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Review of Return to Monkey Island by diego

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Rating by diego posted on Jan 1, 2024 | edit | delete

Good addition to the series, not without some problems

Ron Gilbert created one of the best adventure game series of all time with the help of Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, and 30 years later, he faced the challenging task of creating another game in the canon, despite not being involved with the three games that followed Monkey Island 2.

Was it a success?

Let’s start with the graphics. It’s not what I hoped for, but it hasn’t been since Monkey Island 3. It feels too new-agey, edgy, and, on occasions, cheap. Still, it has a distinctive paper doll or children’s drawing, highly stylized look, and it’s far from being bad. When the game was announced, I criticized the art direction, but after finishing the game, I cannot criticize it because it’s very unique. When you think about it, every MI game (apart from the first two games) had its own unique and different graphics style. Furthermore, it even resembles the canceled infamous MI movie style, with sharp edges and a hint of cubism.

However, what I CAN criticize is that they haven’t reached the full potential of the style they chose. At places, the colors are bland without too much shading or a rich palette, resembling a Flash game, and the character models could use more details and polish.

As for the voices, Armato did a fantastic job once again as the voice of Guybrush. He even sounds better to me than in the Special Editions, as he doesn’t talk so fast, and every pronunciation and joke is spot on. The rest of the crew is fine; it’s not Earl Boen for LeChuck’s voice, but the actor in place of him also sounded good. The music brings Caribbean happy vibes and a smile to your face once again, though the new themes are nothing to write home about, and it’s still old themes in new variations that will make your heart dance.

The story is told through an older Guybrush telling the story to his son about the search for the Secret of Monkey Island, similar to the search for Big Whoop in Monkey Island 2. Actually, the whole game is very, very similar to Monkey Island 2 in combination with the elements of the first game, both in terms of story and design. You start on Melee Island, “Secret” is the big word on the street just like Big Whoop was on Scabb Island, you need to obtain a ship in this way or another to reach Monkey Island, and later more twists and turns ensue as we travel between multiple islands at our own leisure. Only this time it’s Terror (similar to Blood Island with volcanic eruptions), Scurvy (green, more cheerful place), and Brrr Muda Island (touch of Norse mythology) instead of Phatt and Booty. When that happens, the game takes you to golden age times where you can visit dozens of places at once, with total freedom and increased difficulty.

Speaking of difficulty, the puzzles are mostly very good inventory fare, and I haven’t been reminded of Day of the Tentacle inventory madness like this for a long time. It’s not that you can hold a crazy amount of stuff at once, but still, you will spend plenty of time rummaging through your stuff, inspecting it again and again, and thinking about it in the context of the game world until the green light switches inside your head. Only the best games in the genre succeed at that. Even mazes are done in the original way. On top of that, “Return” has one of the best hint systems in the history of the genre, that can be compared to that of Keepsake, which feels very organic, just like a good friend of yours who already finished the game is sitting beside you and giving you a drop of hints or nudges in the right direction whenever you need it. It’s not an overly hard game, but I dare anyone to finish it without calling for hints. Some of the puzzles, especially the last one, are deviant that much that I was imagining Ron smiling at the poor souls who need to solve it. Only one time I felt I haven’t been given enough clues, which is acceptable for this sort of twisted-logic game.

The recognizable Monkey Island humor is there and seems like a mix of comedy from all previous parts. I chuckled along the way, asking myself where they’re finding inspiration for all that crazy stuff (ghost chickens and ghost chicken food on board the Ghost ship, skulls that play notes of the musical scale, island covered in limes to fight scurvy, etc.). At some points, I was in hysterical laughter and applauding the writers.

Still, the game fires blanks at a few other areas. Elaine’s character is there, and while it’s true that she’s not exactly in the spotlight compared to a new villain, Captain Madison, with more screen time, or even Carla as the new governor, she felt somehow unnatural—almost too agreeable without the right character dynamic, a strange feeling that can be only explained by the game’s controversial ending. Indeed, she does pursue her mission of battling scurvy, but it’s like she’s different compared to previous parts. The same can be said for Murray. It wasn’t easy for Ron to make the game with the vision he had after his two original games, while in the meantime, three games followed without him, and he still chose to incorporate characters and events from those games in one way or another. That earns respect, but still—Murray is criminally underused. A character that has become sort of an icon among the fans, he’s here on “autopilot,” only briefly as an item in the inventory, and 95% of the time as the ship’s ornament, never even commenting on the progress or game world, other than making funny threats to Guybrush. It feels like he’s there only to “be there,” while the Hint System is more of an “alive and context-interactive” game character than he is. As for LeChuck, only at the 5th chapter did I feel like he’s that untouchable, eponymous villain from the previous game, while the rest of the game, he felt less scary than usual. The rest of the characters are mostly hit and miss with the character development. It also feels less “piratey” compared to, say, the first and second game (though it’s not without its buccaneers merit) and mostly reminds me of “Escape” in terms of game lore.

Another problem is that some islands feel unfinished in terms of locations to visit—Scurvy and Terror, in particular, where you can only see hotspots for various places like Waterfall, Rock, without the possibility to visit them other than to get a comment when you click on them and with fewer characters to interact with compared to a rich social life on Mêlée Island.

Now, cut to the ending. It didn’t surprise me or bother me, as I can see it was the issue for many players. Actually, I would be surprised to know that it surprised anyone who already finished “Revenge.” It’s a great little philosophical aspect of the game that we adventure gamers can sit by the campfire (on Scabb Island preferably) and discuss. You have elements of perspective, passage of time, and nostalgia intertwining with each other. And life is also a big intersection of those things in many aspects. In that regard, let me quote what Ron and Dave said themselves in the Scrapbook:

“The game is a goofy pirate adventure, the same as always, but also it’s a story about trying to recapture the past, with all its alleged youthful strength and glory. Guybrush will both succeed and fail at this. He will sort of get what he wants, but it won’t be what he expected.

I predict the same for us.”

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Time Played: 10-20 hours
Difficulty: Just Right

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