“return to Monkey island” moved Gerald Himmelein like no other game. In the spoiler analysis, he explains why some fan reactions alienate him.
Warning in advance: This article contains spoilers for “Secret of Monkey Island”, “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” and especially for the new “Return to Monkey Island”, ie games 1, 2 and 6 in the series. If you haven’t gotten past these graphic adventures yet and want to play them through uninhibitedly, you should turn around and read something else – my spoiler-free review of “Return to Monkey Island” for example.
It’s rare that a lot of personal baggage comes up when reviewing a game. It’s also rare for a game to accommodate subtle thought-provoking ways to deal with deeper themes, including nostalgia, aging, and memories.
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“Return of Monkey Island” is such a game, at least it can be such a game. It can either be played as a fun adventure or as a reason to examine one’s own gaming past. I wanted to have fun, but ended up sitting in front of the monitor, a little dazed, brooding.
I, the late convert
I came to “Monkey Island” comparatively late. When the second part came out in 1991, I had a friend who was a whopping LucasArts fan – Franz. Franz raved about “Monkey Island” until my ears bled.
Franz shouted “Behind you! A three-headed monkey!” at every opportunity, until I plucked up courage and told him how annoying that was in the long run. Franz is a good-hearted guy, but “Monkey Island” has put me off his messianic zeal for years.
When “Day of the Tentacle” and “Sam & Max Hit The Road” came out two years later, however, I was the annoying over-fan. Maybe I wanted to get back at Franz. Maybe it was because of how much Laverne and Max amused me (“I’m not a malefactor, I’m a lagomorph!”). I wouldn’t be surprised if several friends avoided these games because of me.
“Return to Monkey Island” in review (6 pictures)
(Image: voonze online)
I only discovered “Monkey Island” when the special editions of “The Secret of Monkey Island” and “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” were released in 2010. Suddenly I was tempted to see what had fascinated my good friend so much back then.
And darn it, Franz was right: The first two “Monkey Island” games are definitely milestones in the adventure game genre. The atmosphere, puzzles and story immediately captivated me. What struck me the most was that the main characters of the games actually come across as personalities, not just cogs in a rigidly prescribed plot.
Story comes first
“Monkey Island” inventor Ron Gilbert repeatedly emphasizes that for him the story always comes first. And every gripping story needs good, consistently acting characters. Pirate wannabe Guybrush Threepwood pursues his goals with unconcerned ruthlessness, willing to take any damage in the process. He cheats his way through competitions, locks an agoraphobic in a coffin, and blows up patches of woodland, all without a trace of compassion. If, for once, he does the right thing, it’s out of selfishness.
At one point in “Monkey Island 2” a warrant listing all the crimes Guybrush had committed up to that point. He dutifully reads everything out loud – it’s a long list. Then he sticks a portrait of another character over the photo so that it ends up behind bars in his place.
Elaine sees through Guybrush
When Guybrush falls in love with Elaine Marley, she immediately sees through his self-centeredness and consistently refuses the role of “damsel in distress” common in many pirate stories. At least Guybrush isnt deterred by the fact that Elaine is good at saving herself. Elaine, on the other hand, only takes a liking to the main character later.
The designated villain, the ghost pirate LeChuck, seems almost harmless to Guybrush – apart from how shabbily he treats his minions. Oh yes, and that Elaine wants to make his wife against his will. Then there was the matter of the voodoo spell. Nevertheless: LeChuck is megalomaniac and obsessed with power, but his sinister plans have a fixed focus, so the damage is limited and predictable. Guybrush’s actions, on the other hand, ensure unpredictable, chaotic destruction.
At least 30 years later, LeChuck’s unbridled rage at Guybrush doesn’t seem far off the mark. Guybrush is the caricature of a carefree upstart who doesn’t care about the consequences of his actions. LeChuck, on the other hand, is more reminiscent of a bad boss who sets the wrong priorities.
changes for the better
In preparation for this text I tackled “Monkey Island 2” again. Having played through the game twice over the years, I expected an easy game on the third playthrough. Instead, I kept getting stuck.
I could still remember some of the puzzles. When I did the famous puzzle with the pump, I thought, I can do it with my left hand, you don’t forget something like that. In fact, I failed miserably at prying the monkey off the piano. Ultimately the level of frustration was high enough to consult an online walkthrough.
Looking back, my mistakes were obvious: I should have made notes by hand which tasks are still open – and where. While the walkthrough was helpful, it completed some tasks in a different order. So I suddenly read solutions to puzzles that I hadn’t even asked myself. Darned and spoiled.
The main objective was nevertheless achieved: I then very much appreciated how Gilbert and Grossman had modernized the gameplay in “Return to Monkey Island” without jeopardizing what had characterized the first “Monkey Island” parts. At first I felt that “Return to Monkey Island” introduced a to-do list as too much of a good thing. However, after a few hours of play, it was a tremendous help in keeping track of game goals. The hint book integrated into the game is also a good idea because it solves the spoiler problem. I never missed the verb interface of the first “Monkey Island” game.
I thought the idea of how “Monkey Island 6” reacts when players return after a few days’ break was brilliant: when loading a saved game, Guybrush first gives a (spoken!) summary of what has happened so far and what is still to come. This detail only became apparent after the review was completed.
When nostalgia becomes an absolute value
Someone actually wrote in the Heise forum that he would not play “Return of Monkey Island” simply because the graphic style was unbearable. Not for him, but absolutely. Even more: “Monkey Island 6” would destroy his childhood memories forever.
My condolences to anyone whose childhood memories are so fragile that they crumble to dust at the sight of something new. The screenshots have probably already caused irreparable damage. (No, I seriously don’t think so.)
Gilbert & Co. seem to have anticipated that there would be such affected outbursts. It was probably a wise idea to keep the game’s development top secret for two years. The creators were nevertheless surprised by how radical the reactions to the first images from the game were.
When the first gameplay trailer was released in late June, self-proclaimed fans bombarded Ron Gilbert’s blog comments with such nasty personal attacks that he shut down comments until further notice. This is why we can’t have nice things.
In fact, there wasn’t a way to do justice to all fans when it came to the graphics. Depending on the year of birth, players have a completely different idea of what the “classic look” of the characters is. In the meantime even the fifth part (“Tales of Monkey Island”) is 13 years old.
Ron Gilbert was looking for a style that took up the pixel block charm of the first two “Monkey Island” adventures without being retro pixel graphics. The blocky illustrations by Rex Crowle fulfilled this wish – Guybrush & Co. have remained blocky, but in HD.
According to Steam, I spent a total of over 25 hours playing Monkey Island 6. Part 2 should have cost me – with walkthrough – 8 to 12 hours. I grumbled about a few things, like Guybrush walking so lamely across Mlée Island. What didn’t annoy me once was the graphics.
The graphic style of “Return to Monkey Island” is not a bad compromise, but a bold synthesis of retro aesthetics and a picture book look. This is great for a flashback and storytelling game – more on that in a moment.