The original Monkey Island, a classic point-and-click adventure game, was released in 1990, but I didn’t play it myself until 1997 when I was 11 or 12 years old. It was part of the LucasArts Archive Volume III, a box set of classic LucasArts games rereleased on CD-ROM. Ah, the good old days when computer games came in oversized boxes and included instruction manuals and registration postcards. Downloading games is surely convenient, but there was some magic to browsing a store shelf full of games, gazing at the latest greatest computer graphics in the screenshots on the back, and being able to carry home something tangible. Our family had just bought our first Windows computer a year or so before (Windows 95), and I can still remember the excitement of that box of adventure games:1
That box included both the original game, The Secret of Monkey Island, and the sequel released a year later, Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.
I loved those games. Ridiculous cartoony humor, fun little adventure story, and a bunch of engaging story puzzles.
But the second game ended on a really weird note, teasing yet another game in the series. But before that game was created, the game’s creator, Ron Gilbert, left LucasArts to co-found Humongous Entertainment, which also made point-and-click adventure games for younger children, such as Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo (which my younger sister used to play constantly).
With Gilbert gone, LucasArts went ahead and made another Monkey Island game anyway, The Curse of Monkey Island, released in 1997. I probably bought it in 98 or 99, after I beat the first two games.
This installment introduced a more cartoony look (the first two games featured pixel art) and full-cast voice acting. It was fun, but didn’t really answer the questions left by the previous game or continue its story, instead telling its own story.
This happened again when LucasArts put out a fourth installment, Esape from Monkey Island in 2000, around the time I was heading off to high school. This installment introduced 3D graphics with 2D backgrounds, which look rather primitive by today standards, but at the time it was quite a fancy updgrade.
I remember being so excited for the game that I would dream about it. Unfortunately, I was not so impressed with it. The story was just weird, the puzzles were awful, the interface and controls felt clunky, and the whole thing just didn’t feel very polished. In fact, I never even finished the game. I grew bored and didn’t even bother to look up puzzle solutions.
Nine years later, in 2009, a year after I had graduated from college with a scarred mind and broken dreams, Telltale Games licensed the Monkey Island IP from LucasArts and released Tales of Monkey Island. It was 3D again, with some better graphics but still a very simple and cartoony design, and was released in monthly installments (a model Telltale Games tried to make work, and it seemed to for a while, but they ultimately went out of business2).
While this new installment was definitely more polished than the last, I still thought it grew a bit boring. I confess, I never finished this one either.
Around this time, the original two games were “remastered” and rereleased with better graphics and voice acting.
So, three Monkey Island games released after Monkey Island 2. But without the original creator at the helm, none of them felt quite “official”, and the strange end of that second game remains an unanswered enigma.
Disney bought LucasArts when they bought their parent company, Lucasfilms (primarily so they could ruin Star Wars by making sequels that made no sense), and LucasArts turned into Lucasfilm Games. As far as I can tell, they now mostly just handle licensing IP to other developers.
One of those developers is none other than Ron Gilbert, who is now finally able to finish the Monkey Island story as he intended all those years ago. Return to Monkey Island was just recently announced:
I’m definitely looking forward to it and crossing my fingers that the questions left by the second game might finally be answered. (Though I’ll probably need to replay those first two games to refresh my memory.)