Way back in 1990, a point ‘n click adventure game called The Secret of Monkey Island was released to significant acclaim, going down in gaming history as one of the best titles in the genre. Now, over 20 years (and several sequels) later, this beloved series returns for a nostalgic burst of pirate fun. Developed by Terrible Toybox and helmed by series creator Ron Gilbert, Return to Monkey Island promises fans a lighthearted romp through the Caribbean, complete with puzzles, laughs, and even a bit of philosophy. Our hearts burst at the seams with love for the bygone era of point ‘n click adventures – does Return to Monkey Island reignite that dormant flame? Let’s see if this newest pirate point ‘n click is worth your time and cash.
The Hunt for the Secret
Guybrush Threepwood is an innocuous pirate who has gone on many adventures, but in Return to Monkey Island, our bumbling hero finally sets out to obtain the most elusive treasure of them all – the secret of Monkey Island. Through a series of flashbacks, told to his young son on a park bench, the game recalls Guybrush’s adventure from the iconic overlook on Melee Island to the far reaches of the Caribbean Sea. Throughout the game, you’ll rub shoulders with plenty of old friends as well as some new foes, resulting in a pleasant cast of newcomers and familiar faces.
Return to Monkey Island also boasts a flashy new art style, distinct from the bygone days of pixel art. Although there has been some discourse about the change in style, I found it to be evocative, striking, and altogether a fantastic choice. Environments and cutscenes look sharp, characters look more emotive, and each new area brings a palpable sense of place and tone.
As with most other games directed by Ron Gilbert, Return to Monkey Island is thoroughly hilarious, with snappy dialogue that will bring both light chuckles and hearty laughs. There’s even a “writer’s cut” mode you can enable, which adds a deluge of new dialogue and quips. It’s obvious that a lot of passion has been put into the story, which features numerous moments of fan service, call-outs to other classic LucasArts games, and even multiple endings.
All told, the narrative of Return to Monkey Island is satisfying and unique. Franchise veterans will be even more appreciative of the story, but Monkey Island rookies will still find plenty of content to latch onto. However, I was slightly let down by the overall conclusion, which lacks closure for both the main plot and several other characters. That said, the old adage of “it’s the journey, not the destination” rings true for Return to Monkey Island, even with a few bumps in the pacing.
Point, Click, Puzzle
In terms of gameplay, Return to Monkey Island affords an experience that is par for the course for point ‘n click adventure games. For starters, it features two difficulty options, both of which offer the same story but contain easier or harder puzzles. Controlling Guybrush with either your cursor, gamepad, or touch controls on Nintendo Switch, you interact with the environment, chatting with characters and picking up items that can be used to solve puzzles. For the most part, puzzles feel mostly logical and easy enough to suss out, although there are a few that will assuredly tease your brain.
Unlike other recent point ‘n clicks like Thimbleweed Park, Return to Monkey Island boasts a simplified control system that feels intuitive and serves the player rather than the puzzle. You’ll never be left hunting for pixels or confused about what to click on, as holding down a few buttons reveals every interactive element in a scene.
In the prologue/tutorial, things are pretty linear and it’s easy to remember what puzzles you’re trying to solve and your overall objective. However, as the game opens up and more locations become available to investigate, it can be easy to get sidetracked. Thankfully, there’s a handy “to-do list” in your inventory that you can reference at any time, reminding you of the main objectives and puzzle you’ve started. Additionally, if you ever feel stuck, you can pull out the magical hint book, which provides hints of increasing clarity, right down to a straightforward solution if you need it.
The Bottom Line on Return to Monkey Island
Overall, Return to Monkey Island is another excellent point ‘n click adventure from Ron Gilbert, packed with charming characters, hilarious dialogue, and some ear-pleasing pirate tunes. It’s awesome to see Guybrush Threepwood return after all these years, and for the most part, remain the same character we know and love. Even considering the story’s conclusion and a few sluggish sequences, it’s one of the most rewarding narratives I’ve experienced this year.
For those who have fond memories of the Monkey Island franchise, are nostalgic for the point ‘n click golden age, or simply want to embark on an adventure of piracy, Return to Monkey Island is a worthwhile purchase. It’s a lighthearted and honestly funny adventure with a lot of passion behind it, crafted by some of the best creators in the point ‘n click genre. It’s not perfect, but the wonderful combination of nostalgia and fulfilling design makes it a win in my book.
Note: This game was reviewed on the Nintendo Switch with a code provided by the publisher.
- Actually hilarious
- Comfortable, nostalgic, but fresh at the same time
- Puzzles are fun to solve and are never too frustrating
- Ends abruptly
- Lack of closure for some characters
- Genre veterans may dislike simplified controls