It’s been 32 years since the series’ protagonist – then without a beard – announced: “My name is Guybrush Threepwood and I want to be a pirate!” like a cow” and “Behind you, a three-headed monkey” are still common running gags not only among gamers three decades later. The – fictitious – ingredients of the pirate drink grog (“kerosene, battery acid, red paint, lubricating grease …”) have also been burned into the collective gaming memory.
Then as now, numerous, sometimes absurd puzzles have to be solved in order to uncover the story of the would-be warhorse and his rival, ghost pirate LeChuck. The “Monkey Island” series is the best-known representative of the “point and click” adventures – named after the computer mouse, which was still quite new for many households at the time, with which you could point and click to solve puzzles.
Four parts of the series were published by 2000 – by that point the “point and click” era had actually long since come to an end. There was a brief revival in 2009, which also spawned a new “Monkey Island” part – but the series has been quiet since then. The surprise was all the greater this year when a new “Monkey Island” part was presented on April 1st.
Announcement on April 1 caused euphoria
Inventor Ron Gilbert’s announcement was no joke – in time for International Talk Like a Pirate Day on Monday, the sixth game in the series, Return to Monkey Island, is now available. There are old acquaintances, a few new faces and, as you could already see from the trailers for the game, many inside jokes paired with a large portion of nostalgia.
It remains to be seen whether this calculation will work out – but the first reviews from international gaming media have been consistently positive. After the initial euphoria in April, it quickly became apparent that it would not be easy to satisfy fans from three decades and, ideally, new audiences alike. Pixel purists were bothered by the new graphic style – the impatient criticism of the “fans” annoyed Gilbert, who then no longer shared any background information on the Internet.
Clash of gamer generations
And otherwise, a clash of generations was already noticeable in advance: because adventure games have changed fundamentally since the 90s. Back then, many games stood out for their exorbitantly complicated puzzles. While fans say these require “outside the box thinking,” frustrated ’90s gamers find the borderline to the absurd was often crossed — and that contributed to the decline of the genre.
At that time, the artificial obstacles also served the purpose of significantly extending the playing time – without going beyond the scope of the 1.44 megabyte diskettes. Today, these restrictions are no longer needed: the majority of games place a stronger focus on the story than on the puzzles.
In the past, attempts at “point and click” revivals have resulted in the situation that one could either satisfy old fans or win new fans, both of which rarely succeeded. “Return to Monkey Island” promises to keep up with new developments, but at the same time not to do without real brain teasers. As a compromise, there is a virtual book with tips – which is also intended to prevent players from googling for solutions and thus spoiling the fun of the game.
Monkey Island 6 or “3a”?
The question of whether “Return to Monkey Island” is actually the sixth part of the series or not was also hotly debated in advance: Developer Gilbert left the “Monkey Island” team after part two and actually had other plans for the third had part and beyond. Gilbert once wrote in a blog post that all games after the second part “do not exist in my universe” and that he will therefore develop a “Monkey Island 3a”.
“Of course I would still steal good ideas and characters from the other parts,” it continued – and indeed, “Return to Monkey Island” was clearly going in that direction. For example, the talking skull Murray is represented, which was only seen on the screen for the first time in the third part.
New part as a Disney fairy tale
Discussions about details among fans will probably only really start with the current release – the release of a new “Monkey Island” part is actually considered a miracle. The series was originally published by Star Wars studio Lucasfilm, which Disney bought in 2012. However, Disney of all things plays a very important role in “Monkey Island” – because the idea for the game actually comes from one of the amusement parks. There was already a “Pirates of the Caribbean” attraction there in the late 1960s, decades before the movies – complete with island idyll and ghost pirates.
Developer Gilbert formulated the basic idea of his game like this: “I want to live in the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction”, as he said in an interview in 2012. At least some moments in the game series are also obviously inspired by the Disney attraction. In any case, there are some parallels between the amusement park attraction, the films and “Monkey Island” – for a long time it was expected that Disney would not want to release a new part of the series for this reason alone.
Ultimately, however, the new publisher Devolver Digital was able to come to an agreement with Disney – and landed a coup. With the release, the discussion about whether adventure games aren’t already dead will inevitably erupt once more. But last but not least, many older players will be happy about the return of the cult series – and thus perhaps already inspire the next generation of gamers for the charm of the “point and click” adventure.