Ranking Every Monkey Island Game From Worst to Best
Monkey Island is one of the longest running and most beloved video game series on the face of the planet. Ron Gilbert’s creation is also one of the critically well-received series ever, with all six mainline games in the series receiving positive reviews, and it all started with the dawning of the 90s.
1990 was a tale of two halves for LucasArts adventure games. Firstly, they had their beautiful and unique game Loom, which failed to set the world on fire. Ironically, most people remember Loom solely for its reference in Monkey Island. Secondly, they released The Secret of Monkey Island, which just so happened to become the face of point and click adventures from that day forward.
It was quickly followed up with a 1991 sequel, in Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge. Again the game was a success, especially in Europe. Monkey Island creator Ron Gilbert would leave LucasArts in 1992, and it took several years to see a threequel in the series. In 1997 we would finally get The Curse of Monkey Island, once again a critical success. PC gaming would become less popular, especially as genres that usually excel on PCs, such as first=person shooters, would become more popular on consoles. Also, console makers would push 3D polygonal graphics toward the end of the decade, as a way to demonstrate the power of their consoles. 2D graphics were considered old fashioned, and this became a huge issue for several point and click franchises.
LucasArts pushed into the 3D adventure game market, and found critical success (but not commercial) with 1998’s Grim Fandango. They followed Grim up with the fourth game in the Monkey Island series, Escape from Monkey Island. It was again a critical success, and LucasArts were happy with the sales figures, although it had reportedly not sold as well on the PlayStation 2. Possibly due to the low console sales, or perhaps to the decline of PC gaming and the point and click genre as a whole, we wouldn’t hear much from Monkey Island for many years.
Telltale would bring Monkey Island back in 2009 for Tales of Monkey Island, an episodic entry to the series. It would once again feature a 3D aesthetic, a new control method, and bring back several of the Monkey Island team back to the series. It also proved to be Telltale’s most financially successful game at the time it was released. There would be no further Monkey Island games until 2022’s Return to Monkey Island, which returned the series to its 2D roots but with a whole new style.
We’ve taken into account every monkey, every eye patch and every undead pirate, so without further ado, here are the Monkey Island games across the franchise’s history ranked from worst to best.
Adventure games were in a difficult position around the year 2000. They’d mostly been made with 2D graphics since the 80s, but suddenly 3D polygons were all the rage, and games with 2D graphics were seen as old fashioned. Early 3D adventure games were a mixed bag at best, with other adventure franchises like Gabriel Knight and Broken Sword both struggling to get a good 3D game together, but Escape from Monkey Island did a solid job. It helped that it used the GrimE game engine, named after another LucasArts adventure game, Grim Fandango.
Grim Fandango, released two years prior, helped LucasArts work out how a 3D adventure game could play, and it played fairly similar to the likes of survival horror games of the 90s. In both Grim Fandango and Escape from Monkey Island, tank controls were employed for the player character, and they were moved around not with the mouse, but with the controller or keyboard. The tank controls could be awkward, as you might suspect, and while it does do the job, it can’t replace the simplicity of simply pointing and clicking.
While many Monkey Island fans would claim Escape to be an awful game in the series, in reality, it’s actually a solid and fun adventure game. The PS2 era 3D graphics haven’t aged as well as their 2D counterparts, but they still have a lot of charm and character.
5. Tales of Monkey Island
Developer: Telltale Games Publisher: Telltale Games Platform(s): Windows, Mac, iOS, Wii, PS3
Possibly the least played of the Monkey Island series, Tales of Monkey Island was released in 2009, nine years on from Escape from Monkey Island. By this point the series was considered dead, or at least undead. In fact, the entire point and click genre had been in the doldrums for years, until one company became a major power in resurrecting the genre: Telltale Games. Telltale released Tales of Monkey Island in their trademark episodic style, and the season was well received overall.
It’s unclear why so few people talk about Tales of Monkey Island. Perhaps it’s too far removed from the original four games in the series, maybe fans had moved on, or perhaps not everyone was a fan of Telltale’s episodic format. Whatever the reason, more people could do with playing this underappreciated entry in the series, as this is a great entry into the Monkey Island canon, and the unique art and design shouldn’t be missed out on.
This game actually brought together many of the major players from Monkey Island’s development history, most notably ex-developers such as Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer, Mike Stemmle and David Grossman. Tales might be a unique entry into the series, but it is also a very worthy one.
4. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
Developer: LucasArts Publisher: LucasArts/U.S. Gold (EU) Platform(s): MS-DOS, Mac, Amiga, FM Towns, iOS, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Monkey Island 2 is a grand entry into the series. Not only is it a fine adventure in its own right, it actually manages to build upon the foundations laid by the first game in the series, The Secret of Monkey Island.
The UI remains fairly unchanged for this sequel, as do the graphics, although they do appear a little slicker. One big leap is that Monkey Island 2 uses LucasArts’ iMUSE system. The Interactive Music Streaming Engine allows the game to seamlessly change the soundtrack on the fly, with tracks blending into one another without having to stop and start music. This later became fairly common practice in the video game industry.
