Return To Monkey Island Looks Damned Pretty

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Guybrush on a clifftop, talking to a bearded man by a fire, in a very familiar scene.

Screenshot: Devolver Digital

Thanks to this morning’s peculiarly throwaway Nintendo Direct Mini, we have finally seen footage of Ron Gilbert’s Return To Monkey Island. While there has been a blitz of information and PR for the game since its announcement in April, this is the first time we’ve got a glimpse of how it will look when playing.

After a bit of in-game art narrated by returning Guybrush Threepwood actor, Dominic Armato, this morning’s reveal switches to a series of somewhat awkwardly mute clips of the game, showing off a really lovely paper-crafty look to the characters and their animation.

If anything, the art style reminds me of Double Fine’s very pretty (but ultimately awful) Broken Age, so here’s hoping it can be given a story and puzzles to match the prettiness.

I cannot tell you how much worry I’m putting into anticipating this game. Like anyone old enough to have had the original Monkey Island games define a portion of their teenage years, that swirling mush of memory and nostalgia makes them too precious a property to see get fucked up.

Then again, we survived as a species the lack of love for the (actually unfairly maligned) Escape From Monkey Island in 2000, and then the tiresome mediocrity of Telltale’s 2009 attempts with Tales Of Monkey Island, so perhaps at this point what we’re actually looking for is the first properly good entry in the series since 1997, some 25 years ago now.

It’s just speculation at this point, but the trailer intriguingly suggests that in addition to playing as mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood, Return may also see you playing as Elaine Marley, swordswoman, ship’s captain, and one-time governor of the tri-island area. What this trailer doesn’t show us is how the game will actually be played, and there is my greatest concern. Everyone’s so damn scared of proper point-and-click interfaces these days, instead attempting to chronically over-simplify—and as such render impotent—the genre such that it runs on a single button on a controller. Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert had the confidence to go all the way back to LucasArts’ classic verb-based interface for his last game, 2017’s Thimbleweed Park, but I worry that no one is going to be down for letting him do that in this far higher profile project.

The game’s own site says it will have “a clever evolution of classic adventure game controls. Context-sensitive interactions, reactive dialog trees, and an easy-to-use inventory system,” so make of this what you will. It could be anything from exactly what I am hoping for, to something that essentially plays the game for you like in too many recent examples.

The plot will pick up from the end of Gilbert’s last involvement with the series, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, but thankfully has the good sense to incorporate the third game’s best addition, Murray the talking skull. With Gilbert and Grossman writing, there’s good reason to have high hopes, although it does lack the Tim Schafer factor that (I correctly believe) made the second game such much funnier than the first.

There’s still no release date, just an ambiguous “2022,” which of course could very easily tip over into a “2023.” From the lack of voiced clips in the trailer, I have a sneaking suspicion this is further off than I might like.


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