokes to be found in trivia cards, optional Director’s commentary, and in-game.
Core characters and regions are brought back without feeling straight-up duplicated and they’re quick to acknowledge that it appears different. Meta jokes are cracked subtly and sparingly into conversation intelligently without feeling tacked on to the situation at hand, managing to hit that sweet spot between humor and purposeful storytelling.
On Playstation 5 it ran like a dream and my experience wasn’t hindered by any real issues. The graphics looked decent, but in a bizarre move, the default is set to medium, so “LeChuck” it on high, and every detail is ridiculously crisp.
Options were fairly limited, and the biggest in-game struggle of mine was that playing with a PS5 Dualshock controller, hovering on interactables could be finicky and sometimes overly responsive, requiring gradual shifts to interact with the desired object. Sensitivity options to reduce repeated misclicks would’ve done away with this, but luckily, the dialogue could always be skimmed with a simple button press. The game doesn’t require much in the way of controls making for a pleasant, no-fuss experience.
A well-devised foray into the life of a wannabe pirate captain, Return to Monkey Island is a masterclass in series revival. A game nostalgic enough to appeal to original fans but has its own unique identity for newcomers – easily a part of the Monkey Island legacy, but not trying to be it. The game doesn’t drastically shake up anything but keeps it fresh while continuing a long-standing journey.
The game clocks at 10-15 hours, striking a balance of content with a well-paced story that doesn’t overstay its welcome. While Guybrush revisits his past, we are invited to join him to experience not only his younger years, but for returning fans, our own. Surprisingly heartfelt and charming, the pirate’s life seems a whole lot more wholesome in Return to Monkey Island, and it’s definitely worth visiting.
- Incredibly polished visuals and audio
- A well-paced, witty story
- Accessible to new and returning players
- Item selection can be sensitive on a controller
- Substantial amounts of backtracking
- Easy to miss additional interactions