The game centers on the pirate Guybrush Threepwood, who returns home with his wife Elaine Marley after their honeymoon, to find her erroneously declared dead, and her office of governor up for election. Guybrush must find a way to restore Elaine to office, while uncovering a plot to turn the Caribbean into a tourist trap, headed by his archnemesis LeChuck and Australian co-conspirator Ozzie Mandrill.
The game was made with Sean Clark and Michael Stemmle in the lead, both of them having worked on previous LucasArts adventure titles. Michael Land provided the soundtrack once more. EMI was LucasArts' last adventure game. It was also the second and last game to use the GrimE engine, which was upgraded from its first use in Grim Fandango.
A new feature of the game is action-lines which resolve the occasional issue seen in Grim Fandango where the protagonist Manny Calavera had to be maneuvered into a specific position in order to make sure he was looking at the right object. Like Manny, Guybrush will glance at any items (that can be interacted with); the player can use Page Up or Page Down to select the item that he wants Guybrush to look at. This is necessary because by comparison there are more objects in close proximity to one another in EMI than in Grim Fandango.
P is used for picking up items and when used on its own Guybrush will pull out or put away the inventory item he was last holding. The inventory is triggered with I, but differs somewhat from Grim Fandango's inventory as the player is presented a circle of items. Also unlike in Grim Fandango the player can use inventory items with one another, by pressing U on an item.
In the second part of the game, the insult games are replaced by "Monkey Kombat", the name being a parody of Mortal Kombat with a symbol to match. Monkey Kombat is a sub-game akin to rock-paper-scissors, where you need to memorize lines of "monkey insults and retorts" which consist of per-game randomized compositions of "monkey words" like "oop", "chee", "ack" and "eek".
Guybrush later meets again with three of his old "friends", Meathook, Otis and Carla (see Minor characters in Monkey Island). Together they discover a conspiracy seeking to extinguish all pirates from the Caribbean, making the islands suited for tourism. LeChuck, the old arch nemesis of Guybrush, is once again involved, as well as new villain, an Australian called Ozzie Mandrill. They seek a voodoo talisman known as the Ultimate Insult.
The iMUSE music system continued to be used, albeit with MP3 compression. EMI's introductory music is identical to that of the third game, unlike the earlier sequels which featured newly-composed remixes of the well-known Monkey Island theme. Once more Michael Land provided the soundtrack.
The voice-cast saw the return of Dominic Armato as Guybrush, Earl Boen as LeChuck, Leilani Jones Wilmore as the Voodoo Lady and Denny Delk as Murray. The only major voice not to return was Alexandra Boyd who voiced Elaine in the previous game. She was replaced by Charity James. Stan is also voiced by a different actor, Pat Fraley. Additionally characters who had previously appeared in The Secret of Monkey Island such as Carla, Otis and Herman Toothrot are heard with voice-actors for the first time.
The game was also released on PlayStation 2 in 2001. Apart from obvious control differences, the PS2 version only varies by a slightly higher polygon count and use of less pre-rendered material. EMI is the second Monkey Island game to have a console release, with SMI being the first as it was also released for the Sega CD.
The technical aspects of the game were praised, with especially the voice work gathering praise. The graphical style split reviewers, with some praising the 3D rendered world, while others criticized the change in atmosphere.
The game's main plotline of commercialization and tourist-friendly remodeling of the fictional Monkey Island universe was a change from the series' original swashbuckling and escapist atmosphere. The series suffered a change in atmosphere, particularly in the Jambalaya Island-part of the game. In-game locations clearly based on modern franchises, like "Planet Threepwood" and "Starbuccaneers", and the inclusion of things like giant robots and sushi bars, were a departure from the more or less colonial-era Caribbean setting of the previous games. "Strangely enough, Escape from Monkey Island suffers precisely from what it laughs at - commercialism". Despite the qualms about the story, the game was still reviewed as a satisfying and humorous experience overall. Many fans feel, however, that this is the point where the Monkey Island series jumped the shark, as no further games are being planned.
In a reference to LucasArts founder George Lucas' movie Star Wars: A New Hope, Guybrush finds the model of a "ACME Prosthetic Proboscis" model to be TK-421. TK-421 is a reference to the call number of the Stormtrooper that Luke Skywalker ambushes in A New Hope. Another Star Wars joke, is that one of the possible names to Pegnose Pete is "Obi W. Kenobi". Another option in the game allows the users to ask Ozzie Mandrill if he was "the one who was to restore order to the force" which is a clear reference to the Star Wars Saga. Other LucasArts reference appears when typing S-K-U-L-L during gameplay. This will cause a large Murray to appear on the screen and laugh manically, similar to the "B-L-A-M" joke in LucasArts game Grim Fandango. Also on Lucre Island, when traveling through the Mist O' Tyme swamp, in one of the backgrounds is Luke Skywalker's X-Wing.
The game includes a number of call-backs to the earlier games in the series. The joke that Guybrush can hold his breath for ten minutes, which is repeated throughout the Monkey Island series, can be put to the test when the game presents a chance for him to dive. After about 8 minutes underwater, Guybrush says "I'm running low on air." If kept under water for another 2 minutes, he decides to head back up to the surface. If tried again, after ten minutes he will drown, ending the game.
If you wait long enough in "Monkey Town", the famous three-headed monkey will appear in the upper-right hut. Another reference to the older games is the "rubber chicken with a pulley in the middle" item, a homage to the original The Secret of Monkey Island game.
In "Planet Threepwood", there is a LucasArts mug. If you look at it, Guybrush claims that "LucasArts have their grubby hands on everything around here".