So, if Monkey Island 2 is such a leap ahead of the original game in the series, why isn’t it ranked higher? Well, retrospectively speaking, The Secret of Monkey Island is generally thought to be the better game of the pair. While LeChuck’s Revenge built on what the previous game had laid out, it was The Secret of Monkey Island that felt fresh and new, and it’s the game many players remember better of the two original titles. Also, there are some mixed feelings regarding the rug-pull ending of LeChuck’s Revenge, which reveal Guybrush and LeChuck to actually be two children playing as pirates at a pirate theme park, or, rather confusingly, that maybe none of it was real
Either way, I’m sure it’ll be explained in detail in the next ga–oh wait no they just waved it away as being a curse.
3. Return to Monkey Island
Developer: Terrible Toybox Publisher: Devolver Digital Platform(s): PC, Mac, Linux, Switch, PS5, Xbox Series, iOS, Android
In 2023, Monkey Island made its long-awaited return in the aptly named Return to Monkey Island. Positioned as a direct sequel to Monkey Island 2, it was designed by two of the original Monkey Island stalwarts, Ron Gilbert and Dave Grossman. Releasing 13 years since the last entry in the series, Tales of Monkey Island, and a whopping 31 years since the Monkey Island 2 cliffhanger, Return to Monkey Island kicks off at the amusement park we last saw at the end of Monkey Island 2. However, it’s revealed the two children aren’t actually Guybrush and LeChuck as children but the son of Guybrush, named Boybrush, acting out the adventures of his father with his friend Chuckie as LeChuck.
Return to Monkey Island was hailed as a return to form, as not only was it a great game in its own right, it returned to an old style of point and click and totally nailed it. While the new art style was criticised by some ‘fans’, it represented the idea that Return to Monkey Island wouldn’t be a throwback game, and was a new game in the series, and while it didn’t tread new ground gameplay wise, it still represented a step forward in the Monkey Island series.
The game is marred by a disappointing ending which never truly resolves what the secret is, but then again, after all these years, any reveal would be a disappointment. While this ending left a slight sour taste in the mouth, it doesn’t detract from the quality of the game, and Return to Monkey Island is still a fantastic entry into the series.
2. The Curse of Monkey Island
Developer: LucasArts Publisher: LucasArts Platform(s): PC, Mac
The third game in the Monkey Island series saw a huge shift in the development team at LucasArts. Ron Gilbert, director of the two previous games, was out and Larry Ahern and Jonathan Ackley were in. Fresh faces meant a big change for the series, but this also represented a big change for the design of the game itself.
The point and click genre had significantly moved forward in the six years between the second and third entries in the series. The UI of the first two games had become outdated, and instead of the gameplay window being the upper half of the screen, the gameplay now takes up the whole screen, and clicking on things opens up an interaction icon which gives you options to examine, pick up, etc.
The Curse of Monkey Island is easily one of the best games in the series. It had been many years since Monkey Island 2, and the big change in style for the series really helped the Monkey Island series retain its crown as ‘the king of the point n’ click’.
The aforementioned UI update really helped to modernise the feel of the game, but it was the cartoony graphical upgrade that really gave the game the boost it needed. Pixels felt a million miles away, replaced with large, articulate characters and fully animated cutscenes. A CD quality soundtrack is the cherry on top of the cake that is The Curse of Monkey Island. Plus there’s the debut of Murray, which is worth the price of purchase alone.
1. The Secret of Monkey Island
Developer: LucasArts Publisher: LucasArts Platform(s): MS-DOS, Mac, Atari ST, FM Towns, Sega CD, iOS, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
There’s no denying it: The Secret of Monkey Island is the original and best Monkey Island game. While the gameplay, graphics, sound and almost every element has improved since the initial outing in the series, there is something that makes this game timeless, and well worth revisiting over 30 years since its release.
The Secret of Monkey Island delighted gamers back in 1990 with progressive design, narrative and gameplay, but most importantly its charm. It is this charm that has made The Secret of Monkey Island an enduring and playable game right up to the modern day.
The Secret of Monkey Island features the classic LucasArts adventure gameplay. Point and click adventure games were an evolution of text based adventure games that rose to prominence in the 1980s. These games would require you to input your commands by typing them, which could be confusing at times. LucasArts did away with this, taking away the hours of typing commands while you try and find the right one. The top half of the screen is dedicated to the graphics, and the lower to the commands that Guybrush can perform. Actions like ‘Pick up’, ‘Look at’ or ‘Talk to’, amongst others, are all laid out in a grid like formation in the lower half of the screen, along with the inventory.
The Secret of Monkey Island felt like a step up in every possible way, and this had led to its enduring popularity. Delightful pixel art graphics, fun script and fantastic soundtrack all mixed with a unique setting and cast of characters has all helped to elevate above the other games in the series. There may well be technically better games in the series, but The Secret of Monkey Island is still the best experience in the series for players new and old.
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