Destination: Treasure Island Review

Once again, Kheops Studio has done what it does best -- and that is to use a well-known classic story as the basis for a new adventure game. With their first two successes based on Jules Verne novels -- Return to Mysterious Island and Voyage -- they now turn to the pen of Robert Louis Stevenson, and the story of Treasure Island.

The game takes place four years after the events described in Stevenson's novel. Jim Hawkins is surprised one day when Captain Flint, the parrot belonging to Long John Silver, shows up with a message for him -- a message from Long John Silver himself. The message describes a marvelous treasure, and asks Jim to come quickly, as Silver's life is in danger. Thus, the game begins -- a game filled with pirates, treasure, exploring, adventure, and puzzle-solving.

As with previous Kheops Studio games, the system requirements are quite reasonable (see sidebar for details). Players of either Return to Mysterious Island or Voyage will immediately be familiar with the user interface. DTI is a standard first-person point-and-click game, with the same look and feel as the other two games. The inventory uses the same multi-page tabbed interface, which not only makes it extremely easy to group objects together, but also displays more items at one time than any other inventory interface.

Another feature that will be familiar to players of the previous games is the "story board" technique used throughout the game. DTI has quite a story to tell, as Jim moves from place to place, situation to situation, through quite a number of different scenes and settings. And when there is a need for what would normally involve a cut-scene, DTI typically does it in story board fashion -- displaying pieces of the story board on the screen, often with an accompanying narration. There are still some brief animated video cut-scenes, but the story board motif is prevalent throughout the game.

One of the many things I liked about DTI is the ability to review past cut-scenes, videos, or even sound tracks. From the Main Menu, a "Gallery" option presents all story board segments, video cut-scenes, music interludes, etc., and allows the player to replay any of them, as often (and at any time) as desired. Thus, nothing is "missed" or forgotten.

The artwork, as always, is outstanding. The game is bright and vibrant with color throughout. The entire game takes place on Emerald Island -- the hideaway of Long John Silver. The sun is always bright, the sky is always blue, the water is always clear, and the vegetation is always lush. I have played a number of very "dark" games recently, and it was a refreshing change to get back to such a bright, colorful setting. All scenes (other than some close-ups) include complete 360-degree panning.

Though the backgrounds for most scenes are comprised of 2D artwork, virtually every scene contains some amount of animation -- birds flying, water flowing, a fire burning, or even one of the main characters moving around. And indeed, in the course of the game, Jim will encounter half a dozen other characters on Emerald Island: several other pirates, the mysterious Pepita, the parrot Captain Flint, and of course Long John Silver himself.

There is opportunity to speak with most of these characters, although dialogues do not use animation for the characters. Instead, they take place through text options shown at the bottom of the screen. The voicings for the characters are done well -- and with perhaps just enough caricature so that an occasional "Har!" from one of the pirates brings a smile, rather than being annoying. (And yes, you will hear "Yo ho ho, and a bottle of rum!" several times throughout the game.)

One feature of DTI that I especially liked is the map. Jim starts the game with a piece of a map of Emerald Island. As he visits different spots, they are marked on the map. To move quickly to a spot he has already visited, he has only to take out the map and click on that spot. Then, as the game develops, he gathers more pieces of the map -- which allows him access to other parts of the island -- until he finally has a complete map. Interestingly enough, if he is ever barred from any area of the island (which happens only temporarily), he cannot use the map to get there, either.

As to the game play itself, it consists primarily of exploration, with a good mixture of inventory and logic puzzles. Obviously, with a game such as DTI, there will be inventory puzzles. And in addition to the wonderfully-designed inventory storage area, there is even a "combining-uncombining" area -- where multiple items can be brought together to create something new, or a more complex item may be disassembled into its component parts. This also enhances the inventory-style puzzles, as the solution to a particular puzzle may not lie in one single item in inventory, but may require you to create a new item by combining 2 or 3 other items.

As the game progresses, Jim is continually presented with riddles -- or "enigmas" -- to be solved. These enigmas are Jim's "road map" through the game. As he solves puzzles and accomplishes various tasks, they are crossed off the list, leaving him with other items to pursue. Some of them may require certain inventory items; others may require that Jim take specific actions; still others might require that Jim solve some form of logic puzzle presented to him -- usually visually. Even the logic puzzles, however, are highly intuitive. There are no purely mathematical, or "trial and error," logic puzzles.

Occasionally, a puzzle may have more than one solution. Even the enigmas do not always need to be solved in the order presented. Jim can sometimes "get ahead of himself," depending on the degree of exploration that he is willing to make.

During those explorations, there are times when Jim's search can be brought to an abrupt end. Usually, this takes place when he is caught by one of the other pirates on the island. However, no matter what the cause of his sudden demise, the game first prints out a failure message (basically an "Oops! Don't do that again!"), and then returns the player to a point just prior to where the game-ending move was made. No manual saves are required for this purpose. As a result, I found that I needed to create saved games far less frequently than in many other adventure games that I have played.

If I have any complaint at all about the puzzles, it is that they may be just a little too easy. I don't know if Kheops Studio was getting negative feedback from the earlier games (which contained some fairly complex and difficult puzzles), or if they simply decided to make DTI a bit more playable by all. But many of the puzzles were almost too easy. Frequently, Jim (who talks through the game, as you move him around) would say things such as "I think I should go to my boat now." That's a bit too "transparent" for me. I'd rather think about my actions first; I'd rather have to make a choice as to what I want to do. On many occasions, the player is told outright what to do next, or how to solve a particular puzzle. Had the game offered an "Easy/Hard" setting, I might have bypassed some of these clues, while others could have chosen to play at the simpler level.

Oddly enough, though I played most of the game without hesitation and solved puzzles fairly quickly, the final puzzle was at the other end of the difficulty scale. It was the least intuitive in the entire game, there were no clues to what to do, and it was arguably the most difficult puzzle in the whole game! If the intent was to keep the puzzles simple, I believe that there will be many people who will be stumped at the very end of the game.

The game play, to a certain extent, is fairly non-linear. Most of the time, Jim can explore to his heart's content. (On one or two occasions, he is blocked from returning to a spot he has been before; but that is usually temporary.) And, as mentioned, he can even solve some of the enigmas in more than one order. However, to progress the story to its ultimate climax, there is a certain degree of linearity required, simply to develop the story and bring it to its final ending. The game length is adequate (although any time I play a game as enjoyable as DTI, any length is too short). Most users should get about 20 hours (or more) of play from the game.

Overall, DTI is a wonderful game. While no familiarity with the original Treasure Island novel is required, readers of that story will at least begin the game knowing some of the main characters. Given the excellent artwork, the somewhat whimsical story line, the good puzzles, and the clean user interface, DTI should be enjoyed by adventure gamers of all ages.

-- Frank Nicodem