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“Return to Monkey Island,” First Thoughts Returning to Monkey Island (Again)

Columnist elTee sums up his -- and Mojo’s -- current mood in the wake of the Return to Monkey Island announcement.

I don’t know if you guys remember this or not, but in 2009 LucasArts green-lit the first Monkey Island projects since Escape From Monkey Island, and it was… unexpected. The intervening period had actually been a prolific period for LucasArts as both a developer and a publisher, with over fifty titles released in nine years. The only problem was - well, see for yourself. Here are some of the titles:

  • Thrillville
  • Super Bombad Racing
  • Wrath Unleashed
  • RTX Red Rock
  • Gladius

This list goes on. And on. And on. But no matter how many times you stare at it, you can only begin to imagine the despair and apathy this community was feeling by 2009. Every time the company teased a new announcement we braced ourselves, daring to hope for a sequel to one of the many classic adventures, only for our hopes to be dashed against the shores of another Star Wars tie-in, another Thrillville expansion pack, another bizarre outsourced Indiana Jones action game.

So when LucasArts announced that an in-house team was working on an updated version of The Secret of Monkey Island, that would have been quite sufficient to pique our collective interest. But, when you find yourself waiting for a bus, it’s not uncommon for three to eventually show up at the same time. And unbelievably, that’s what happened with Monkey Island, because it wasn’t just Secret that was being given the special edition treatment - LucasArts would follow it up back-to-back with LeChuck’s Revenge, and as if that wasn’t enough, they were also allowing Telltale Games to produce an all-new episodic entry to the series: Tales of Monkey Island.

It was, simply, insane. Against all the odds, our perseverance had paid off. After almost a full decade, there was a new Monkey Island game. LucasArts were finally returning to what they did better than anyone else - adventure games. They say the night is darkest just before the dawn, and so it was. But now we were going to step firmly into the light and enjoy our rewards.

I wrote a short piece in 2010, at the height of this mania, looking to the future. What wondrous bounty could we expect now that the balance of power had shifted back in our favour?

I came up with all sorts of fanciful nonsense. I considered the possibility that LucasArts might allow Double Fine to remaster Tim Schafer’s classic trilogy, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango. I rubbished this idea; Tim Schafer wouldn’t be interested in such things. I suggested, seriously, that Craig Derrick might want to remake Maniac Mansion - and as it turns out, he actually did. But the main thing I prophesied was more Monkey Island. After all, LucasArts had just introduced a whole new generation to the series, and left them hanging on one of the most infamous cliffhangers in gaming. The right thing to do was to give them some closure. After all, if one thing that was long-considered an impossibility had just happened, why not another? So you can imagine my astonishment when something impossible actually did happen.

That’s right. George Lucas sold the company to the Walt Disney corporation. LucasArts became a name in a ledger, just another asset in the asset kingdom. You know how this ends - within a few short years, LucasArts ceased to exist.

Maybe Mojo should have ceased to exist, too. With LucasArts gone, it was clear that there could be no more Monkey Island. No more Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken, or Loom. These things would just become memories. Perhaps it was for the best. We’re all getting older, life is getting more complicated. And they’re only games, after all.

But, no. They’re not “only” games, are they. These are special games. They’re stories that can transport us away from this wicked world. Seminal building blocks in the evolution of narratives. They’re the fucking LucasArts adventure games, for Christ’s sake. Of course they matter. So, we kept going.

Let’s be real clear here, though: none of us stayed here because we actually believed this story would continue. We wanted to build a shrine to the past, and enjoy whatever work people like Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer might put out there, but we were under absolutely no illusions. Monkey Island was in the Disney vault, right next to Song of the South. The bullet was in the head.

Which makes the announcement of 04 April 20-freaking-22 all the more insane. Ron Gilbert is making a new Monkey Island game. Ron Gilbert is making a new Monkey Island game. Ron Gilbert is making a new Monkey Island game!

I’ll say it again: Ron Gilbert is making a new Monkey Island game. It’s being released by Devolver Digital and a rebranded LucasFilm Games. It’s written by Gilbert and Dave Grossman, and the music is being done by Michael Land, Clint Bajakian, and Peter McConnell. It comes out in a few months from now.

Just like last time, this was not supposed to happen. But this time, it really wasn’t supposed to happen. Ron Gilbert has made it quite clear that he doesn’t consider the Monkey Island sequels made without him to be truly canonical, and he also suggested that he wouldn’t be willing to return to the series given that he has no ownership of the license and would just be making money for another corporation. It’s been over thirty years since The Secret of Monkey Island and LeChuck’s Revenge. Thirty years! How do you continue a story after a gap like that? Not only a gap, but a gap filled with two full games and five episodes of other people’s sequels?

The answer to that ultimately doesn’t matter. Fate and circumstance conspired and someone found the magic combination that made Ron Gilbert say yes to this project. And I predicted it in 2010, didn’t I?

No. Of course I didn’t. I was wrong, just like I’m wrong about everything else. It’s just that on a long enough timeline, eventually, everything happens.

So I was patient, that’s all. We all were. We waited, and now the thing that we wanted most is happening. Ron Gilbert is making a new Monkey Island game.

And that’s it. I’m not going to speculate about where in the canon this new game might fit. I don’t care which characters are in it. I don’t even care if Ron tries to give us the “secret” of Monkey Island or not. What’s the point? I’ve got what I wanted, and now I’m just here to enjoy the hell out of it.

Thanks, Ron. I love you, man.