Return To Monkey Island Review – Classic Comeback

Seemingly out of nowhere, the world is blessed with another Monkey Island game. Return To Monkey Island has Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman, two of the developers of the first two Monkey Island games, to get a crew together comprising of old veterans and new talents (under Gilbert’s dev studio Terrible Toys) to make another vaguely pirate-themed adventure game. With the help of publisher Devolver Digital and IP owners Lucasfilm Games.

And you know what, the journey they went on to develop this was worth it.

Return To Monkey Island successfully recaptures the magic of the classic point-and-click adventure games, delivering its own brand of witty humour to a new age that surely will get fans of the good old days all misty-eyed.


The big surprise of Return To Monkey Island is how surprising it was for fans to discover that the game features a new art style.

There was some unfounded vitriol thrown to the devs over the new look, the reaction I find to be weird. Maybe because Return To Monkey Island is billed as a continuation of The Secret Of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, and so there were expectations for it to have the same, “realistic” look that, because the tech wasn’t there yet in the early 90’s, look cartoony today in this age of photorealism graphics in games.

But think about it, the following games all have different art styles: The Curse Of Monkey Island has 2D hand-drawn look, Escape From Monkey Island went with blocky 3D art, and Tales Of Monkey Island (by Telltale Games with the involvement of Gilbert and Grossman) has their own interpretation of how the world and characters look.

The first two Monkey Island games even got remastered, with an option to play in a new, modern art style.

So Return To Monkey Island going back to 2D with a cartoon-esque art style was not really a big shocker to me. So I really don’t understand the folks that are upset about this.

Putting fan reactions aside, the art style looks great and is well executed. Characters are as expressive as you’d hope a goofy pirate adventure to be.

There are a few close-up shots zooming in to the hands and faces (you know, like the good old days) and you see all the grisly details of the subject up close- yeah the art style is not as clean and pristine as expected.

The returning characters retain their memorable charm. For example, our main man Stan S. Stanman still has that silly non-moving checkered pattern on his jacket, which remains still while his hands are flopping around non-stop each time he flaps his mouth open.

The returning locales you visit will still look familiar, and sound familiar too. The soundtrack is composed by veterans that did work on Monkey Island 1 and 2, and most of the songs you expect to return are here.

The Scumm Bar will play that familiar jingle, but move to the table where the pirate leaders are sitting and the music dynamically changes instruments from a jolly pirate jingle to a rad head-banging rock. A lot of the old locations are now connected together rather than having to split into a new room, and the way you know this is by hearing the music transitions. It’s really nice.

The voice acting, with most of the returning characters have their original voice actors reprise their roles, did a good job in matching the performance from past games. The new cast of characters and islands fit perfectly in the game as well.


In Return To Monkey Island, you play as Guybrush Threepwood, Mighty Pirate. Or at least he thinks he is. He’s back again and this time, he’s off to find the Secret Of Monkey Island, again. With his nemesis, the zombie pirate LeChuck setting off to Monkey Island (again), Guybrush must beat him to discover the Secret first. And he’ll do it in the best way he can, solving convoluted puzzles that will lead to silly and/or destructive consequences.

Return To Monkey Island starts right away with a prologue that continues the wild cliffhanger ending from Monkey Island 2. No other games addressed that unexpected turn of events, and you can find wild conspiracy theory videos by fans dissecting and analysing what it means, but this game puts a definitive explanation on what happened.

New players will find it as a cute little tutorial on the basics of point-and-click adventure games while nostalgic fans should get an “oh my god what is going on” reaction that’s so gold it should be monetised as content.

That said, Guybrush’s other adventures post-Monkey Island 2 is still canon, those are mentioned and referenced in various ways in this Return.

Return To Monkey Island adopts a more streamlined approach to its gameplay. As much as it like to harken the good old days, you won’t be using verbs. Anything that’s clickable on a screen will see a prompt appear, that prompt being a new avenue for more of its whimsy writing.

The clickable interactions usually only have one or two prompts, so what you need to do is straightforward. Other than that, you have a bottomless item inventory where you can grab and combine it with other things, or place it back in the environment. Though such interactions are usually related to puzzle solving.

The puzzle solving is what you expect- a wild goose chase of collecting things and other things to be used with other things to get the actual thing to be used on another set of things to do. And those set of things to do is tracked with a to-do list (handy!). Or to use the gamer parlance, a quest list.

The things that you need to do in your pirate adventures can be silly (go on a spiritual journey so you can make your own… mop), intriguing (how do you steal a prized item from a museum?) and mundane-yet-complicated (borrowing a book involved having to indulge in some old-school voodoo magic so that… you can apologise to someone from your past mischiefs).

If you played an adventure game, recent or otherwise, you’ll get in the groove quickly. But if you get stuck, thankfully the game now has an in-game hint book.

If you find yourself lost or have no idea how to solve a particular puzzle, the hint book lets you get hints to nudge you in the right direction. You will have to ask the book multiple times before it outright spoils the solution, so if you just want a little tip, don’t be afraid of using it. The hints are vague but helpful enough to lead you into the right mindset. Or letting you know you probably have everything you need and just needed to do one little thing.

In this way, it’s very likely you’ll get about and see Return To Monkey Island to its finish. The modern touches in the gameplay really make it more accessible, while still allowing the devs to do some wild and silly puzzles that can be a hindrance should you not be a native English speaker.

