The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time #78: The Secret of Monkey Island

“The Scientifically Proven Best Video Games of All Time” is a statistical meta-analysis of 44 “Best Video Games of All Time” lists that were published between 1995 and 2016. Catch up on how we decided to sort the games and the rest of the Top 100 in the Introduction.

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Game publishers have been concerned with digital pirates illegally copying their games since the very beginning of the medium. Some have even gone so far as to include booby traps in their code for these would-be thieves. But when it comes to depicting actual pirates, gamemakers (along with major Hollywood players and one of the most celebrated fantasy authors of the last few decades) are content to pillage, plunder, and steal all the best ideas from each other.

It all began in 1967 when Walt Disney himself oversaw the construction of the Pirates of the Caribbean attraction at Disneyland. Over the years, the ride would go on to be recreated at Disney World, Tokyo Disneyland, and Disneyland Park in Paris. Borrowing a bit from Treasure Island, the ride’s exciting ship-to-ship battle, raid on a coastal outpost, group of prisoners trying to bribe a dog for a key, and the frothy ditty “Yo Ho (A Pirate’s Life For Me)” created the quintessential image of a pirate that was shared by kids the world over.

Tim Powers was not one of these kids. Already a teenager by the late 60s, Powers rose to prominence as one of the earliest authors of steampunk (and he, along with K.W. Jeter and James Blaylock, helped coin the phrase). In 1987, he published one of his most famous novels, On Stranger Tides. The novel tells the tale of John Chandagnac, an inexperienced youth who becomes the debonair pirate “Jack Shandy” and rescues the girl after he has a run-in with several undead buccaneers.

A few years later, Lucasfilms Games’s Ron Gilbert took his experiences with the ride and mixed them with the magical seascapes of On Stranger Tides to create The Secret of Monkey Island, a point-and-click adventure game first published in 1990. The Secret of Monkey Island starred Guybrush Threepwood, an inexperienced youth with floppy hair who battled his own pirate nemesis, the undead LeChuck, in an attempt to rescue the girl. Most people would chalk these coincidences up to happenstance or cliche, but not Ron Gilbert. He’s the first to tell to you that what he did was out-and-out piracy. Or, in his words, “We in the business call it ‘stealing’.”

The Secret of Monkey Island’s success led to a call from Hollywood, and screenwriter Ted Elliott was tapped to draft the script. However, the film never moved past the screenplay stage, and was quietly canceled in 2000. Elliott got a second chance to sing a pirate shanty for moviegoers two years later when Disney asked him to help rewrite the script for their then-in-development Pirates of the Caribbean film. Before his involvement, the script for Pirates of the Caribbean was a “straight pirate movie” that didn’t have the supernatural angle of On Stranger Tides or The Secret of Monkey Island. Elliott scrubbed a lot of overt references to the ride from the script and added in the voodoo magic and cursed pirates that readers of On Stranger Tides and players of The Secret of Monkey Island would be more familiar with.

The first teaser trailer for Pirates of the Caribbean was released later that year, and it closed with a short scene of a skeletonized pirate stepping onto a sandy beach. The image, which was possibly chosen because it echoed the cover of On Stranger Tides, struck a chord with audiences.

The film turned out to be a massive success and further entwined the three properties. Johnny Depp made the leap from “well-regarded character actor” to “international movie star,” and his flamboyant rendition of Jack Sparrow pushed the popularity of pirates to new heights. The actor eventually starred in four sequels to the film, and Powers’s influence was especially prominent in the fourth film, as Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides turned out to be a loose adaptation of his novel.

The ride itself was even rejiggered to include elements from the films. And Ron Gilbert was hired by Telltale Games to revive the Monkey Island franchise for LucasArts with Tales of Monkey Island. That game culminated in a wild rescue of Guybrush Threepwood from the afterlife, very similar to Jack Sparrow’s rescue from the same place in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End.

Yo ho, yo ho, a pirate’s life for me…

About a decade ago, LucasArts teamed up with Telltale Games and Ron Gilbert to remake The Secret of Monkey Island. In 2009, this partnership lead to the downloadable release of The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition for the PC, PS3, and Xbox 360. The remake includes an updated visual style, but players can switch back to the original graphics if they so choose.

Publisher: LucasArts
Developer: LucasArts
Release Date: October 1990

Average Ranking: 76.39
Selection Percentage: 38.64% (17/44)
Scientifically Proven Score: 137.75

Publication Rankings For The Secret of Monkey Island
Hyper (1995) 1*

Next Gen (1996)


Next Gen (1999)


Edge (2000)

GI (2001) NR

GameSpy (2001)


Edge (2003)


EW/G4TV (2003)

GameSpot (2003) NR

IGN (2003)


1UP (2004)


The Age (2005)

IGN (2005) NR

Yahoo! Games UK (2005)


Edge (2007)


IGN (2007)

IGN HoF (2007) 1*

Stuff UK (2008)


Edge (2009)


Empire (2009)

GI (2009) NR

FHM (2010)


GamesTM (2010)


The Phoenix (2010)

Gamereactor (2011) NR

GamesRadar (2011)


Stuff UK (2011)


1UP (2012)

G4TV (2012) NR

GamesRadar (2012)


Time (2012)


EPN (2013)

GamesRadar (2013) 54

Gaming Bolt (2013)


PC & Tech Authority (2013)


GamesRadar (2014)

Popular Mechanics (2014) NR

Slant Magazine (2014)


Stuff UK (2014)


Edge (2015)

GamesRadar (2015) 44

IGN (2015)


GamesMaster (2016)


Time (2016)


Gilbert, Ron – Grumpy Gamer – On Stranger Tides – 2004

Himmelberg, Michele – Disney Parks Blog – Take a Voyage Around the World to Celebrate the 45th Anniversary of Pirates of the Caribbean at Disneyland Park – 2012

Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl – DVD Commentary: Ted Elliott, Terry Rossio, Stuart Beattie, Jay Wolpert – 2003

Stax – IGN – Depp & Bruckheimer Talk Pirates – 2003

Wonderful World of Disney, The – Episode: “Disneyland: From the Pirates of the Caribbean to the World of Tomorrow” – 1968

This entry was posted in Features, PC, PS3, Retro, SPBVGOAT, Top Story, Xbox 360 and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.
John Scalzo is Warp Zoned's Editor-In-Chief and resident retro gaming expert. You can follow him on Twitter or email him at john AT warpzoned DOT com.

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