The Secret of Monkey Island: Bring on the Charm & Barbed Witticisms

The Secret of Monkey Island 1990 video game

Recently, we covered Return to Monkey Island after its 2022 launch. It marked the return to the series of the series’ creator, Ron Gilbert, who hadn’t worked on a Monkey Island game since 1991.

But let’s journey on back to 1990 and the very first outing—The Secret of Monkey Island. An adventure game that’s as legendary as it is charming, it’s a funny and timeless classic we want to rant about.

Yes, But What’s The Secret of Monkey Island?

In 1990, the game launched on a variety of early home computers. Stuff like the Amiga, Atari ST, MS-DOS, FM Towns (a Japan only PC), and Classic Mac OS.

Due to the enduring popularity of the game, LucasArts launched a remake in 2009. This featured an overhaul of the graphics alongside a full set of voice actors to bring it in line with 1997’s The Curse of Monkey Island.

The original didn’t feature any voice acting (naturally). But it did become one of the most popular point-and-click adventure games, which began life as a genre in the 1980s.

And you can see why, with gloriously detailed intro sequences like this. And yes, for 1990 this was just outstanding.

Series creator Ron Gilbert got the idea for the title in 1988 and developed it out with Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman.

They built the game around the legendary Script Creation Utility for Maniac Mansion (SCUMM) engine. A video game engine designed to help with the adventure game Maniac Mansion (1987).

The character of Gurbrush Threepwood was created to be lofty sounding, yet he’s also a bumbling (but likeable) character with a blockheaded streak.

Gameplay plays out like this. You interreact with environments, get Choose Your Own Adventure Book style dialogue options, interact with objects, and solve puzzles.

In the plot, the young Threepwood (named after the Honourable Frederick Threepwood in P.G. Wodehouse’s Blandings stories) arrives at Mêlée Island in the Caribbean.

His goal is to become a mighty pirate and secure his fortune.

He finds the island’s pirate leaders and they set him three trials to complete. As he sets off on his adventure, he meets many curious characters. These range across:

  • A hopeless chef with an appalling food safety record
  • Stan the hyperactive sales hustler
  • The beautiful island governor Elaine Marley
  • Meathook the failed former pirate
  • The ghost pirate LeChuck

LeChuck raids the island and kidnaps Elaine. He takes her off to Monkey Island. Guybrush quickly gets a motley pirate crew together, buys a dilapidated ship from Stan, and sets off to save the day.

The plot is an excuse to jam in the Monkey Island series’ famous sense of humour, with a light (often veering towards very black) set of comedic circumstances developing around either the dialogue or what happens on screen.

Just as importantly, we feel it was a landmark moment in gaming.

It was a smash hit when it launched in October 1990. The gaming press loved it, but sales were decent. Nothing exceptional.

However, it became a slow burner. Word of mouth turned it into a legend, a cult classic, which spawned sequels. Starting with Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge in December 1991.

Its charm offensive as a brilliant game is still but. Complemented now by its nostalgic appeal amongst the retro gaming pantheon of greatest hits. Gamers delight in seeing the original title on old hardware, such as here on the IBM 5155.

Whether it’s the modernised version of the 1990 original, we’ve got a huge amount of love for The Secret of Monkey Island.

It’s cheeky self-awareness, fourth wall breaking humour and inability to take itself seriously are matched by an excellent script.

Plus, it does look great. And it sounds great.

One hell of an achievement for 1990. It pushed the boundaries of gaming technology to the extent it’s now no SECRET to why folks like us still swoon over the bloody thing.

The Relaxing Joys of Watching The Secret of Monkey Island

Recently, we watched a full playthrough of the original game (with remake voice acting over the top) on YouTube to see how it holds up.

That’s what inspired us to finally do a review on this blog.

The Secret of Monkey Island is still brilliant. And it’s also a fine example of the narrative joys of video games. When done right, it plays out like a great film.

That’s complemented enormously by Monkey Island’s outstanding Caribbean soundtrack, which lilts away in the background being amazing.

It’s a charming, funny, and relaxing game. Great escapism.

And it’s a series we think is accessible enough to win over even non-gamers with its ready wit and playful sense of fun.

Dispense with some gibberish!

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