The pulley is hidden in the rubber chicken. Pulley = chicken.


This key absurdity, which eluded me for a good hour, is highly emblematic of the experience of playing Monkey Island (1990): frustrating, outlandish, but oh-so-weirdly funny when it comes together.


So, if you’re a sucker for a brain-bender, have a penchant for bad puns, or maintain an unhealthy relationship with late-80’s pop culture, please join me as I sail for the high seas with the dashing, infamous Guybrush Threepwood in...

Medium
Hey it’s my first HD rerelease! TSoMI: Special Edition, which I played on PS3, lets you switch back and forth, with the press of a button, between modern graphics and the original badly ageing pixels. It even adds decent voice acting. I mostly played with the “new look”, since I like the voices, but functionally the game is exactly the same as the one many of you first played 25 years ago.

The Game
One in a long string of hits by the now-defunct LucasArts, Monkey Island is an early example of the kind of funny, engaging, player-friendly adventures that would come to define the careers of its core creative team of Tim Schafer (Psychonauts), Ron Gilbert (The Cave), and Dave Grossman (Back to the Future: A Telltale Game). Of course, as well-established as its legacy might be, we still have to take the game on its own merits. MI is a point-and-click, which means that everything involves moving a cursor around screen, finding objects to interact with, and figuring out their use. Typically, said uses will be comically obtuse, like our pulley-embedded chicken above, but the game’s twisted logic does start to make sense after a while. More importantly, the story - wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood faces off agains the evil ghost pirate LeChuck - is suitably hilarious.

Dated Elements
The pixels might be coming apart at the seams (though, as mentioned, you can “remaster” on the fly), but otherwise this genre hasn’t really changed that much over the decades. Gamers wary of the “USE BALLOON ANIMAL WITH CORPSE” design philosophy won’t find much to change their opinion here, but the fact that it is so very funny makes it a worthwhile struggle. In my opinion.

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Verdict
How can you not love Monkey Island? Widely considered one of the funniest games ever written, it’s chock full of goofy puzzles, painful puns, and something called Insult Swordfighting, which I feel might stop a lot of wars (or perhaps start some).

Better alternatives?
TSoMI is definitely a must-play, but I could write a long list of equally stellar titles to try if you’re up for more goofy fun. Day of the Tentacle is a gem of the era, but more recent entries for the graphics-inclined include Broken Age, The Cave, and the adorable Machinarium. The other Monkey Island titles are all good, even the unfairly maligned PS2 entry (which was actually my original introduction to the series).

Re-releases and sequels
Yes. The one I played, which is available on Steam for a song. (Or, if you prefer, one New Grog bottle cap traded to the umbrella salesman who will give you the broken umbrella that you can use to float over the canyon to land on the treetop to knock the coconut on the old man’s head to make him curse the monkey to learn a new insult to shout at your computer screen until Monkey Island spontaneously downloads.)

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