Return to Mysterious Island 2 Review

In 2004, Kheops Studio released Return to Mysterious Island, a game based on the Jules Verne classic novel The Mysterious Island, creating a fantastic adventure game around that story. A good deal of the original story was incorporated into the game, and the result was an engaging, challenging, entertaining, and imaginative experience. Mina, an indepent young lady, has been cast upon an apparently deserted island by a violent storm, only to discover that the island is the Lincoln Island described by Verne 150 years earlier. Through intense exploration, solving challenging puzzles, and overcoming aggressive foes, she is able to eventually contact the outside world and is rescued from the island.

Return to Mysterious Island 2, as its name implies, is a sequel to this original game. More than that, however, it is a continuation of the game. For it begins at the very moment that the first game leaves off. A helicopter has been sent to the island to rescue Mina. However, as she and the pilot take off from the island, their helicopter is destroyed by unseen forces and plummets into the ocean. It is from this point that RtMI2 launches. Mina must not only escape the destroyed helicopter, but must once again use all of her wits to find out what happened, what mysterious force has brought her back to the island, and what she must do to overcome her foes once again, and escape the island for good.

There are many similarities between the two games: the familiar venue of Lincoln Island, the artwork, the user interface, the types of puzzles that must be solved, and so on. RtMI2 still uses a first-person point-and-click interface, with full 360-degree panning within each scene, and "dissolve" transitions between scenes. Playing the game is a "quick learn," and the player is immediately immersed in the game with a very easy learning curve. The artwork is just as good, if not better, than the original game, with the emphasis on presenting a pseudo-realistic landscape; that is, not quite photo-realistic, but as close as possible while still maintaining a degree of artistic freedom. In most scenes, the colors are bright and vibrant, taking full advantage of the tropical island setting

As before, the game is heavily inventory-based; and the implementation of the inventory is identical. A multiple-tabbed interface allows the player to group inventory items together, e.g., foods on one tab, tools on another, and so on. Inventory items may be combined to create other items, or achieve other goals (such as starting a fire). They can also be "uncombined" so that the original components may be used again for other purposes. All in all, the inventory is extremely flexible, easy to use, and critical to game play.

There is also the familiar storyboard format where, instead of using video clips to bridge certain scenes, the screen goes black, and then one, two, or more drawings appear on the screen -- exactly as they would, if they were posted on a storyboard. They appear more as sketches, without the level of detail of the normal scene. (These storyboard interludes are gathered in a Gallery, as well, that can be reviewed at any point later in the game.)

Another similarity to the original game is that various actions that Mina takes -- solving puzzles, interacting with objects, and so on -- contribute to a running point total. This creates a secondary challenge -- namely, not only to escape the island, but to acquire as many points as possible in doing so. Several puzzles can be solved in more than one way; some can be skipped altogether. And some of the more arcade-style puzzles can be played in "easy mode" at the cost of "pride points." (This also provides a certain degree of replayability, if only to try and finish the game with a higher point total.)

There is a wide variety of puzzles that Mina will need to solve, ranging from simple inventory puzzles (i.e., finding/using some item in inventory that is needed to accomplish some action) to arcade-style puzzles (typically timed "fast-finger" puzzles) to more leisurely (but more brain-challenging) logic puzzles. Something that is quite new in this genre is that, throughout the game, as one of the more deliberate puzzles is encountered -- that is, not a simple inventory puzzle, but rather one where the screen zooms in on a particular stand-alone puzzle -- an image of an iPhone appears briefly on the screen. When that happens, it indicates that this particular puzzle can be off-loaded to a mobile device (such as an iPhone), played on that device, and when solved, may be uploaded back into the game. This literally allows the user to "take the puzzle with them" and work on it offline, outside of the overall game.

There are very few cases where a player should be "stumped" by a puzzle. And as mentioned, in the case where a puzzle might be a little too difficult for a particular player, an "easy mode" can be requested -- at the cost of points. As a result, the challenge level of RtMI should easily be within the range of all adventure gamers.

