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Return to Mysterious Island (PC) artwork

Return to Mysterious Island (PC) review

"This will please fans of the book, as will how faithful the game remains to Verne's pre-written legacy. While exploring the island, you'll come across key locations such as the mill, Granite House and the littering of sulphuric pools that dot the island. You'll find numerous references to the original party that called the island home as well as an appreciated (if not rather hackneyed) explanation as to how the start of the game links in to the finale of the book."

Mina was a little too sure of herself. Scraping together funds from investors and family, she got herself a boat and took part in a round-the-world race sans crew, determined to prove herself as a solo navigator. Now, thanks to an unfortunate storm, she finds herself washed up on an unfamiliar island with all her possessions lost, her multi-purpose computer out of battery power and the vague sense that someone's watching her.

Picking herself up from the sand-strewn shore, she finds herself at the foot of a cliff bordered by an enclosed run of beach. She's hungry, cold and lost. A little exploration leads her to a single path winding up the cliff's peak, but it’s been blocked by a crisscross of fallen tree trunks. After her ordeal, Mina is too weak to shift this obstacle; it's your job to supply her enough food and rest to bring her back to full health.

Exploring the island will offer up a familiar interface for returning players of Kheops Studio’s work (which includes titles such as Journey to the Moon and Safecracker); you're free to move around in typical point-and-click fashion. See a doorway, a stretch of land or a continuing passageway? A simple click will move you towards it. But instead of strolling into a static screen, you'll find yourself in a fixed hotspot that allows you to scroll the camera 360°. Doing this not only shows off the game’s stellar graphics, but helps reveal some of the island’s oddities. Metal boxes sit riveted to the cave's craggy fascia; long-forgotten pirate treasure can be excavated from buried sea turtle nests and shadows always seem to shift out of the corner of your eye.

But your immediate concern lies in nursing Mina back to health, and there are numerous ways to achieve this. Unlike the majority of adventure games, there’re always multiple ways to complete each task, ranging from the obvious to the cerebrally challenging. For instance, the game all but drops into your lap the easiest way for Mina to devour a nearby seagull egg by placing a rusty nail near the nest where you obtain it. However, this fails to sustain the poor girl as much as if the egg had been cooked. To do that, you need to find a suitable fireplace, combustible items to burn and a way to make a fire. That's all a lot more complex than poking a raw egg with a bent bit of metal and drinking the contents, but, ultimately, a lot more rewarding.

The multi-tiered puzzle-solving drives through the very core of Return to Mysterious Island, letting the player approach each brain teaser in a number of different ways. You can bypass a threat by belting it with homemade arrows fired by a homebrew bow or you can craft a rudimentary kite and fly it into the eye of a raging storm to reproduce a certain famous experiment involving lightning and use that to your advantage. An enraged monkey blocks your path: befriend him with a cake you’ve baked from scratch, get him wrecked with a bowl of alcohol you yourself distilled or scare him away with a venomous snake you’ve captured. Each option you explore, each new item you construct in your inventory (or deconstruct so you can use the base parts for another item construction or puzzle) and each step you take further into the unexplored island racks you up a higher score in a delightful return of a point system harking back to the old King’s Quest series.

The points aren't just there for show but help you unlock background art in menu’s gallery, which also displays the simply black-and-white pictures that serve as the game's cut-scenes. These show up every time you achieve anything noteworthy, from cooking and eating a crab to befriending an injured monkey (who Mina names Jep and adopts). These scenes really help drive home that Return to Mysterious Island is a befitting lead-on from the famous Jules Verne novel, Mysterious Island

This will please fans of the book, as will the game's faithfulness to Verne's pre-written legacy. While exploring the island, you'll come across key locations such as the mill, Granite House and the littering of sulphuric pools that dot the island. You'll find numerous references to the original party that called the island home as well as an appreciated (if not rather hackneyed) explanation as to how the start of the game links in to the finale of the book.

But it's the finale of this adventure which throws shadows over the slew of positives that the body of the game brings about. The last few puzzles stop being about combining your brainpower with that of Mina's and start instead throwing word and number puzzles at you, breaking away from the non-linear attitude built from the adventurous norm. The odd bout of having to use a slingshot or rifle to target and shoot foes comes into play around the same time, but doesn’t feel as out-of-place as the clumsy ordeals you need to overcome to finally see the game off. Instead of trying to bake your own pottery by fixing a huge seal-skin bellow and bricking up a huge stove via numerous paths, the game's reduced to solving obscure riddles by clicking on the correct item described in a given room -- even forcing you to solve a fiddly slide puzzle to reveal one of the items, making the question poised towards it a nightmare unless you think to have a go at the seemingly irrelevant safe tucked in the corner of the room.

But all the unsightly end-of-game puzzles come to is a single bump in the ground of an otherwise smooth trail. Return to Mysterious Island presents a lot of things correctly: it's not just another adventure game and it's not just a clichéd expansion of a popular media. It's the story of a girl lost at sea, having to survive on nothing but her wits, a computer battery made out of a lemon and a monkey with the ability to grease windmill cogs.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (July 03, 2007)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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