During the 1980s and 1990s, the point and click adventure genre was immensely popular, offering imaginative interactive fantasies spanning numerous genres. The genre kicked off in the mid-1980s with titles like Enchanted Scepters by Silicon Beach, but soon other companies caught onto the craze, including Sierra On-Line with their King’s Quest franchise. However, one company consistently dominated the point and click genre, their popularity spurred on by one exceptionally funny pirate-themed adventure.
"The Secret of Monkey Island was released in 1990 and helped push LucasArts to new heights, leading to a wild history for the series in the decades to come."
Of course, I’m talking about LucasArts and The Secret of Monkey Island, two immediately recognizable names in the world of point and click adventures. During the late-1980s, LucasArts produced such hits as Maniac Mansion and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, but the company saw increased success in the early-1990s. The Secret of Monkey Island was released in 1990 and helped push LucasArts to new heights, leading to a wild history for the series in the decades to come. As another entry in the Monkey Island series arrives in stores this year (2022), let’s take a moment to look back at this wacky franchise and appreciate the ups and downs that have occurred over the last 32 years.
A Brief History of Monkey Island
The Monkey Island franchise kicked off in 1990 with the release of The Secret of Monkey Island, starring wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood as he attempts to prove his mettle to local pirate captains in the Caribbean isle. With a killer soundtrack, fourth-wall-breaking meta humor, and a slew of inventive puzzles and likable characters, the game was an immediate hit. The sequel, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, was released a year later in 1991, and continues Guybrush’s story as he searches for a legendary treasure called the Big Whoop. Monkey Island 2 was also a success for LucasArts, cementing the series as one of the best in the business.
Despite the notable success, the Monkey Island franchise lay dormant for six years until the release of The Curse of Monkey Island in 1997. With flashy new graphics and crisp audio technology, the game was primed for popularity, but it saw diminished returns in comparison to the first two games. In 2000, LucasArts released the fourth game in the franchise, Escape from Monkey Island, but by then the ship had sailed. With interest in both the franchise and the point and click genre fading, Escape from Monkey Island seemed like the end for the series.
However, the point and click genre saw a bit of a resurgence in the mid-2000s thanks to Telltale Games, a smaller studio that kept churning out adventure games that recalled the classic era. In 2009, the company released Tales of Monkey Island, an episodic adventure that saw the return of Guybrush Threepwood as he unwittingly releases a deadly voodoo disease across the Caribbean. Although fans enjoyed this new take on Monkey Island and pressed series creator Ron Gilbert for future installments, the pleas fell on deaf ears. When Telltale (mostly) closed up shop in 2018, everyone assumed that the Monkey Island franchise was done for good. That is, until early 2022, when Ron Gilbert announced that a fifth game was on the way.
The Long Awaited Return to Monkey Island
It turns out, during the fiasco surrounding the closure of Telltale Games, Ron Gilbert decided to purchase the license for Monkey Island, refusing to let the series die. After several months of secretive development, Ron Gilbert announced that Return to Monkey Island would be launching in 2022 on PC and Nintendo Switch, reigniting the hype and welcoming fans back into the series’ signature tropical world. As expected, Return to Monkey Island sees the return of Guybrush Threepwood as he finally sets out to discover the eponymous “secret” of Monkey Island.
Disregarding some annoying in-fighting between fans over minor details like visual design, the hype is real for Return to Monkey Island. For those of us who grew up with the franchise and have fond memories of Guybrush’s many adventures, it will be a joy to jump back in. It’s been over 10 years since the last Monkey Island game was released and we’re hoping Return to Monkey Island lives up to expectations. Hopefully, the game will sell well and impress both fans and critics, as we’d love to see other sequels to long-forgotten LucasArts franchises. For now, we’ll just have to wait and see.