Early in the game, Mina returns to her monkey companion Jep. And for the remainder of the game, the two are a team. Most of the time, the game is played through the eyes of Mina; however, there are certain circumstances where it is necessary to let Jep take over. This switching between characters is not done "at will" -- as in a game such as Schizm -- but rather depends on the situation. Switching between playing Mina and playing Jep is driven by the specific situation and action taking place. Mina is the more adept, particularly at solving puzzles; however, Jep can get into locations that are inaccessible to Mina, or communicate with other animals on a level that Mina cannot.

As the game progresses, additional help is provided by way of a Menu option that lists the current goal, or goals, that Mina should be working on. The player can always check, at any time, to get an idea of what they should be focusing on at the moment. As each one is accomplished, it gets crossed out, but remains on the list.

The scenery in RtMI2 is rendered even better than in RtMI There is a bit more shading, a bit more texture. Even familiar scenes -- such as the beach, the windmill, the lake, or the volcano -- show dramatic improvement in appearance. There are new areas on the island to explore, as well -- some of which are accessible naturally, while others are only accessible as a result of some very imaginative "transportation." And there is motion of some kind in most of the scenes.

During Mina's explorations, she will encounter many hazards. And while Mina can even die in the game, the interface provides the user a quick and easy "do over" that returns the player to the point just prior to the life-threatening situation, with no loss of progress.

Another interesting feature is the health/energy status indicator -- one of which exists for both Mina and Jep. As they progress through the game, and encounter situations or activities that could conceivably affect their energy and/or health, the status indicators will begin to drop. At certain points of the game, Mina or Jep may be unable to perform some specific action until their health has been restored. That could involve eating or drinking, resting, or socializing with each other (e.g., hugs from Mina do wonders for Jep's energy). And when they are communicating with each other -- or when Jep is communicating with some of the other animals -- a new window will be available, providing a selection of action tion icons that direct the communications. There are very few true dialogues in the game. Mina is the only human on the island; and Jep communicates through "monkey sounds" that are translated using on-screen sub-titles. So most of these turn out to be monologues by Mina.

There are differences between RtMI2 and its predecessor, as well, although they are more esoteric. The game is not as tied to the original Verne story, but only uses it as a starting point. The story is far less plausible, introducing quite a range of sci-fi concepts, such as "portals" that can transport Mina through solid rock walls, and alien energy rays that are never really explained (not to mention "psychic communications" with the long-deceased Captain Nemo himself). There are fewer multiple-solution puzzles, depending instead on "sticking to the game plan." Game play is not quite as free-format as RtMI, as the story line has made the game a bit more linear. Many things need to be done in a very specific order; and in some cases, there is really no explanation of why some actions could not have been done either sooner or later. And while the game does offer multiple endings, there really is not that much difference between them; and I felt that all were somewhat unsatisfactory.

I did run into one or two minor glitches with the game, but none that were show-stoppers. In one case, an inventory item "disappeared," and I had to return to an earlier game save to retrieve it. Also, there were some problems with the rendering of the skies in places; clouds would appear and disappear as I panned across them. And the images of all the documents I encountered were in French -- although the text version stored in my journal was in English. However, since I was running a press-release copy, it is possible that the final release will have caught those kinds of things.

One question that often arises from a game sequel is whether the game can be played without having first played the predecessor. And with RtMI2, that is a tough one to answer. Certainly the game is playable stand-alone; no information from the first game is required to proceed. However, much will be missed, and the full impact of the story may not be clear without having first played RtMI. The game truly is a continuation of its predecessor, and often does not include a lot of information about what came before. Who is Jep, and what is his relationship with Mina? What are the guardian robots? What is happening to the island, and who is responsible for all that exists there? Someone who has not played RtMI might be a bit confused -- or may simply play the game as it is, and not care about the background story.

I felt that the length of the game was just right for what was being covered -- both in terms of story, as well as exploring, adventuring, and puzzle-solving. RtMI2 is quite an enjoyable game -- and more so, I believe, after having played the original RtMI. It should provide an entertaining time for any adventure gamer.

-- Frank D. Nicodem, Jr.