Great moments in PC gaming: Insult sword-fighting in Monkey Island

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.

The Secret of Monkey Island

Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Year: 1990

A genre-changing adventure game from Lucasfilm. For more of the studio's history, check out our feature on the secret history of LucasArts.

One of the most frustrating misconceptions in adventure gaming is that if you want to make the next Monkey Island, you should basically make Monkey Island. In fact, Monkey Island was a game rooted in inventiveness and ambition, from its real time puzzle with the shopkeeper to the invention of the Three Trials system that still offers a design skeleton for games today. 

And of course, insult swordfighting. A concept so genius, nobody has ever quite matched it (although The Shivah’s rabbinical combat warrants a good second place.) The insults are legendary in gaming. You fight like a dairy farmer! How appropriate, you fight like a cow! I’ve spoken with apes more polite than you! I’m glad to hear you attended your family reunion!

It’s not just that it spared us a hideous minigame like those you might have gotten in Sierra adventures of the time, though that helps. It’s that it’s a perfect fusion between the cerebral nature of the adventure and the excitement of a classic film duel, inspired by the quips and responses thrown about in all the classic films, as of course perfected by The Princess Bride. While replaying it can get a touch tedious when you know all the responses, it’s still hard not to enjoy the goofiness and the lack of any real stakes - even defeated, the worst that happens is a “Be off with you, then…”

The wonderful addition of Carla the Sword Master having her own unique insults, too brutal for a regular pirate to wield, but answerable with your existing responses, only cements it as a perfect little piece of design that justifiably went down in adventure and broader gaming history.