One of this year’s big unexpected announcements was Ron Gilbert’s return to the Monkey Island franchise. Return to Monkey Island is now here, and we checked it out on a PC and PlayStation 5.
As Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Indiana Jones & The Fate of Atlantis are some of my all-time favorite adventure games, I knew it was going to be hard to look at Return to Monkey Island objectively – too much nostalgia. I realized that’s probably okay though, as most people drawn to the game will be fans of the original two games, the events of which get summarized for players in an in-game scrapbook. A good reminder, as subsequent (non-Gilbert) games in the series made my memory a bit hazy on the topic as well.
It doesn’t take long at all to warm up to Guybrush Threepwood again though, and the game keeps tapping into that nostalgia with little trivia cards hidden inside the game. It doesn’t go for the retro look of the pixelized originals, although Gilbert did do that with Thimbleweed Park. Part of me wanted to see an updated retro look, but the new art style is colorful and charming, and easy to warm up to. What’s also nice is that, on the PlayStation 5, the control scheme is extremely accommodating towards gamepad – you no longer have to slowly drag a cursor around the screen but can use for more intuitive controls that make this a joy to play on a console. It’s a shame that PS4 owners have been passed over though – they shouldn’t miss out on a game that’s this much fun to play.
And while Return to Monkey Island, like the special editions of the first games, has voice acting, I’ve always felt that the music in the original games represented some of the most iconic tunes in all of games. It’s one of those tracks that you instantly recognize when it starts playing, even thirty years later. The good news is that not just Gilbert has returned, as the game also features new work from the original composers, which is once again delightful even though it’s not as front and center as it was in the original (non-talking) releases.
The nostalgia factor features heavily in the plot, which is set right after the events of Monkey Island 2 – as if the other sequels and Telltale games never happened. So expect Guybrush, LeChuck, Elaine and even Murray to return, supported by a great cast of original characters as well – with the cast often driving the comedic nature of the game as they did three decades ago. And as with the originals, there are also plenty of puzzles to solve, but this feels more streamlined and less random this time around – although that doesn’t mean that they’re not challenging. And if you happen to get stuck, you can always resort to an in-game hint booklet for a subtle nudge in the right direction, with a task list also giving you a bit of guidance so you’re never aimlessly walking around figuring out what to do or try next.
With subtle improvements here and there, but mostly with a lot of the things that fans of the series already love, this one is a no-brainer for anyone with fond memories of Monkey Island. A delightful sequel that any adventure game player will want to check out.