This article contains spoilers for Return to Monkey Island, The Last of Us Part 2, and Uncharted 4.
Return to Monkey Island is the last game I would have expected to riff on the same themes as The Last of Us Part 2. One is a hyper-violent triple-A shooter with the most realistic graphics of its console generation. The other is a Devolver-published 2D point-and-click narrative adventure with stylized, but pared down visuals that — apart from some grog drinking, swordfighting, and general pirate misbehaviour — is entirely appropriate for kids. But, both games have similar thematic hooks that become especially apparent in their second halves.
Return to Monkey Island finds Guybrush Threepwood, now a middle-aged man, telling the story of his adventures after Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge to his adolescent son, Boybrush. Elaine and Guybrush are married now, and she’s present in his stories from the past, organizing an anti-scurvy campaign with the goal of getting pirates to eat limes. She doesn’t have a ton to do for much of the story, but toward the end of the game, she begins stumbling upon people that have been negatively affected by Guybrush’s single-minded quest to find the secret of Monkey Island.
There’s the old man, trapped for years in a dark cave, who Guybrush steals a key from and then leaves without hope of escape. There’s the queen of Brrr Muda, who Guybrush usurps by defeating her in three challenges for her crown — a crown which he promptly dismantles in front for the key it contains as soon as he gets his hands on it. And, there’s Stan, the smooth talking criminal sentenced to 10 months in prison, but whose sentence Guybrush gets extended to 10 years by turning in incriminating evidence on him. Elaine meets these people and more, learning about all the ways Guybrush has been meddling in peoples’ lives and wreaking havoc as he goes.
Playing through it, I felt like I was witnessing a combination of story beats from two Naughty Dog games: The Last of Us Part 2 and Uncharted 4. In Uncharted 4, Nathan Drake lies to his wife, Elena, as he links up with his long lost brother, Sam, and hops back into his dangerous treasure hunting life with both feet. This storyline climaxes in an emotional confrontation between Nate and Elena when she catches up with him in Madagascar, furious that he lied to her. It’s a very similar story arc, but Elaine just lets Guybrush off the hook.
The Last of Us Part 2 comparison comes in because that game’s dual protagonists take actions that will have major effects on other characters but which, at first glance, just seem like normal examples of video game violence. Ellie murders people left and right as she infiltrates Seattle in search of Joel’s killers. Those moments are given weight as you play them, but they really hit home when you switch over to Abby’s playthrough and get to know some of the characters that Ellie has already bumped off. There’s even a moment when Abby walks into a tent where a bunch of her compatriots have been gathered in body bags. The game doesn’t definitively say who killed them all — the Wolves attribute it to the Seraphites — but Tommy and Ellie are already sniping and knifing their way across the city when it happens.
It’s interesting to see the team behind Return to Monkey Island at Terrible Toybox include this perspective on Guybrush’s actions because pointing and clicking come in for far less critical scrutiny than violent verbs like shooting and stabbing. Sure, Guybrush is doing some questionable things in the game. But, it’s all presented with an air of comic mischief. I’ve never thought “Man, Guybrush needs to get his shit rocked,” and Terrible Toybox pulls the punch by having Elaine not actually get that mad at him, so it seems like the studio didn’t either.
So, what exactly is the point? The game ends with Guybrush as an older man, reflecting on his youth and adventures, embodying some of the same thematic interests as big triple-A games with aging protagonists like God of War, The Last of Us, and Uncharted 4. Its ending is ambiguous, but it’s also so abrupt that it doesn’t fully sell that ambiguity. It’s natural for developers to want to put their life experience into their work, but when the game they’re making is a goofy point-and-click it makes for an odd combination. Then again, maybe that’s fitting for the series that gave us the rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle.
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