Skip To Content

Gamer Education: The Secret of Monkey Island

By Taylor Howarth on August 17, 2021

Ottawa local Taylor Howarth turned to PC gaming last spring during the pandemic, and is playing through a number of classics in what she dubs her Gamer Education. Her review of The Secret of Monkey Island is the first instalment in this series.

I started PC gaming in May of 2020 as a pandemic hobby that has since turned into a lifestyle. As a woman in my mid-thirties, this means I have missed out on a lot of gaming history. To rectify this shortcoming, a friend put together a list of classic PC games that are must-plays. This is the beginning of the adventure that is Gamer Education.

I started with a LucasFilm Games classic, The Secret of Monkey Island (1990), a point-and-click adventure game with very cheeky and corny humour that consistently lands.

Elaine and Guybrush, characters from The Secret of Monkey Island. Screenshot.

You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a handsome, wannabe pirate who arrives on Melee Island to make his fortune. He soon discovers that the process is a little more involved than he thought, as he must complete the three pirate trials: thievery, swordplay, and treasure hunting. Soon into his quest, he falls in love with Governor Elaine Marley. She falls for him just as quickly before being spirited away by the evil Ghost Pirate LeChuck. It is a rescue-mission-turned caper that has all kinds of ridiculous characters and twists.

I asked Pierre Tessier, owner of local game shop Gamezetera, to weigh in on this game’s impact on the gaming world. He said that Monkey Island is the most famous LucasFilms game and the flagship of the genre. As such, it has been ported to every possible console. Today, you can even play this thirty-year-old game on your phone.

Tessier says that while this game may not be the best of the genre, it is a very quirky classic that is certainly the best in the Monkey Island series.

Frame from The Secret of Monkey Island. Screenshot.

At first, I was delighted by the apparent simplicity of the game, for I, the new gamer, would conquer with ease. But Monkey Island quickly began to show its true colours. Or maybe it was that I began to realize my own skill deficiencies? Oh, the hubris.

Apparently, I lack imagination, as it didn’t occur to me to combine the items in my inventory to concoct absurd recipes or tools. I did not assume, for example—and really how could I have?—that the “rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle” would be used to zipline across a riverway. Nor did I foresee that a pot would be used as a helmet when being shot out of a cannon.

Such arcane knowledge of how to judge which pixels betray a hidden clue is still beyond my grasp. I also lack the precision required to properly click a desired object or location, a practice to which raised-on-games players would have quickly adapted.

An insult swordfight in The Secret of Monkey Island. Screenshot.

Regardless of my own challenges and lack of creative thought, I really enjoyed myself. The highlight of the game is a training mission like no other. To become a pirate, Threepwood must challenge other pirates he meets to an “insult sword fight.” The pirate who hurls the best insult or comeback wins this duel. For example:

Insult: “You fight like a dairy farmer!”
Comeback: “How appropriate. You fight like a cow!”

Insult: “You’re no match for my brains, you poor fool.”
Comeback: “I’d be in real trouble if you ever used them.”

For a good chunk of the game, you are seeking out other pirates to learn insults from so that you may best your next opponent. The game is truly a masterpiece and well worth a playthrough.

It must also be mentioned that the soundtrack is a series of absolute bangers: the score is really fun music that carries you along during your playthrough.

If you are going to check the game out, save yourself the time: Find a friend who somehow remembers the game from over twenty years ago, or use a walkthrough when you get stumped. Because you will get stumped.