Return to Monkey Island: A welcome return of a point-and-click classic

I’ve always been a fan of point-and-click adventure games, right from the early days when I started playing video games.

Among my favourites, though, were the adventure games from Lucasarts: Grim Fandando, Full Throttle, Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle. In fact, I still own disc-copies of Grim Fandango and Full Throttle and have lost count of how many digital copies of those games and others from Lucasarts I own on multiple platforms and how many times I’ve played them over the years.

The creative geniuses behind my favourite Lucasarts games were people like Ron Gilbert, Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer, with Gilbert the brains behind the Monkey Island series.

It’s been 13 years since the last Monkey Island game – Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island – and Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman are behind the welcome return to the adventures of mild-mannered pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his zombie ghost pirate nemesis Le Chuck. Fittingly, it was released on International Talk Like a Pirate Day. Arrrrrrrrr, me hearties!

Return to Monkey Island picks up after the events of Monkey Island 2 and is played through a series of flashbacks told by Guybrush to his young, impressionable wannabe pirate son. It’s full of familiar locations and characters that fans of the series will instantly recognise – Le Chuck, former Governor of Melee Island Elaine, Stan S Stansman, the crazy armed ship salesman, Cobb – but the game play has been tweaked for a modern age.

The way you interact with people and objects has changed quite significantly from previous games as now rather than selecting “how” you interact with objects it’s all contextual, offering left (and sometimes right clicks), depending on the circumstances. For example, at the Melee Island museum, you can left click to ask the museum curator about the parrot standing guard over a display case and you can also right click to talk to the parrot. It’s a much more streamlined process now, although having to decide “how” to interact with objects in the original games did lead to some interesting conversations.

The game play is the same as it always has been: Guybrush has to talk to characters and explore locations in his quest to return to Monkey Island to discover its ultimate secret. As before, he’ll need to solve puzzles to find the secret.

For example, early in the game he must get a mop but the chef won’t let him borrow his so he is told he must craft it himself. However, he has to make it from a particular type of wood found only deep in a hidden forest but he first has to find out what type of wood it is then find out how to navigate the winding paths of the forest. Puzzles invariably involve multiple steps and multiple trips to and from locations, often involving combing various objects with each other to finally complete the task.

It’s fair to say that back in the day some of more difficult puzzles in the Monkey Island games were, well, quite infuriating (the pulley puzzle, anyone?) so with Return to Monkey Island Gilbert and Grossman have introduced two modes: Casual and hardcore, with the latter providing more puzzles and harder puzzles.

There’s also a handy “To Do” list which keeps track of all the multiple tasks at hand and another nice touch for newcomers to the series is Guybrush’s Scrapbook, which has Guybrush narrate key points of what happened in the past to get everyone up to speed.

Perhaps the biggest game play element is the new hint book, which acts like hint lines of the 80s where you rang a number to get clues on how to solve certain puzzles – except you don’t have to pay a cent! The hint book gently nudges players in the right direction if they’re stuck on a puzzle and while adventure game purists will likely balk at this inclusion, grumbling “Back in our day …” personally, I think it’s a good option, especially for newcomers to a series that has been notorious for its complex and often obtuse puzzles. I see the hint book as a gentle way of getting players back on the right track without taking anything away from the narrative.

While some puzzles had me scratching my head from time to time, there was nothing that made me want to scream at my PC and couldn’t be solved without a little lateral thinking and looking at the items in Guybrush’s inventory. Of course, you’ve always got the hint book if you get stuck …

OK, let’s talk about the visuals.

When Return to Monkey Island was first revealed by Gilbert, the outspoken element of the Internet was quite vocal on its opinion of the game’s visual style and while I’ll say I’m still not completely taken with the graphical look, it is growing on me the more I play it. That said, the series has looked horrendous in the past (I’m looking at you, Telltale games …)

Personally, I would have loved Return to Monkey Island to have used the same pixellated graphical style of Gilbert’s recent point-and-click adventure Thimbleweed Park. I just love that throw back to the games of old, especially when it comes to Lucasarts adventure games. That said, the new visual look did grow on me the more I played it.

I also have to mention the soundtrack, which uses the talents of longtime Lucasarts collaborators Michael Land, Peter McConnell and Clint Bajakian, and it’s unmistakably Monkey Island, transporting me back to the earlier games as soon as the first few notes played in the menu screen.

According to Steam, from start to rolling end credits was 14 hours, which seems pretty good, although I suspect the ending will polarise gamers. It certainly wasn’t what I was expecting.

Return to Monkey Island succeeds most because it serves up a whole heap of nostalgia for old-time gamers like myself but has painted it with a modern brush so as to make it accessible for newcomers to the series, intrigued to know why the adventures of Guybrush Threepwood were so loved by a generation of gamers, like myself.

It’s definitely been worth the wait to Return to Monkey Island after all these years. Highly recommended, me hearties.

Possession 1881: A creepy point-and-click adventure

Sometimes its the intriguing emails that capture your attention the most.

Danielle Lemky, who runs Canadian indie game maker End of Line Studios, emailed me the other day after stumbling across an article I did about adventure games when I was still employed as a journalist with Fairfax NZ/Stuff way back in 2013.

Her email started: “Hello GameJunkienz (Or should I say Old Man Gamer?)!” I wasn’t sure whether to be miffed being labelled an Old Man Gamer, which to be fair I probably am, or impressed. Either way, I was intrigued enough to write about the Lemky’s first game Possession 1881 so points to Danielle and Jared for getting in touch.

Here’s what they told me about the game, which is described as an occult-themed point-and-click adventure: “Possession 1881 is a classic adventure game, and as such, players must find clues and see connections between objects to solve puzzles, which will allow players to progress through rooms within an old Victorian mansion.

“Clues can be found in many places such as in notes, in books, on walls, on objects, or even within the animations of objects.¬† The clues and the rooms of the mansion include facts from history, archaeology, music, science, and the occult within the Victorian Era, and allow the player to immerse themselves in that time period and environment.

“The environment is dark and beautiful with soaring skylights, moonlight, rich wooden Victorian decorations, flickering candlelight, and carefully crafted sound effects and music.”

Jared tells me that the game leans more towards the suspense and creepy side of the fence rather than horror. “No monsters, no jump scares, just a creepy abandoned mansion with puzzles to solve and a morbid story. We were inspired by Myst, The Room¬† and our own fascination with logic puzzles,” he says.

I’m not sure it’s my cup of tea – games with scary themes tend to freak me out a little – but if it’s your thing, Possession 1881 might be worth keeping an eye on. It’s due out on June 5 through Steam.