LucasArts’ 1997 classic point-and-click adventure The Curse of Monkey Island is a work of brilliance. And it’s our favourite from the fabled Monkey Island series.
As an adventure game, it did an unusual thing for the time and mixed an exceptional script with humour, puzzles, and glorious aesthetics.
Over 25 years after its release, we’re happy to keep on celebrating the thing. Not least as there’s Monkey Island Returns in the works for 2022.
Charming Humour and Skulduggery in The Curse of Monkey Island
The Curse of Monkey Island was the third game in the Monkey Island series, with the first two appearing on the Amiga during the early 1990s.
The latter two were graphically rather basic, but by the time of 1997 technology had advanced to allow LucasArts to define their vision with an absolute masterpiece of humour and adventure.
LucasArts doesn’t develop video games anymore and when you look at titles like this you have to wonder why
. There’s a strong case for this being the funniest video game of all time, as there’s so much imagination and charm going on here.
The plot’s based on Guybrush Threepwood, a bumbling and amiable young man who is attempting to become a mighty pirate and win over the love of his life, Elaine.
Unfortunately, he accidentally curses her and she’s turned into a solid block of gold. In an attempt to cure her, he sets off on an adventure to get her back to normal.
Off you set in this point-and-click game. This means the player uses their mouse to observe their environment.
That includes talking to the people you meet to gather information, picking up objects, and solving the puzzles you come across. As you do, the narrative progresses!
And along the way you get some truly disturbed brilliance.
Threepwood really is a bit of a subtle lunatic. He procures a map, for instance, by sun burning a gentleman’s back and then tearing the skin straight from his body.
This moment is just one of many legendary, rather jaw-dropping jokes from the game.
Recently, in 2022, LucasArts’ game designer Jonathan Ackley reminisced about the sound processing for the… moment.
The peel the sunburned map puzzle in Curse of #Monkey Island was truly horrific. To get the sound effect of the perfect “wet tearing” noise, I had to ask the sound department for 3 different revisions. #adventuregames #retrogaming #1990s #Guybrush #treasuremap pic.twitter.com/mGbO0fYfxa
— Jonathan Ackley (@ackley_jonathan) April 16, 2022
That’s all fabulous, of course, but one of the stars of the title actually comes from an unlikely source—a disembodied skull.
Curses! It’s the Arrival of Murray the Skull
The Curse of Monkey Island is stuffed full of memorable characters. The protagonist Threepwood is fantastic enough, but he’s surrounded by a bunch of oddballs who bring the game to life.
But the chattering Murray the Skull is definitely the highlight.
Threepwood accidentally decapitates one of LeChuck’s horde, and the skull (Murray) reappears regularly throughout the rest of the quest.
Possessing a demonic voice, and ignoring his inability to move, he bellows and roars incessantly about destroying humanity and taking over the world.
As he’s completely ineffectual, of course, he’s a source of great laughs. He also ends most of his discourse with the stock “Bwahahaha!” for good measure.
Other highlights include the quite deranged Captain Blondebeard (obsessed with the “Demon Chicken”), the Flying Welshman, and a particularly amusing moment when one is introduced to the despicably horrifying Skull Island.
Furthermore, this is all backed by the wonderful art style, excellent voice acting, and the legendary music.
The Curse of Monkey Island’s Glorious Soundtrack
The Monkey Island series’ music is courtesy of the legendary Michael Land, an American composer who worked for LucasArts.
Despite the Caribbean sound, Land’s influences are actually Jimi Hendrix, Yes, and the Grateful Dead. But he’s also found of classic music, notably with Beethoven.
As with many video game composers (such as Rare’s David Wise and Gareth Coker), his work is highly varied and throws in all sorts of genres into the mix.
Technological limitations on the earlier Monkey Island games stymied his efforts, but by the time of 1997 he was able to go for a more orchestral sweep with real instruments.