The Essential Games: The Secret of Monkey Island (1990)

The Essential Games highlights games from throughout the history of the medium that I would recommend, without reservation, to just about anyone. Click HERE for the full index.

You can play this video in the background to set the mood, if you’d like.

This music is great. It evokes deep nostalgia within me.

Ah, Lucasarts. Once purveyors of great original adventure games and other random experimental stuff, now…some licensing factory buried in the bowels of Disney. Probably in a closet somewhere.

Lucasarts produced some of today’s finest game designers. Among them is Ron Gilbert. Ron Gilbert’s opus is actually…Maniac Mansion. Which is not the game I’m talking about today. If you’re going to play only one Ron Gilbert-designed game, it should be The Secret of Monkey Island. Not Monkey Island 2. Not Maniac Mansion. Not Deathspank. And not The Cave (which I actually liked).

Gilbert regularly tweets at Disney asking them to sell him the rights back to Monkey Island. He designed the first two games, and then Lucasarts made two more games without him, and then Telltale made a fifth game. Ron Gilbert considers only the first two to be canonical, and wants to make his vision of the third game. The third game that already exists is actually good enough to warrant its own entry in this series.

I’ve written all this and I haven’t talked about the game yet.

The Secret of Monkey Island is the quintessential adventure game. It is the template by which I judge the genre. It was made as an irritated reaction to other adventure games from its day. It has a fun story which drives the gameplay. It has amazing hand-drawn art work. It has a basic point-and-click interface that anyone can learn. It has lots of puzzles to solve…and most of them aren’t actually as obtuse as their reputation. Michael Land’s music is some of the most iconic music ever composed for a game. It was co-written by Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, who have tons of impressive games on their own resumes. Steve Purcell worked in the art department. He would go on to write Sam and Max…and a Disney/Pixar movie you might have seen called Brave.

Monkey Island birthed ideas unseen previously in the adventure genre that still persist today. It’s great!

It’s also pretty easy to play in the modern era! Yay! It was remade as The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition. You can get this on Steam for PC, Mac through the App Store, Xbox 360, and PS3. There was also an iOS version, but alas, it was pulled from distribution in 2015. This version contains brand new hand-drawn visuals as well as the originals. It also contains a brand new audio treatment, featuring the voice cast from the third game. Some strange decisions in the new artwork aside, it’s a love-letter to the original game and a must-play.

If you’d rather play the original version, that’s easiest through an emulator called ScummVM. I’m not sure how easy it is to get a copy of that. I used to have it on floppies, and now I’ve got an old CD compilation that was released near Monkey Island 3. There’s also a version on the good old Sega CD, which is totally fine.

Also for the record, I’m not saying that Monkey Island 2 is bad, just that the first is my personal favorite. The game has stuck with me since I first played it in the nineties, and I still enjoy revisiting it today.

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I do radio voice work by day, and write by day and night. I studied film and production. I love audio, design, and music. Also video games.

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