Apr 7, 2010

A concise Monkey Island history

Created by Ron Gilbert with the more than significant help of both Dave Grossman and Tim Schafer and impressively appearing on everything from classic PCs to the Amiga, the Atari ST, Apple’s Macintosh, the SEGA Mega CD, the rather multimedia FM Towns Japanese home micro, your average Windows PC, the Xbox 360 and even the moderately modern PlayStation 2, the Monkey Island series is a definitive part of the history of the adventure game. It also most definitely is the funniest and most successful (most on-going too) series of point-and-clickers ever, and, well, here is its history; in a nutshell of course.

The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

Monkey Island 1 The Secret of Monkey IslandThe game that started it all and the first adventure ever to have been simultaneously inspired by the book On Stranger Tides and -of all things- a Disneyland ride, Monkey Island 1 is a hilarious point-and-click game with a few darker bits, that is all about pirates. And monkeys. And some of the most surreal puzzles in the history of video gaming. And some lovely stylized art. And insult sword-fighting. And ghosts. And huge monkey heads. And introducing Guybrush Threepwood. The game was published -of course- by LucasFilm before it turned into LucasArts. Oh, and if you find the PC CD version, do go for it and enjoy an amazing reggae soundtrack too. An instant classic and a good enough seller to guarantee the continuation of the series and an excellent remake 19 years later. As for the secret itself, it has yet to be revealed.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)

Monkey Island 2 LeChuck's revengeMy favorite MI installment, a sequel that bested its predecessor in every single department and probably the best comedy point-and-clicker I’ve ever enjoyed. Really. If you haven’t tried it, do yourselves a favor and grab a copy. Monkey Island 2 offers (among other things) two difficulty levels, lovely pixel-art VGA graphics, a brilliant soundtrack, an excellent selection of characters, a beard for Guybrush and the weirdest game ending sequence you could ever imagine. Which you can’t. Only Mr. Gilbert could and what he did come up with also happened to be a monumental cliffhanger. Then, as he left LucasArts before actually making the third game or revealing The Secret (tm), said monumental cliffhanger turned into a pretty unbearable one. Ah, yes, and do expect a remade special edition soon.

The Curse of Monkey Island (1997)

The Curse of Monkey IslandLacking Ron Gilbert, but still managing to cope with the series’ sublime first two entries (under the wise guidance of Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley), CMI still is a fantastic and gorgeous looking 2D adventure. It sports a then-new simplified interface, some excellent jokes, amazing hand-drawn graphics, above average though quite easy puzzles and more importantly Murray the Demonic Skull, one of the funniest Monkey Island characters ever. On the downside, MI lost its darker side, Guybrush got to marry Ellaine and the game was a bit on the shorter side of things, unfortunately lacking a proper ending. Still, it's an absolute classic. And wait till you hear a certain pirate-y song by some barbers. Anyway. Should you need further reasons to try CMI, know that both Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer think it’s a great game.

Escape from Monkey Island (2000)

Monkey Island 4 EMI Escape from Monkey IslandEscape from Monkey Island, EMI, Monkey Island 4… The black sheep of the family and unless I’ve missed something the last MI adventure game LucasArts managed to publish. The widely hated but critically acclaimed final installment, that signaled the end of an era and failed to be particularly funny. But, what is this all about? Why the hate? Well, because people tend to overreact, because it was the first Monkey Island game in 3D and because the interface is an impressive mess. Then again, there’s quite a bit of MI spirit in this one too. Not much, mind you, but there are enough references, satirical moments and familiar characters to make it a more than passable way to spend your point-and-clicking time. Actually, it's pretty good. And hard.

Tales of Monkey Island (2009)

Tales of Monkey IslandThe first episodic Monkey Island game ever and a rare moment that helped -almost- reunite the original team in order to come up with a truly excellent revival of the series. ToMI, a critical and commercial success, introduced new characters and islands, sported 3D graphics that felt correct, had some of the best puzzles in the series, managed to be properly funny and -importantly- brought that much needed darkness back into the game's universe. At times on par and even surpassing the original classics. Well done Telltale!

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  1. A concise history indeed. I must say i've only sampled the original, but the release of ToMI did re-ignite my interest. You mentioned the PC CD version of TSoMI, would you recommend a particular platform as holding the best versions of the other games? Or just to go with the Dos/Windows versions? Good article=)

  2. Thanks Rambo. Well, the 256 colours VGA version is the way to go with MI2, and I'm afraid you don't have much choice with the newer installments. It's got to be the PC. After all the mouse is king!

    Oh, and you really must play the series. ScummVM should probably help.

  3. To be honest TOMI, was about to bring Darkness, at least on episode 5, but then they went for the happy ending.

  4. Well, admittedly though, it was quite dark for a MI game. Despite the happy ending. Should have ended at the Crossroads methinks.

  5. Thanks, Gnomey! This actually makes me want to play the later games (I only ever played the first two). For the first time, I feel like I'm missing out.

  6. Nice concise history!

    But I don't understand why you penalize Curse of Monkey Island for easy puzzles. For me they were more difficult than the ones in Escape. Tales is the one with overly easy puzzles.

  7. I think for the first time, I just realised that Ron Gilbert isn't the same person as Dave Gilbert.

    So very informative post, Gnome!


  8. @ Marc: Well, truth be said you're missing out quite a bit. Even EMI is worth a play, but both CMI and ToMI are truly great. Mind you, MI2 remains the best.

    @ Igor: I have to admit I might have found EMI too difficult due to incredibly cumbersome controls. After all I did give up on it pretty early. CMI on the other hand felt easy. After all, I started it right after beating Discworld 2 in a marathon session.

    @ Pacian: Only doing my best dear friend. Glad you can finally see the slight differences in the twins. Excellent!

  9. Beautiful and incredibly faithful too!