I love adventure games. Today, they are all but extinct, but, in the 90s, when videogames were young, the best of the best were adventure games. Sure, Mario was tough, Link was badass, and Sonic was fast. But, none of these were the hero that Guybrush Treepwood was. Guybrush, the lead in the Monkey Island series of adventure games, is a wuss. He has a stupid, ridiculous, and downright glorious name. He also has literally no useful hero skills. The only skills he can claim are the ability to hold his breath for ten minutes and to shove the contents of a 90s adventure game inventory down his pants. He is hardly the stuff of heroes, thoughtlessly ruining the lives of other people to solve a small puzzle, but we love him for his careless indifference. Guybrush is not a total jerk; it just doesn’t occur to him that there are consequences to his actions. It is tempting to say that this lovable loser, and Guybrush is certainly a loser, is the secret to the greatness that are the Monkey Island games, but that would ignore the marvelous puzzles and bizarre humor.
My first thought was to write a nice paragraph about the jokes and another about the puzzles, but that won’t work for these games. The puzzles and jokes are as intertwined as a rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle (and yes, that is a puzzle item from the first game). The humor of the Monkey Island games is inherent in every ridiculous thing you do, from proving your pirate-y skills by earning t-shirts to destroying the Ghost Pirate LeChuck with a magical root beer. The puzzle design ranges from the simple, collect enough insults to win sword fights, to the bizarre, use the aforementioned rubber chicken to cross a zip-line. There are one or two incredibly obscure or obtuse puzzles in each of the games, but there is a real sense of accomplishment when the solution becomes clear. The internet does have all the answers a hundred times over, but these are games about the puzzles, so skipping them leaves nothing to enjoy. And, enjoy you shall, as each of these games is full of incredible moments of humor, weird non sequiturs, and memorable characters. There are evil pirates, crazy castaways, a sleazy used-ship salesman, and a bunch of monkeys. Fewer monkeys than you might think, though.
Now, I probably should have mentioned this earlier, but the Monkey Island series is a bit confusing. The first game is The Secret of Monkey Island, which does not reveal the secret of Monkey Island. The second, and possibly the best, is called Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge, and does not feature Monkey Island. The third game, which is the first to feature voice actors, is called The Curse of Monkey Island. This game was made without the original creators, but was still great. The fourth game, Escape from Monkey Island, is the weakest but does succeed on several levels. Finally (ed. finally), Tales from Monkey Island is an episodic game, released in 2009 to great success. Additionally (ed. I hate you), the first two games were re-mastered and released on PC, Playstation, and Xbox Live Arcade. These re-masters feature updated graphics and voice acting by the (wildly talented and funny) cast of the earlier, later games. I cannot recommend these enough. It would be no exaggeration to say that the Monkey Island games are some of the best videogames I’ve ever played. But, don’t take my word for it, try them for yourself. (Well, not the third or fourth, which are essentially out of print.) The special editions are available on Steam, PSN, and XBLA, while the Tales series is available on Steam, WiiWare, and PSN. Demos abound; check them out.