Who would have thought that a pirate-themed Disneyland ride could inspire so much more than just the desire to go on the same ride again? Designing a pirate-y adventure game was idea that creator Ron Gilbert had since 1988, and together with now-industry veterans Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman, The Secret of Monkey Island was born. While there were plenty of fantastic point-and-click adventure games that came out during the “golden era” of adventure gaming, The Secret of Monkey Island stands above the rest as a timeless classic because of its witty humor, accessible gameplay, and several other reasons that we’ll get into.
You play as Guybrush Threepwood, a young man with one thing on his to-do list–to become mighty pirate. Your first order of business when you begin the game is to tackle the three trials, which must be completed before you can officially become a buccaneer. One of the more involved trials is to train Guybrush in the arts of swordfighting so that he can challenge the legendary swordmaster of Melee Island. Rest assured, there is still some stabbing and dodging going on, but to hone your skills to face the most revered swordmaster on the island, you must sharpen your wits more than your sword, and face pirates from all over the island in battle to see who can hurl the best insults. Not only is this a great way for point-and-click adventures to do combat, but it spawned some of the best video game quotes.
Guybrush Threepwood may not be the kind of pirate-wannabe you’d identify with, but you can’t help but feel a bit sorry for him. He’s young, eager, and not very good with the ladies, but his heart is in the right place. What the governor Elaine Marley sees in him, we’ll never know, but he certainly beats the ghost pirate LeChuck in terms of looks and…the being alive part. Guybrush doesn’t exactly have a ton of competition when it comes to winning Elaine’s heart, but he will have to rescue her from the clutches of LeChuck if he wants to be with her. And that’s where we get to the good part: find Monkey Island and try to uncover its secrets—while avoid being eaten by vegetarian cannibals.
The game doesn’t just set you up to do a rescue mission from the get go, it gives you time to get to know the lovable protagonist and the cast of quirky characters around the island. You’ll have to recruit some them to join your crew later, but the first part of the game is really about exploration, solving puzzles, and ultimately becoming a true, honest-to-goodness, swashbuckling pirate. What made The Secret of Monkey Island stand out at the time it was originally released was that you didn’t have to worry about taking a wrong turn or saying the wrong thing, it’s not going to get you killed. And you wouldn’t be screwed if you didn’t save 10 seconds beforehand. There’s only one way to die in Monkey Island and it requires a bit of patience–10 minutes of patience to be exact, while you wait for Guybrush to drown.