I am obsessed with the Monkey Island series. Approximately 85% of my personality was lifted directly from the character of Guybrush Threepwood. The remaining 15% was culled from an odd stew of Saturday morning cartoons, the Indiana Jones movies, and the puppet characters of Mystery Science Theater 3000.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that I am both psychologically and physiologically incapable of writing an unbiased review of the game. So, with the bothersome pretense of objectivity out of the way, let’s get down to what made this game so great.
Released in 1990 by LucasArts for Commodore’s Amiga (among other platforms), The Secret of Monkey Island was a point and click adventure game. Beginning with the 1976 text based game Colossal Cave Adventure, adventure games had grown in popularity throughout the 1980s with titles like LucasArts’ Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders, Maniac Mansion, Sierra On-Line’s King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown and others. The Secret for Monkey Island, created by Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, and Dave Grossman, brought a peculiar innovation to the world of adventure games. Gilbert decided to make it almost impossible for the main character to die. Players were thus freed to explore the island, focus on its puzzles, witty dialogue and story.
Gameplay followed the adventures of the hapless Guybrush Threepwood as he attempted to become a pirate, woo Governor Elaine Marley, and defeat the dreaded Ghost Pirate LeChuck.
Along the way he encountered a variety of oddball and shifty characters, completing various tasks and missions for them. Solving the puzzles required a significant amount of lateral thinking. For instance, early in the game Threepwood is in dire need of money. He learns that the Flying Fettucini Brothers (Alfredo and Bill) need someone to act as a test dummy for their human cannonball stunt, but they won’t shoot someone from the cannon unless they are wearing a helmet (safety first and all that). With no literal helmet available, Threepwood must search the island for a passable substitute.
As a point and click game, actions were controlled by using the mouse and cursor to…well, point and click on the screen. Players could choose from a variety of actions by clicking on commands like “pick up”, “talk to”, “open” and then clicking on the object they wanted interact with.
A significant portion of the game’s charm lay in its dialogue. Players could select what Threepwood would say when he interacted with other characters, choosing between several often nonsensical lines. Even the game’s action scenes relied on witty repartee. Victory in sword battle was determined by which character delivered the best insults.
As an odd side note, the insults in “The Secret of Monkey Island” were written by science fiction author Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game, The Tales of Alvin Maker, and others).
The game spawned a franchise with four more Monkey Island games released over the next 20 years (Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge in 1991, The Curse of Monkey Island in 1997, Escape from Monkey Island in 2000, and Tales from Monkey Island, which was released in chapters between 2009 and 2010). Each game was hilarious in its own right (I’m particularly fond of the various forms of LeChuck: The Ghost Pirate LeChuck, the Zombie Pirate LeChuck, the Demon Pirate LeChuck, Giant Statue LeChuck, and Demon Pirate God LeChuck), but there’s something special about your first love. Twenty-eight years after its release, I can still sit down and waste an entire evening trying to learn the Secret of Monkey Island.
If you’ve got a good three to four hours, you can watch a full play through of the original classic here: