Return to Monkey Island, teased by Ron Gilbert on his official blog last week on April Fools’ Day, has been confirmed as an actual video game that will release in 2022.
The game’s announcement came as the very first April Fools’ joke in Gilbert’s 18 years of operating the blog Grumpy Gamer. Or at least it appeared to be an April Fools’ gag. On Monday, Gilbert followed his post up by saying that he felt “bad” about the joke, adding, “Over the weekend, I whipped up the game so no one was disappointed.”
Elsewhere, Gilbert said that the game has been in development for roughly two years by the team at Terrible Toybox, which also worked on the 2017 adventure game Thimbleweed Park. But Terrible Toybox has picked up a notable new partner this time around: Dave Grossman, who co-wrote and co-designed many legendary point-and-click games at LucasArts, including the first two Monkey Island titles.
Other familiar names include Dominic Armato, who will reprise the role of Guybrush Threepwood, and the original LucasArts musicians, who will provide the game’s score.
“Too much of my life creating and making things other people own”
For those unfamiliar, the Monkey Island series began life in 1990 with Gilbert, Grossman, and Tim Schafer at the helm, during the height of LucasArts’ point-and-click adventure game legacy. Gilbert remained on board for the series’ first sequel in 1991, only to leave LucasArts shortly after its release; he eventually teamed up with Schafer to make a new game for Double Fine Productions before once again striking off on his own. While other teams made Monkey Island games in subsequent years without the original creators’ involvement, the original games remain beloved thanks to their mix of brilliant puzzles and hilarious deadpan writing.
A minute-long trailer released on Monday is brief on gameplay details beyond debuting the apparent engine that will be used to display its high-res 2D characters and art assets—currently a mix of hand-tracked animation and Flash-like, flat-sprite manipulation. A single bouncing skull (Murray?) bounds in the direction of a ghost pirate fiddler, then mutters, “Ron Gilbert told me he’d never make another Monkey Island unless…” before getting punched off the deck.
That quote is a reference to a manifesto Gilbert wrote in 2013 about his dreams of creating another Monkey Island game. The post made clear that Monkey Island would never officially return unless Gilbert owned the series’ IP. “I’ve spent too much of my life creating and making things other people own,” Gilbert wrote. “Not only would I allow you to make Monkey Island fan games, but I would encourage it.”
In the years since that post went live, the Disney-helmed Lucasfilm Games has been more generous about helping its most venerable alumni re-release original games with minimal interference, and the company also increased its efforts to put its biggest properties in the hands of new developers. The upcoming Indiana Jones video game, for instance, is being made by MachineGames. Gilbert hasn’t said what deal he struck with LucasArts’ rightsholders, but it’s arguably good enough to make him eat some very famous “not making another Monkey Island” words.
Take the rest of Gilbert’s 2013 post with a grain of salt—particularly the directive about “rebuilding SCUMM,” the programming system he developed for classic LucasArts games. (It’s possible that he remade the engine, but due to game development timelines and budgets and the availability of robust third-party engines in the years since, it doesn’t seem like a hill worth dying on.)
The post offers hints about the compromises Gilbert is willing to make to deliver a modern game. As the trailer shows, the game indeed follows his “high-res 2D” dream instead of adopting 3D assets, and its use of spoken voice work suggests a fully voiced adventure (as we’ve seen in remastered Monkey Island games). Concerning the gameplay, Gilbert previously suggested dropping all “verbs” but still leaving in the “dialogue puzzles” that made the original games special. And as far as adventure-gaming difficulty is concerned, I’ll let Gilbert wax poetically:
It would be a hardcore adventure game driven by what made that era so great. No tutorials or hint systems or pansy-assed puzzles or catering to the mass-market or modernizing. It would be an adventure game for the hardcore. You’re going to get stuck. You’re going to be frustrated. Some puzzles will be hard, but all the puzzles will be fair. It’s one aspect of Monkey Island I am very proud of.
Gilbert is not likely to tease much more about the game ahead of its launch, at least if he sticks with his 2013 plans, which included a vow that no advance review copies would be distributed ahead of the game’s launch. Members of the press “should play it at the same time you do,” he told fans at the time. “I hope they won’t be mad at me. My Metacritic score hopes they won’t be mad at me.”
Fine by us. We’ll play the game whenever Gilbert gives it to us—which, according to today’s news, will be by the end of this year. (Take that, Breath of the Wild 2.)