Back in 1990, the first Monkey Island game hit PCs in all its pixelated glory. It followed the misadventures of a hapless wannabe-notorious-pirate named Guybrush Threepwood as he fought the evil undead zombie pirate LeChuck, tried to reveal the secrets of Monkey Island, and then win the heart of the lovely Elaine.
Now, some 30 years and numerous sequels later, Guybrush is back in Return to Monkey Island—a game helmed once more by the original creator, Ron Gilbert. And with Gilbert sailing with some of his old gamemaking crew, this point-and-click puzzle adventure harkens back to the original in lots of winking ways.
So, what is the fumbling pirate Guybrush doing this time? Well, he’s fighting the evil zombie pirate LeChuck, trying to uncover the secrets of Monkey Island and win the heart of the lovely Elaine, of course. Only, this time, he’s piecing together his adventure through a yarn told to his young son.
The game offers “Guybrush’s Scrapbook” in the main menu as a humorously narrated, visual-snapshot overview of all of the pirate’s past adventures. And then the action picks up years after the last game in the series.
As mentioned, there are lots of callbacks here, but there are differences, too. And the biggest between this game and its early predecessor is its polished and colorful cartoony look.
Return to Monkey Island starts off in a Caribbean pirate port town on Melee Island and bounces its action between that and several other locales. But, of course, the main draws here are Guybrush’s zany fall-on-his-face-at-every-turn story (think of it as a Princess Bride—with zombies, pirates and voodoo—kind of yarn) and the many puzzles that gamers must identify and solve to get him through it.
Scores of multiple-choice character interactions give the impression of taking Guybrush in different directions—each with its own winking or eye-rolling humor and silliness; tons of items to collect; and a series of environmental and items-based puzzles that are challenging and satisfying to solve. And in the end, Guybrush does indeed find the secret of Monkey Island … sort of.
The game is filled with charm and goofiness. As a point-and-click adventure, it’s also easy to maneuver through. And when players get bogged down with questions about which item to give to which character (or use on which puzzle), an ever-present hint-book can help guide them through.
As you might expect in a game about pirates in the Caribbean, sword fights and knife-backstabs are in the mix, along with some voodoo imagery.
The violence—from sword fights to being shoved off a cliffside—is all cartoony. And though there is some light bloodiness and broken bones—and some conversations and discussions about dismemberment and disembowelment—the visuals are never goopy or truly deadly. They’re just played as part and parcel of a cartoon pirate lifestyle.
Much more pervasive is the voodoo magic bits in the tale. Guybrush deals with a voodoo shop owner who conjures up some puzzle solutions for him in a bubbling cauldron. (One of those, for instance, imbues a pirate’s eye patch with the magical ability to turn Guybrush into a zombie.) Guybrush’s arch-nemesis, LeChuck, is an undead zombie as well. A crewmate onboard LeChuck’s ship suggests that Guybrush look upon him as his “deity of choice.”
Guybrush also has dealings with a “demonic skull” named Murray; he works with a flaming demon crewmate; and he helps create a magical potion and the like. But again, it’s all played with a fantastical and cartoony wink.
Pirate patrons at Scumm Bar drink what appear to be mugs of mead or beer. We see a wine bottle and a martini glass in other scenes. As part of his puzzle solutions, Guybrush is called upon to cheat and steal. Some flirtatious comments are made in the dialogue mix. We hear uses of “what the heck?”, and some name-calling in the form of words such as “jerkface” and “zithead” pop up, too.
This cartoony E10+ rated game has some pirate and voodoo magic bits that parents of younger gamers might find a tad discomforting. But there is fun to be had with Return to Monkey Island if you are comfortable with pirate puzzles and a talking-skull arrgh or two.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.