The Monkey Island series, created by Ron Gilbert, has a long and storied history. The first two games, released in 1990 and 1991, were both helmed by Gilbert. The next two games in the series, Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island, were released by LucasArts without the original creative team, before teaming up with Telltale to release Tales of Monkey Island in 2010 with some of Gilbert’s input. As any Star Wars nerd can tell you, Disney then acquired Lucasfilm and all subsidiaries in 2012, which seemed to put a kibosh in any hope for a future Monkey Island project, despite Gilbert campaigning for years, requesting the rights to continue the series. As a result of the series’ complex history and rights changeover, any real hope for another entry was considered dead in the water, making 2022’s surprise announcement of Return to Monkey Island all the more triumphant for fans. But with so much riding on such a beloved series, could the game ever hope to measure up, or would it simply fight like a cow?
Return to Monkey Island picks off right at the end of the second game, where two small children, implied to be Guybrush and LeChuck, come out of an amusement park ride after just enacting the story of the game. While the initial story does follow these two for a while, we quickly jump back into the story of Guybrush and LeChuck as we know them, both on a quest to once again find the Secret of Monkey Island. Predictably, hijinks ensue. To be honest, that’s the only way I know how to describe the plot without going into too much detail. The first two parts of the story do feel a bit like a “greatest hits” compilation, with Guybrush revisiting many of the places and people who were iconic to the first two games, and while it wasn’t bad, I was thrilled when the third act finally struck out on its own and lead us to new locales and challenges. The overall story is hilarious and bizarre and entirely fitting of the Monkey Island name, though I’m still not sure about the ending.
The game has a cast of both old and new friends and enemies for Guybrush to meet, including Murray, Wally, the Voodoo Lady, Stan, and of course his lady love Elaine. New characters include Odina, the queen of BrrMuda, the new Pirate Leaders, and LeChuck’s crew of otherworldly demons and spirits. They all mesh together perfectly, with weird quirks, smart dialogue, and hilarity at the core of every character. While Elaine will always be my favorite character, I was particularly impressed by newcomer Apple Bob, one of LeChuck’s crew who spends his time suspended upside down from the mast, as well as the perpetually nervous Ned Filigree.
As with every Monkey Island game since Curse, the voice acting is perfectly on point, with the irreplaceable Dominic Armato reprising his role as Guybrush. I say irreplaceable, but truly, I don’t think there’s anyone else who could bring Guybrush so perfectly to life with all of his eccentricities, sarcasm, off-the-cuff musings, and cluelessness, both real and feigned. Alexandra Boyd, Denny Delk, Neil Ross, Gavin Hammon, Leilani Jones, Wally Wingert, and Rob Paulsen all return to their roles as Elaine, Murray, Wally, Stan, the Voodoo Lady, Herman Toothrot, and the Lookout, respectively. The only major actor to not reprise their role was Earl Boen as LeChuck, having retired from acting in 2017. Instead, he was replaced by industry veteran Jess Harnell, who does an almost scarily accurate mimic of his voice. Notable standouts among the new cast include Rogello T. Ramos as Judge Planke and Alix Wilton Regan as Captain Madison.
Now, how are the puzzles? Every Monkey Island game needs a plethora of puzzles, as they are, after all, adventure games. There are two modes available, casual and hardcore, and because I’m a veteran adventure gamer I thought hardcore would be a cakewalk for me, I wasn’t about to use some sissy casual mode. Full disclosure - that was definitely not a cakewalk. Just as with previous entries in the series, Return to Monkey Island uses its own sense of internal logic that does make complete sense once you figure it out, though it verges on indecipherable moon logic at points. Fortunately, the Voodoo Lady gives you an enchanted book of hints early in the game, though I was loathe to use it. The puzzles were clever and bizarre and humorous, providing a hearty challenge at all steps along the way.
The other ingredient every Monkey Island game needs to have? Laughs, and plenty of them. Ever since the original Monkey Island decided to use off-the-wall placeholder dialogue as the real thing, every other game has followed suit, with quirky quips, strange sayings and situations, imaginative ideas, and enough snark to sink a ship of your choosing. It was the dialogue and humor in the original game that arguably made it such a cult classic in the first place and a pillar of the adventure game genre, even all these years later, while further entries in the series were mostly seen as hit or miss. After several facepalms, multiple double takes, and more than one abrupt laugh that got me strange looks from a cat, I’m pleased to report that Return to Monkey Island has still got it. Is every line an instant classic? No, but that also wasn’t the case in the original, despite what we see through rose-colored glasses. I laughed the whole way through the game, from both new jokes and callbacks like ‘You look like a flooring inspector.’ However, the one thing that I did miss was the gag dialogue that you hear when you try and combine objects in silly ways, as the game just plain doesn’t let you do that here.
When the game was first announced, there was no small debate among the fan community about the change in art style being used, from the first two games’ pixel art to this new, more modern illustrated take. I’ll admit, I was skeptical myself, not for love of the original style but more for looking at a few stills and going “Huh, looks a bit odd to me.” Still, every game has had a different art style, including the remasters of Monkey Island 1 and 2, so it’s not exactly like this was a monumental shakeup for the franchise. Within five minutes, I absolutely fell in love with the new style. It keeps the bright color palette of the previous games, with sharp edges, clean lines, and irregular shapes making the whole world look a bit off-kilter, exactly as it should be.
Return to Monkey Island Review | Final Thoughts
I could sit here for hours extolling how good this game is, but then my editor might kill me. What you need to know is that, for fans of the Monkey Island series, Return to Monkey Island delivers more of everything you love; humor, puzzles, Dominic Armato, to name a few. The plot is solid, and the twists along the way keep things interesting. There are more of the characters you’ve grown to know and love and it’s a fantastical return to form for a series rising from the grave, not unlike Zombie LeChuck. For those afraid that time or the absence of some original team members might have dulled the Monkey Island magic, stop waving your sword like a feather duster and dive back in.
TechRaptor reviewed Return to Monkey Island on PC with a copy provided by the publisher. It is also available on Nintendo Switch.
- Humor, Hilarity and Just Enough Heart
- Lovely New Art Style
- Dominic Armato as Guybrush Leads a Stellar Voice Cast
- Confusing Ending
- Lack of Gag Dialogue When Combining Objects