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December 2022

Return To Monkey Island

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X
Genre: Adventure
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Developer: Terrible Toybox
Release Date: Sept. 19, 2022

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PC Review - 'Return to Monkey Island'

by Andreas Salmen on Oct. 6, 2022 @ 1:00 a.m. PDT

Return to Monkey Island is the long-awaited follow-up to the Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge.

There aren't many dormant franchises that get a proper sequel after a 30-year absence, much less from its original creator. Ron Gilbert wasn't adequately involved in any Monkey Island game since Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge in 1991. Now he's taking a stab at a proper sequel with his current studio, Terrible Toybox. Return to Monkey Island picks up the story at the end of the second entry and recontextualizes the infamous conclusion that left many fans baffled. Ultimately, Return to Monkey Island is a sequel that tries to find a conclusion to the "original" tale while still acknowledging all of the Monkey Island games that came after LeChuck's Revenge. It's a game drenched in fan service that still manages to be a delightful and entertaining adventure for fans and newcomers alike.

If you've never played a Monkey Island game, you'll still have a good time with Return to Monkey Island. Fans who have recently played the first games will get substantially more out of the experience — especially with the remastered versions. Return to Monkey Island bathes in nostalgia, unlike any other recent video game I have played. It mirrors a lot of the structure and locations in the very first adventure and regularly surprises returning players with environments that are reimagined but closely familiar. It's filled with callbacks, but it also introduces new characters and situations that are unique to the adventure, and it never tips so far into nostalgia that it appears self-gratifying.

It succeeds in recalling what made The Secret of Monkey Island such a joy to play: slapstick humor, swashbuckling pirate adventures, memorable characters, and fun puzzles. If we look at the gameplay, Return to Monkey Island is a modern point-and-click adventure. Even though Gilbert's last game, Thimbleweed Park, utilized the antiquated "use verbs to interact" adventure formula, Return to Monkey Island does not. It requires simple clicks to play and interact with objects. Talk to characters in the environment, interact with objects, collect items, and combine them to solve various environmental and social puzzles.

The adventure begins with the same old conflict between protagonist Guybrush Threepwood and his undead pirate nemesis LeChuck in a race to unearth the secret of Monkey Island. Guybrush's adventure starts on Melee Island, where everything looks familiar, but many things have changed. What begins as a bid to quietly follow LeChuck and claim the secret for yourself ends in a back-and-forth struggle that sees us traveling across familiar and new island locations.

Return to Monkey Island strikes a good balance, and there is little that I can fault it for, except perhaps playing it a bit too safe. Early sections lean heavily on nostalgia, but later on, it successfully breaks away into unique narratives. While new characters are usually introduced successfully, not all of them get to shine under the weight of familiar faces and anecdotes. The game does a good job of mentioning past deeds and situations, both in-game and via a scrapbook that details the events. If you haven't played the first two titles recently, it quickly gets you up to speed with the story, and newcomers aren't left out of every inside joke. I won't spoil anything about the story, but I thoroughly enjoyed the adventure, even though I could see some people being disappointed (again) by the ending.

What helps tremendously is the way the game is designed. Puzzles are usually resolved in interesting, amusing, and most importantly, logical ways. The principle of threes is deployed quite regularly, and players can tackle multiple objectives at any given time. Even when you have a choice about which objective to focus on, the game keeps you on track. When you run into a roadblock, there is at least one objective that you can continue chasing, but overall, the story is a rather linear experience.

Puzzles are neither easy nor overly difficult. Don't worry; the solutions don't require you to look up a walkthrough after being stuck for days. The difficulty flows quite nicely, with some roadblocks that leave you pondering for a little while — but never to the point that a solution feels illogical or impossible. Even if you get stuck, Return to Monkey Island has plenty of help options.

For one thing, there is a story mode that removes the harder puzzles from the game. If you go the hard route, there is a magical hint book that you can reference whenever you feel stuck without receiving an outright solution. It gives you rather general hints that get progressively specific about how to approach a given roadblock. There were a handful of times when the hint book nudged me in the right direction. I still got the satisfaction of figuring out the solution, but I skipped a bunch of frustration and aimless wandering. If you don't need the hint book, there's no need to use it, but it is super helpful in a pinch.

The biggest pre-release talking point centered on the graphics in Return to Monkey Island. I didn't know whether I would ultimately love it, but it always looked pretty. Monkey Island games aren't necessarily known for cohesive art direction, but now that I've spent some quality time with Guybrush, LeChuck, and the other colorful characters of this world, I love it. It looks great and offers a good sense of depth in its detailed environments across different islands and biomes. It looks consistently beautiful, and the art direction is stronger than it ever was.

The sound does the rest. The attention to detail in the dialogue, voice cast, and set dressing all comes together in such a charming and engrossing way that you can't resist the game's goofy charm. To complete the well-rounded nostalgic experience, the audio is packed with the original composers and returning cast, like Dominic Armato reprising his role as Guybrush. It's one of my favorite releases of the year thus far.

Return to Monkey Island is an important game. It's a classic video game franchise that players love to see, especially when they're this lovingly realized. Return to Monkey Island keeps you entertained for roughly 10 hours. It even has a "more dialogue" option in the settings that adds extra dialogue to the game, which is perfect for a second playthrough, which it absolutely deserves. It has reinvigorated my love for point-and-click adventure games, which has not seen too many exciting releases in recent years.

That's also probably my biggest critique. Yes, Return to Monkey Island is lovely, but it still stands with one foot in the past, whereas other recent adventures like Unavowed have subverted my expectations of adventure games in intriguing ways.

Return to Monkey Island is a love letter to the franchise and adventure games in general. It succeeds at what it set out to do from the outset, with a fun story, clever puzzles, and a big pinch of nostalgia to top it all off. It may play it a bit too safe, but that's easily forgotten when the rest of the experience is so consistently delightful.

Score: 9.0/10

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