Return to Monkey Island Review (PS5)

We find the mighty pirate Guybrush Threepwood sitting on a park bench, a bit older but not necessarily wise. He is relaying the tale of a quest from The Secret of Monkey Island to a familiar youngster. The story that plays out is essentially the greatest hits of his first two adventures, with a sprinkling of elements from Curse, Escape, and Tales. Guybrush is searching Melee Island for clues at the same time as his nemesis, the ghost pirate Le Chuck. He enlists the help of familiar faces, like his lover Elaine and slippery used boat salesman Stan. There’s also some welcome and charming new companions, like the cynical Locke Smith, whose name is about as on the nose as the comedy gets here.

It’s difficult to describe just how satisfying Return is to play for a long-time adventure game fan. Evolved from director Ron Gilbert’s Thimbleweed Park engine, the contextual interaction, dialogue, and puzzling is refined to a point of feeling brand new. Tiresome mechanics like backtracking between familiar locations and sifting through conversations are gone. Rather than robotically traveling from screen to screen, it feels like you’re always where you need to be. The puzzles themselves are no longer absurd exercises in item combination, here everything has a surface logic. And thanks to the richly detailed art style, there isn’t even any pixel hunting to speak of.

There’s a hint book available in the inventory from the start, which contains several levels of clues, that range from gentle nudges to a detailed description of the solution.

To cap off the quality of life improvements, there are two difficulty modes: Hard mode (described as The Full Monkey) is really just normal, where series and genre aficionados should go. Casual mode truncates the puzzle chains, meaning that a multi-location effort to find an item becomes a simple case of picking it up from the floor.

The dev team has made extra efforts to make the game feel smooth with a controller and it really shows. As anyone who played point-and-click adventures on PS1 can attest, moving that cursor around is slow and frustrating. The controls here are intuitive and set a standard for adventures that usually feel more at home on PC.

Ultimately, with Return to Monkey Island, original creators Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman have not only crafted a loving throwback to a genre they helped popularise, they’ve also reinvigorated it.

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