On one of Ron Gilbert's blogs, I believe he talked about having ideas for a new Monkey Island game, set after the 2nd game. (He wasn't involved in the making of the subsequent games). The problem is that he didn't have the licence and would have to negotiate with Disney. I don't know how this game came about, but Ron has made a new Monkey Island game. The teasers seemed to convince people the game would be the true Monkey Island 3, directly following on from the end of the second game, and retcon the other games in the series. However, Ron has actually kept these games in the timeline. Although I thought the game would be set after Monkey Island 2, Guybrush is in the present but reminiscing about a story in the past. How far in the past is he reminiscing? He is married which implies it is at least set after Curse of Monkey Island, Carla the Sword Master is Governor which suggests it is placed years after Escape From Monkey Island, and I did notice 1 reference to Tales, so it seems this is set after Tales, the last game. Despite this, many people are still adamant this is set directly after 2.
One big controversy with the second game's ending was that it was trying too hard to parody Star Wars and had an implication that the story was all part of a child's imagination. The subsequent games just ignore this ending and I think go with the idea that it was simply a voodoo spell by Le Chuck. Return to Monkey Island opens with a retelling of this ending but with a difference that the "parents" they talk to aren't theirs. I won't spoil the actual reveal but it's basically an unreliable narrator. How much this changes the end to the second game is open to interpretation.
The game begins on Mêlée Island, where Guybrush is determined to find the true Secret of Monkey Island. However, crewless and shipless, he must begin to form a plan to even begin his journey. The game does play into nostalgia when you visit the same locales in the original game, then meet several characters. Stan has his iconic jacket where the plaid texture doesn't follow his movement, and he loves waving his arms frantically. There's quite a few references to moments across the games so I don't think it's a good idea to play without playing at least the first one. I reckon you are better off playing the first 3 though. There is a "scrapbook" in the main menu to recap events from the games but it's not really enough detail for new players - more of a quick revision for returning players.
The interface is very simple compared to the older games. You basically have an option to Inspect or Action. You can click the sack icon to bring up your inventory (or use the I key), and the map is assigned to M key which allows quick-travel from most locations. You can double-click to run, and Guybrush is very fast which allows rapid movement when you need to backtrack. There's a lot of backtracking in the penultimate chapter, but at least you can do so with ease. Period key skips dialogue, and you can re-read previous dialogue with Comma. The game actually writes all the dialogue you select to a text file. You can manually save, but it also autosaves when you move screens.
There's two difficulty options and I believe the second adds more puzzles, or more steps to existing puzzles. There is a hint system if you want to use it which gives you progressive hints. The game knows which steps you've already solved, and what items are in your inventory, so it is tailored to you (e.g. I tarnished a food item, and the hint told me to get a fresh version). Using the hint system is also entirely optional, so it's up to you if you ignore it entirely, use it occasionally, or always use it. There's also a to-do list which shows you your objectives.
Since the game seemed to be playing into nostalgia, I did expect some "insult sword-fighting" or equivalent, but there was none.
There's many trivia cards to find as an optional collectible but I only found 13 of them.
The graphics caused a lot of controversy with many people moaning about the art style. If you look at the previous games, the first two were pixel graphic, the third was an hand-drawn cartoon look, the fourth was a basic 3D iteration, and the fifth was a bolder look. So there is no true consistent style for the franchise. I could imagine people complain if the graphics were pixelated, or if it was 3D. Personally, I thought this graphical style was nice and worked well.
The music is great, just like the voice acting. Some of the voice cast is familiar like Guybrush. I recognised Rob Paulsen as The Lookout and Apple Bob. The writing is as you would expect; humorous and sometimes absurd. Guybrush means well, but often leaves destruction in his wake. His hapless, naïve, innocent personality has a lot of charm. Attempting to combine wrong items no longer results in humorous comments, but you do get humorous descriptions of the items.
The graphics were a big complaint pre-launch, but the post-launch complaint is the ending. It's hard to comment on without spoilers, but the game initially seems to mock Ron Gilbert's failure to write satisfying endings, then the game just does it again anyway. There's actually a few variations of the ending, but the one with the biggest variation is way worse than the standard endings. Even though the ending seems unanimously hated, the reasons people give seem to show they have wildly different interpretations. Maybe the ending is actually smarter, and more open to interpretation than I (and others) gave it credit for. Another aspect of why the ending is bad is that there's no climactic boss battle, and you are not told what happens to some of the characters. It's like the game builds up and develops these characters, giving you the impression of a great climax, but then it ends suddenly. The puzzle design in the final sections was very poor too. It's jarring because I liked the puzzle design and writing throughout the game, then the final chapter seems like it was written/designed by someone else. I've seen many people complain the game is short, but it took me around 11 hours, and that is actually long for a point and click adventure.
Overall, it is a good point-and-click adventure, but the caveat is that I'd recommend it to people that have played at least the first 3 in the series, and don't mind a typical Ron Gilbert ending (if you have played Monkey Island 2 or Thimbleweed Park, then you are prepared).