Playing Return to Monkey Island felt like picking things up with an old friend. Return is the newest game in the iconic Monkey Island series of point-and-click adventure games and the first in quite some time. The original, released more than 30 years ago, is beloved for its silly story about protagonist Guybrush Threepwood on a quest to become a pirate. This new title captures the joy and playfulness that the series is known for — which is no surprise, given that series creator Ron Gilbert is back and Dave Grossman has returned to co-write — and the developers at Terrible Toybox have streamlined the experience to make it feel right at home in 2022.
In my opinion, you don’t need to have played any other games in the series to have fun with Return to Monkey Island. For newbies or people who haven’t played a Monkey Island game in a while, there’s an in-game scrapbook that succinctly summarizes key plot points from other games. It’s been at least a decade since I played through the first two Monkey Island games, but the scrapbook had more than enough information for me to enjoy Return to Monkey Island’s story. I’m not going to spoil the game’s plot, but rest assured that there are jokes, cameos, and references that I think longtime fans will appreciate.
Return to Monkey Island is still a point-and-click adventure game, so you’ll be spending most of your time exploring, investigating objects, and having conversations with the many ridiculous characters you’ll run into. My favorite was a bored and bookish ghost that was always hanging upside down. Unlike in older games, you won’t have to select prompts like “Open” or “Pick Up” to interact with an object in a certain way. Instead, when you hover over something you can investigate or use, you’ll be presented with one or two options of what you can do. You don’t have to use a mouse and keyboard, as there’s also a really good controller scheme that worked well on my Steam Deck. It quickly became my preferred way to play.
The game is filled with charming dialogue that’s elevated by delightful voice acting, especially from returning Threepwood actor Dominic Armato. Clicking through all of the (often extensive) dialogue options is usually worth your while; you’re nearly always rewarded with joke after joke. I particularly liked asking a locksmith about all of the keys in her shop. There were a lot of them.
Puzzles are similarly really well done. Old-school adventure games often had obtuse puzzles that were difficult to solve or required a very particular set of steps to complete that would have players running to find a walkthrough. In Return to Monkey Island, you’ll still be doing a lot of absurd tasks — early on, I spent a long time doing things just so I could make a mop — but I almost always had an idea of where to go next or who to talk to.
That’s not to say every puzzle was easy. While things are mostly improved, I experienced a few puzzles that had unintuitive solutions that required what I think of as “adventure game logic” to figure out. A long sequence near the end of the game had so many different threads that I sometimes felt like that meme of Charlie Kelly in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But whenever I was stumped, I turned to the extremely useful in-game hint book, which offers increasingly specific clues about what to do next. (I’m all for in-game tools to help players progress further.)
Frankly, I loved Return to Monkey Island, which took about seven hours for me to finish. The game is just filled with joy. Because it was easier to play than older adventure games, I could focus on having fun talking to the characters and exploring the world without worrying about getting stuck on an obtuse puzzle. And the story is surprisingly poignant; like catching up with that old friend, I was a little bit sad when it was over.
Return to Monkey Island is available on September 19th on the Nintendo Switch, PC, and Mac.