Okay, I wasn’t thrilled from the start either. While I love it when artists break new ground, Return to Monkey Island’s newly revealed art design took some getting used to at first. Guybrush with beard, the angular lines. It was all animated in a minimalist way instead of being elaborately staged: As repulsive as I found many of the statements made towards the developers, the new style did not immediately captivate me. The first game scenes came and went as did my interview with Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Art Director Rex Crowle. But a slight skepticism remained.
And then everything happened very quickly. At the end of last week the game was there and felt right from the first moment. There was no strangeness, no phase of acclimatization, no crooked look at the straight brushstrokes: the music started and whoops I had this romantically transfigured pirate idyll back, which never distinguished my favorite adventures, but always felt like a nice vacation. Above all, I find the ease with which Return to Monkey Island manages it just as if thirty years had not passed since the predecessor to be remarkable.
Of course, this is also due to the fact that the brain cells work at full speed from the very first minute – not because they immediately crack tricky puzzles, but because they decode a puzzle of a completely different kind. The adventure seamlessly continues that last scene from Monkey Island 2, which has kept us guessing for thirty years about young Guybrush, his brother and their parents. Don’t worry, you won’t hear anything from me! If you ask me, Grossman and Gilbert gave their conclusion to the series as simple as it was endearing.
I won’t give any details about the rest of the story either. But of course, after the introduction, things will soon continue as normal with Monkey Island, or rather Melee Island, where Guybrush is once again/still/again and perhaps finally for the last time looking for the legendary secret of the eponymous island. Unsurprisingly, archenemy LeChuck is also part of the party, as well as other acquaintances who are sometimes more, sometimes less, happy to see the pirate again. Choose which one I mean.
And how wonderful it all sounds exactly as it did back then! When Guybrush, stammering, argues his way deeper and deeper into a predicament, when a talking skull threatens him with nasty horrors, or when a judge in the deserted hall loudly pleads for silence, then Gilbert and Grossman are responsible for the shooting…, sorry: playbook , still in their element.
To my mind, her humor has become even more refined and mature, delivered more with the wink of a warm-hearted storyteller than with the punchline mind of a comedian. Last but not least, this is supported by the further development of sword fighting, which of course also exists here, the game principle of which – learning new texts – was shifted to spinning wild sailor’s yarn in order to impress a semi-secret Caribbean fishing club.
It’s nice that this narrative charm is embodied by excellent voices, that the soundtrack drums and blows in the usual exotic way and that the story not only has a strong beginning, but also develops logically and eventfully. Familiar character heads are undergoing a development that suits them, new figures bring contemporary color to the ensemble and Guybrush has added a lot… Guybrush can… Guybrush is… still very much the same.
Now you can see, for example, from LeChuck’s outbursts of anger that the production had its limits, since his voice and animations seem weaker when the ruffian tries to rage. Most of the conversations, however, are wonderfully accurate settings, which include Stan’s sprawling monologues, which I of course give myself in their entirety, as well as the conversations with a terribly dear ghost pirate who has been hanged upside down, who does not find his task as a deterrent particularly exciting, but is already aware of its importance.
Speaking of logic: Gilbert & Co. also manage the puzzles exceptionally well. Of course, in two or three places you still run through the Caribbean with a board in front of your head, because the penny doesn’t want to drop because of an unfortunate description. But these are exceptions that do not diminish the fun of puzzles. And I had decided especially for the higher of the two levels of difficulty. After all, in Return to Monkey Island there is again a variant with purified puzzle food – a kind of hiking simulator of the point & click adventure.
If necessary, you can even simply skip emerging blockades, because the game offers help that first outlines the rough task in several steps, and then describes the solution to the riddle in more and more detail with each additional click. This is great because on the one hand it doesn’t reveal anything about the rest of the action if you just want to know how to get hold of a certain key, and on the other hand it only helps so far until the decisive penny drops. The list of all active tasks is also good because you never forget what needs to be done where.
And if you should walk back and forth the same way over a long period of time, cross them and then make a loop because you can neither get on nor ask for help, then you can reach any place so quickly anyway that it is never tiring. In general, the control via gamepad (I certainly don’t have to say a word about the mouse and keyboard) is so elegant that I preferred to ponder with the controller in my hand on the PC than to bang over my desk!
You always have the choice of placing Guybrush directly in front of the desired, always clearly marked object in order to carry out one of two context-sensitive actions there, or whether you simply leave him there and use the right stick to switch from one object to the next. Unfortunately, there are some situations where you have to move him briefly before he can interact again. But that’s more for the sake of completeness than that it would seriously bother you.
Last but not least, the old and new developers managed the pace of the story and puzzles so well that I never got tired of the exotic island world. There is only one situation in which you first have to get an idea of what has to be done in several places and how this doing at the respective locations connects the various headaches with each other. Even there, this explanation phase had a manageable length, while thoughtful brooding, obtaining new information and exciting discoveries otherwise flowed harmoniously.
Return to Monkey Island – test conclusion
Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and their colleagues are clearly up there! After all, its late sequel connects to the narrative and playful qualities of its two predecessors in an extremely likeable and amazingly seamless way, without ignoring their previous successors. And you have to get it right more than 30 years later! Logical puzzles, pleasantly comfortable gamepad controls, great Caribbean flair and an art design that I now find not only okay, but really great: Return to Monkey Island doesn’t raise the point-and-click adventure to a new level , but is a sequel that is as contemporary as it is delightfully old-fashioned, and I didn’t even know I wanted it. Without which I would be missing something.
Return to Monkey Island:
- Eventful story and charming humor
- Strong art design and atmospheric music
- Likeable characters with matching voices
- Almost entirely logical puzzles
- Good pace of narration and puzzles
- To-do list and optional step-by-step help
- Very handy gamepad controls
- Small hangers in the controls and a few puzzles
- Some emotionally strong scenes appear dull