Monkey Island is the collective name given to a series of four graphical adventure games produced and published by LucasArts, originally known as LucasFilm Games through the development of the first two games in the series. The games follow the misadventures of the hapless Guybrush Threepwood as he struggles to become the most notorious pirate in the Caribbean, defeat the plans of the evil undead pirate LeChuck and win the heart of governor Elaine Marley. Each game's plot usually involves the mysterious Monkey Island and its impenetrable secrets.
The games were created as a collaborative effort between Ron Gilbert, Tim Schafer and Dave Grossman. Gilbert worked on the first two games before leaving LucasArts. Grossman and Schafer, who also worked on the first two games, would enjoy success on other titles before both of them also left. The rights to Monkey Island remained with LucasArts, and the third and fourth games were created without the input of the original writing crew.
The series has a somewhat loose notion of continuity. Since the creative team changed dramatically between most installments of the game, there is little consistency not only between the graphical appearance of the games, but their basic plot points and backstories. (A few examples of this include the events leading up to LeChuck's death and the circumstances surrounding Herman Toothrot's original arrival on Monkey Island.) As such, it is rather difficult to describe the series as a whole since specific details vary from game to game and there is little consensus on which version constitutes canon.
Much of the soundtracks of the games is composed by Michael Land. The score largely consists of dub and reggae-inspired music. In keeping with the reggae influence, Elaine Marley's name may be a reference to Bob Marley.
Each of the games takes place on Fictional islands in the Caribbean. The time period in which they take place is around the Golden Age of Piracy but deliberately vague (although in the third game, the date of a coin reads 1687). The islands teem with pirates dressed in outfits that seem to come from movies and comic books rather than history, and there are many deliberate anachronisms and references to modern-day popular culture.
The main setting of the Monkey Island games is the "Tri-Island Area", a fictional archipelago in the Caribbean. Since the first game in the series, The Secret of Monkey Island, each game has visited the titular island of Monkey Island while introducing its own set of islands to explore. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge features four new islands, The Curse of Monkey Island introduces three, and The Escape from Monkey Island, which revisits some of the older islands, features three new islands as well.
The main islands of the Tri-Island Area are Mêlée Island, Booty Island, and Plunder Island, which are all ruled by Governor Elaine Marley in place of her long lost grandfather, Horatio Torquemada Marley. Elaine moves from island to island at her convenience, though she considers her governor's mansion on Mêlée Island, the capital island of the area, as home.
Other islands in the region are considered under the umbrella of Tri-Island Area as well, even though Elaine does not rule them.
Additional islands seen in maps of the area but never visited include Spittle and Pinchpenny.
Many "supporting" characters have recurring roles in the games, including:
The game starts off with the main character Guybrush Threepwood stating "I want to be a pirate!", and he is soon off to prove himself to the old pirate captains. During the perilous pirate trials, he meets the beautiful governor Elaine Marley, with whom he falls in love, unaware that the ghost pirate LeChuck also has his eyes on her. When Elaine is kidnapped, Guybrush procures crew and ship to track LeChuck down, defeat him and rescue his love.
As Guybrush, with a treasure chest in hand, and Elaine hang onto ropes in a void, he tells her the story of the game. He has decided to find the greatest of all treasures, that of Big Whoop. Unwittingly, he helps revive LeChuck, who is now in zombie form. Guybrush is eventually captured by his arch-nemesis, but escapes with help from Wally and finds the treasure only to find himself dangling from a rope, the situation from the beginning of the game. As Guybrush concludes his story, his rope breaks and he finds himself facing LeChuck, who he finally defeats using voodoo. The ending is very surrealistic and is open to a number of interpretations. In the manual of The Curse of Monkey Island, it is stated that Guybrush falls victim to a hex implemented by LeChuck. However, it should be noted that while LeChuck's Revenge was designed by Ron Gilbert, The Curse Of Monkey Island wasn't, so once again the continuity between the episodes is very loose.
The Curse of Monkey Island, the third in the series, was exclusively available for Windows in 1997.
Guybrush unwittingly turns Elaine into a gold statue with a cursed ring and she is soon stolen by pirates. He tracks her down before searching for a ring that can lift the curse. LeChuck appears in a fiery demon form, and is on the heels of Guybrush until a standoff in LeChuck's amusement park ride, the Rollercoaster of Doom.
The last game to date, Escape from Monkey Island, was released in 2000 for Windows, PlayStation 2 and Macintosh.
When Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley return from their honeymoon, they find that Elaine has been declared officially dead, her mansion is under destruction order, and her position as governor is up for election. Guybrush investigates and unearths a conspiracy by LeChuck and evil real estate developer Ozzie Mandrill to use a voodoo talisman, "The Ultimate Insult," to make all pirates docile in order to turn the Caribbean into a center of tourism.
Running gags include lines such as "Look behind you, a three-headed monkey!", the introduction "My name is Guybrush Threepwood and I'm a mighty pirate", "How appropriate, you fight like a cow", "I'm selling these fine leather jackets" (a reference to Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: The Graphic Adventure), and "That's the second biggest [object] I've ever seen", a catchphrase from the TV series Get Smart (and in EMI "That's the second bigg... No, that's the biggest conch shell I've ever seen!"), and the astounding fact that Guybrush can hold his breath for ten minutes.
Many parallels have been drawn between the series and the movie Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. This would be very appropriate since Ron Gilbert has openly admitted that sections of Monkey Island 2 borrowed extensively from the original Disneyland ride, such as the famous "dog holding the keys to the jail-cell". However, he has also said that he thought the second movie (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest) may have 'borrowed' from the Monkey Island series too, due to many similarities (e.g. the cannibals, the coffin Jack Sparrow uses as a boat, akin to that used by Guybrush to find the Voodoo Lady, as well as Tia Dalma's hut built on the bog, very reminiscent of the Voodoo Lady's hut in the second game, and Jack Sparrow's line "Look! An Undead Monkey!" is reminiscent of the line "Look behind you! A three-headed monkey!" from all four Monkey Island games).
Each game in the series features cameo appearances by Steve Purcell's characters Sam & Max (who were featured in their own LucasArts adventure game, Sam & Max Hit the Road). The pair appear as voodoo idols in the first game, as costumes in a costume shop on Booty Island in the second, as toys in LeChuck's demonic carnival and as light-formations at the theatre (in Mega-Monkey mode) in the third and as one of the possible aliases for Pegnose Pete in the World of Prosthesis puzzle in the fourth scene from EMI.
There are many hypotheses popular among players, and at least one case can be made from each game in the series. One of these hypotheses states that the bizarre revelation at the end of MI2 is the true secret of Monkey Island (again, Ron Gilbert has confirmed that the secret is yet to be discovered, in an interview with GameSpot). The fact that it was debunked in CMI, the hypothesis states, is merely a retcon by the new development team after Ron Gilbert's departure. Elements in the closing scenes of MI2 seem to support this hypothesis, as do certain comments of pirates in the insult swordfighting section of the first game, asking Guybrush to "play along". Members of the CMI team (many of whom were also part of the MI2 team) claimed at one point that they knew what the original secret was: that the storyline of the games was simply the fantasy of a child. Gilbert, however, has contradicted this in various interviews, saying that he never told anyone what the true secret of Monkey Island is. A large article about the subject can be found here
Gilbert stated in a 2004 interview that when the game was originally conceived it was considered "too big", so they split it into three parts. He added that he "knows what the third [part] is" and "how the story's supposed to end," indicating that he had a definite concept of the secret and a conclusive third game.
The team behind Escape from Monkey Island attempted to resolve the issue by showing that the Giant Monkey Head was actually the control room of a Giant Monkey Robot. The cut-scene in which the revelation was made is called The Real Secret of Monkey Island. This however seemed to confuse the issue.
A fifth Monkey Island game has been rumored (and is the source of jokes in the fourth game), although no official word has been released from LucasArts. One significant hint at this is in the fourth game, when both the Voodoo Lady character and Guybrush make claims about involvement in "an unbreakable five game contract.", similar to references made by the Voodoo Lady throughout the series. The company's cancellation of the planned sequels Full Throttle: Hell on Wheels and Sam & Max 2: Freelance Police may indicate a strong reluctance to produce new graphic adventures.
In a 2006 Gamespot interview, Gilbert claims the true secret of Monkey Island has yet to be revealed, and that he wishes to make a fifth Monkey Island game to conclude the series.
During television network G4's coverage of the 2006 E3 Convention, a LucasArts executive was asked about the return of popular franchises such as Monkey Island. The executive responded that the company was currently focusing on new franchises, and that LucasArts may return to the "classic franchises" in 2015, though it was unclear as to whether the date was put forwards as an actual projection, or hyperbole.