What made this classic gaming franchise so enduring?


Nineteen years ago, in 1990, Lucasfilm Games released the first instalment in what would become one their most beloved series of games ever: The Secret of Monkey Island. Almost two decades later, LucasArts will today be releasing a “reimagined” Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition, with modern graphics and full voice recordings. However successful this new venture turns out to be, what’s clear is that fans are still as much in love with the swashbuckling tales of Guybrush Threepwood and his arch-nemesis LeChuck as they were all those years ago.

So what made the Monkey Island games so special? Monkey Island holds a very dear place in my heart as one of the first of their games that I really got hooked on. I played it all through with a friend who was lucky enough to own a PC back in those days, and I can remember countless evenings together, scratching our heads and wondering what on earth to do next, followed by those glorious “ah ha!” moments when it all suddenly made sense. Though I’ve previously waxed lyrical about how Day of the Tentacle is my favourite LucasArts adventure game, there’s a certain charm to the original Monkey Island games that’s hard to beat. I could cite the beautiful artwork, the hilarious script, the ingenious puzzles, the loveable cast of pirates and cannibals and Voodoo priestesses, or LeChuck’s incredible display of facial hair. But for me, the thing that really brings me back time and time again is the simple yet poignant story of a boy who dreams of being a pirate. As Dave Grossman, one of the writers on the series put it:

“Something that I always thought was true about the Monkey series was that, while moment-by-moment it’s quite silly and there’s lots of slapstick, verbal humor, and ironic pointing out of social dysfunctions, the broad strokes of the story there are actually quite serious.

The first one is about this young man who’s come to this island to realize his life’s dream, and in the quest of doing that, he falls in love and he finds out, “This is more important to me than my life’s dream.”

It’s actually quite a serious story, despite being a pretty silly experience overall.”

Look! A Three-Headed Monkey!


One of the brilliant things about the first two Monkey Island games (the only ones considered “true canon” by the die-hard Ron Gilbert fans) is the air of mystery that pervades the whole thing. The background art works together in perfect harmony with the music to create this incredible atmosphere, such that you can almost feel the hot winds of hell in your face when you first behold the Ghost Pirate LeChuck standing on the deck of his Ghost Ship. There are profound and hidden things beneath the surface of this seemingly charming tale, which still get people talking about them decades later.

I for one will never forget the first moment I laid eyes on Monkey Island itself. Its sunny shores stand in stark contrast to the physical darkness of the first two acts, and yet there’s a palpable aura of mystery about the place. The player is given a distant overhead view of the island, which gives you this fantastic sense of exploring this vast unknown territory. The judicious use of humour in the form of the castaway Herman Toothrot keeps the initial part of the island section from being an entirely isolating experience for Guybrush, and yet that feeling of remoteness is all part of the wonder of the place. For a young boy playing these incredible games when they were brand new, it was all so magical!


Personally, I’m really hoping that the release of the Special Edition today will be a roaring success, and that it will introduce a whole new generation of gamers to the wonder of Monkey Island. And that’s not just because what’s good for adventure gaming is good for me! Go out and buy it today!


One Response to The Secret of Monkey Island

  1. […] you’ve ever played LucasArt’s adventure games like Monkey Island then you’ll know that as well as the main dialogue for all of the cutscenes and the main […]

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