In Secret Of Monkey Island, there’s a silly gag which involves using a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle- but as a kid learning English as a second language it was never intuitive what a “pulley” was meant in this context.

I don’t think there’s any moment like that where a good, silly gag is lost due to it being too obscure, though it can also be me being old and not a kid learning a new language anymore.


Speaking of being old, the jokes. Return To Monkey Island’s brand of comedy writing is witty and fun with the occasional puns, but its main appeal is how comfortable the writers are with breaking the fourth wall and having anachronistic elements into this pirate world because haha funny. That style of writing, the charm of the Monkey Island series, remains ever-present in this Return.

But this time around, the jokes take into consideration the passing of time, and that affects the isles of the Caribbean. Like how the new generation of pirates drink fizzy drinks instead of grog and forgoing old Voodoo Magic in favour of Dark Magic (and based on the rituals involved, seems to be closer to modern hacking).

There are moments where Guybrush reminisces his adventures from Monkey Island 1 (he says “Monkey Island 1” specifically) or blurts out a spoiler for another past game while “spoiler alert” flashes below his speech bubble. The “Tell Me About Loom” guy is, reluctantly, back.

There are a lot of callbacks to the past games, and the times of the past, which makes this game designed primarily for the folks that gave the early Monkey Island games a chance and became life-long fans of it.

If you are a fan of Monkey Island and feel iffy about the new artstyle, I really implore you to give the game a chance, it’s written for you. You are the target audience that will find most of the adventure to be a rollicking good time.

You are not required to play the past games to enjoy Return To Monkey Island, but I am unsure if folks who never played a Monkey Island game will react to many of the callback jokes and references. That Loom joke would make absolutely no sense to newcomers.

And to be fair, some of the old jokes don’t carry over- like there’s no incessant need to have all the island names having the trademark “TM”, so there are some restraints on not overindulging on old jokes that have lost most if not all of its funnies today.

And there are more jokes that are of the current times. There’s a bit about getting some pirates to eat limes to prevent scurvy and it touches on some recent hot topics that I’m sure won’t go through many folks’ head. It’s a good laugh.

And one last note on the writing, I love that the game now makes Guybrush, and us the players, think about the wake of destruction he is leaving just for his incessant pursuit to find the Secret of Monkey Island. It’s an interesting commentary there about the blinding, possibly destructive nature of unchecked obsession.

Guybrush is a charming, blabbering idiot that is less of a pirate even when you compare him to a pirate cosplayer, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely harmless. And I love that the game is well-aware of it.

Return To Monkey Island should take a good 10 hours to complete, more or less. The game has an ebb and flow on how long the chapters are. The pacing is tight on the shorter chapters to keep you engaged through the plot points, while the longer chapters let you breathe and soak in the adventure that is figuring out how the chain of the order of how these puzzles need solving, while exploring the lands and seas for something to click on that either move you one step further in progressing through a puzzle or a silly gag appears. Preferably both, which do happen from time to time.

Personal Enjoyment

I am as old as the original Monkey Island game, more or less, so my first exposure to the series was the least loved entry of the series, Escape From Monkey Island. The moment I figured out the long chain of actions I need to stop a catapult which involves some pretzels, an inner tyre tube and a funny-looking cactus, I cannot stop laughing at the absurdity of it all. From there, I played the original two games- in the old VGA graphics as well as the newer Special Edition, and I was hooked, line and sinker.

I’m no Monkey Island die-hard fan- I didn’t play the other two games- but I have reasonable expectations of what a Monkey Island should be. And Return Of Monkey Island delivers everything.

It’s whimsy writing where it forgets most of the time it’s in a world of pirates (or is it intentional?!?!?). The understated jokes that if you get it, you get it as the game doesn’t expect everyone to laugh at it. Long convoluted puzzle chains that sort of make sense intuitively but also involve you doing silly and/or questionable things.

For me, Return To Monkey Island delivers an impeccable high lol per minute, and I do mean literal “laugh out loud” moments- I haven’t giggled this many times playing a video game this year.

If there’s a point I can criticise is that the game plays it too safe by the end. Not that I expect another ridiculous cliffhanger or plot twist, and I still find the ending intriguing, but the overall story , and the game in general, isn’t here to bring innovation or move the adventure game genre forward.

Return To Monkey Island is here to give you a new spin on that old ride in the theme park you used to go to as a kid. You know what to expect, but it’s the journey that counts, not the destination, right?


Return To Monkey Island is the unexpected comeback of a classic, well-loved franchise. And it earned its return. It’s a modernised, streamlined point-and-click adventure that channels the evergreen charm of the series into a new age with a balanced mix of new and old.

The fantastic writing is maybe geared towards the old fans more, but newcomers to the series can see through all that Monkey Island has to offer, thanks to the thoughtful in-game hints.

For fans of the good old days, make some time to Return To Monkey Island. It’s an amazing adventure, and you will rediscover why you love the series so much in the first place.

Played on PC. Review copy purchased by the reviewer


Return To Monkey Island

Return To Monkey Island is the unexpected comeback of a classic, well-loved franchise. And it earned its return. It's a modernised, streamlined point-and-click adventure that channels the evergreen charm of the series into a new age with a balanced mix of new and old.

  • Presentation 9
  • Gameplay 8.5
  • Content 8.5
  • Personal Enjoyment 10

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