STAFF REVIEW of Return to Monkey Island (Xbox Series X)

Tuesday, January 3, 2023.
by Josh Morgan

Return to Monkey Island Box art Like many, I have been waiting for Ron Gilbert's Return to Monkey Island for a long time. Gilbert is the original creator and director of The Secret of Monkey Island, its sequel Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, and a whole catalog of other favorite point and click adventure games from the 90's. While there have been other Monkey Island games since the sequel, this is the first one Ron has worked on since leaving Lucasarts after LeChuck's Revenge. I have fond memories of sitting in my parents' living room at their PC playing Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the first Monkey Island trying to solve its pixelated puzzles, only to have my dad walk by and say “that’s not it” crushing my morale in a single sentence. Did he really know the answer to this skull puzzle? Has he secretly been playing it at night when I go to bed? Is the answer hidden away in the instruction manual? Should I have picked up that strip of leather that was in the jungle? Why was it even out there? These are the questions you start to ask yourself when you are stuck on a Gilbert puzzle. There’s always an answer, you just need to look harder.

Return to Monkey Island takes place shortly after the events of Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge. If you haven’t played any of the previous games, then you don’t know anything about its main character, Guybrush Threepwood. Guybrush is an underdog that everyone underestimates and is eager to cast aside, but with your help he’s always able to outwit the people in his way and solve any puzzle that may be blocking his goals. He leaves a path of chaos behind him everywhere he goes, and the characters in this game that have been wronged by him in the past do not hesitate to bring up the times Guybrush screwed them over, but in the end, they always help him anyway, because he’s just that lovable.

Guybrush ends up marrying Elaine, his love interest in the first game, and they have a son. The story is laid out by Guybrush telling his son about the time he finally found the secret of Monkey Island. New clues had surfaced and Guybrush was determined to discover them, but his nemesis LeChuck also heard the rumors and he’s assembling a crew to go find it before Guybrush. What happens next during its 11 hour story will have you laughing and maybe shedding a tear or two at the end.

The nostalgia factor is in full effect during this game with LOTS of throwbacks to previous characters and locations. But, if you are a newcomer to the series, they have you covered as well because all the characters from past games relive their encounters with Guybrush and you are brought up to speed during your dialog options. The writers do a really good job of making inside jokes outside ones and having everyone be a part of it. You do not need to play the previous games to enjoy this one, but I highly recommend you do because they are fantastic.

The Monkey Island series has always been about dialog and puzzles. It’s a point and click adventure game where you have set screens to fully explore and interact with objects and people within the screen limits. You’ll move the cursor around the screen where you can either select the object to have Guybrush talk about it or interact with it to perform an action. This action could be pulling, pushing, combining, stealing, it can be anything really as it depends on the item and context. You just need to move the cursor around to everything on screen to see if you can interact with it. If it’s something you can take, I recommend just taking it because you will need it later and there is no inventory maximum. I’ve had to backtrack so many times because I left an item thinking I didn’t need it, only to return to that spot an hour later stuck on a puzzle forgetting it was even there.

As you interact with characters on screen you are greeted with dialog options. Some characters need to be wooed and courted before they can offer up information, but a lot of them will need some sort of favor completed before they will help you. This is where the game turns into a constant fetch quest, but they are always interesting and usually take a few steps to solve. There are some real head scratchers in this one. Lucky for us there is a hint book in your inventory that offers up small clues as to what you need to do next. I only used it a few times, but the book does not offer spoilers on how to solve a puzzle, instead offering up tiny smidgens of information that nudge you along the right path.

For example, if you are stuck, the book might suggest you talk to someone, or look for an item, or sail to a different island to gently nudge you in the right direction rather than giving you the full answer. This method is welcome, because when you do eventually solve the puzzle, you still get that sense of reward of solving it yourself rather than having the feeling of shame of relying on a guide. I wish more games offered this nudge. Another welcome change is the “to-do” list. I still kept a notepad by my side during my playthrough, but only to jot down some notes for puzzles. Your actual objectives are kept on an in-game to-do list that places checks in the boxes next to the ones you’ve completed. Basically, it’s a quest log and is nothing new to videogames, but it’s new to the series and I was happy to see its addition.

Gone are the pixelated graphics of the Secret of Monkey Island. Gone are the Disney cartoon graphics of Monkey Island 2. The new art style of Return to Monkey Island reminds me of an abstract painting you’d see in a museum. Faces are almost Picasso like, and the environments look cel-shaded. It almost looks like a pop-up book in parts, and I think that it really works well with the game's environments and the fact that the story is being told by a father to his son. In classic Gilbert fashion, the characters even make mention of the new art style in dialog. Some tell Guybrush he looks better than before, and some mention his new art style. It’s all very silly and fits in with the theme of the game.

During the 10–12-hour story you’ll travel to islands familiar to fans of the series, both Melee Island and Monkey Island (duh) are explored extensively, but they’ve also added new islands like Terror Island, a creepy, scary place with living plants, spiders and bugs everywhere, and dark pits and caves that Guybrush hesitantly explores. You’ll also visit BRRR-Muda Island, which you’d think was a warm and cozy place, but instead is a winter ice island with harsh conditions and harsh inhabitants.

Fans of point and click puzzle games from the 90’s will love this new adventure. If you are a Monkey Island veteran, or a newcomer to the series, you will love this new adventure. It’s full of heart, full of humor, and full of puzzles that will sometimes make you scratch your head, and if my dad were still around, he’d walk by me and say, “That’s not it”. How did he know?

**Return to Monkey Island was provided by the publisher and reviewed on an Xbox Series X**

Overall: 9.5 / 10
Gameplay: 10.0 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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