Jerome Lange returns to solve another engrossing mystery, this time on a tropical island. Some of you may be already familiar with the French private eye's previous case in Mortville Manor (Realm's Adventure Game of the Year in 1990), in which he had to quiz the inhabitants of an old mansion about the death of a friend.
In this game, we are not sure if the victim is dead or not (she might die in the course of the game - if you don't hurry up and do something!). The story so far goes something like this. The year is 1954, January. Jerome is in Madagascar visiting an old friend when he receives a letter from Max (the Mortville butler maybe?) in Japan ("Come and join me!" it says). So, Jerome borrows his friend's yacht and sets sail with two crew members (Captain Bob and seaman Anton). They get as far as the Indian Ocean, but decide to take refuge on a remote island called Maupiti, as they fear a hurricane is near. The hurricane passes. Meanwhile, a fishing boat (containing captain Bruce, seamen Roy and Chris) arrives at Maupiti during the night, and parks itself next to the yacht. The following morning, Madame Maguy (owner of a small hotel on the island) informs Jerome that a young girl named Marie was kidnapped the previous night. So begins the quest - to rescue Marie!
Add Madame Maguy's three employees (Sue, Anita, and Juste the handyman), and we have a nice long list of possible suspects. It doesn't take long to scan the immediate areas (the beaches, garden, pond, and hotel), and after some quick interviews with a few of the characters, all sorts of rumours, stories and predictions fly around! Sue and Anita are best friends and tell each other every thing, or do they? Anita had a light with husband Bob on the night of the kidnapping - was it over Marie? Is it true that Maguy is a madame in the literal sense, and that Marie maybe was a reluctant employee? What is the significance of the statue in the pond? Why do certain inhabitants have masks in their rooms?
These are just a few of the many, many questions you will ask when you play this engrossing adventure. Maupiti Island has all the features that made Mortville Manor such a good game. These include great graphics (improved!) and super sound effects to really build up a haunting atmosphere.
On screen animation is also good, especially the attention to detail (such as the fly buzzing around the room, the ceiling fan spinning, mice and rats scurrying across the ground). The background music changes from place to place, and also changes if you complete a major action.
Character interaction has been greatly enhanced since the days of Mortville Manor. The speech synthesis is still there (French accent and all!), and the spoken words appear on the screen if you didn't catch what was said (or you can repeat it). As well as quizzing a character about certain events you have encountered, and other people, you can memorize what was said, and use it to quiz and argue with other characters when contradictions arise. You can also bribe, bash up or offer objects if all else fails. This gives you almost complete realistic detective interaction.
The game is completely mouse driven, with pull down menus used to move around, manipulate your inventory, execute actions (select an action then point the pointer somewhere on the screen), and interact with characters. You can also follow characters (but tread carefully, it's egg on your face if you get caught!). A map of the island appears when following characters. Actions available are somewhat limited, but adequate (close, eat, look at, observe, search, open, push, put, raise, read, sleep, smell, sound, take, turn, wait).
The playability factor is very high. There are many things that can be opened and closed (remember - be discreet!), and hundreds of items to sift through (many red herrings!). All items when handled are displayed in the bottom right corner of the screen. Also displayed is a clock, and a list of characters present. Your energy also appears, and this will deteriorate without sufficient food or rest. The game can end quite abruptly if you're not careful. You can die in quicksand, you can get locked in your own cabin, and you can get murdered if you get too close to solving the mystery without being discreet!!
This said, there are also many possible endings, and there is a random element in the game to add that extra level of difficulty. The game however, does have some niggling technical drawbacks. The main one is that it takes a bit too long to load up characters for interviewing, and this tends to slow the game. It doesn't look like the game is installable on a hard drive, either.
Overall the graphics are crisp and colourful, and the sound is melodramatic and convincing. The plot is intriguing and very challenging, with riddles and puzzles everywhere! Gameplay is also very good. As an adventure, I rate it as one of the best releases this year - but I am biased towards it because I liked Mortville Manor so much (and Maupiti Island is much better!). The colours are bright, the music is breezy - and the gameplay is absolutely addictive. Aaargh!
Once you start playing you just can't stop, and it's incredibly embarrassing if someone comes into the room. Rodland just isn't macho! Mind you, there is a bit of violence. Your princess makes good use of her little magic wand, the "Rod of Sheesanomo." As she meanders along the platforms and glides up and down the ladders she meets up with all manner of nasties - a good wallop with the wand, and a left and right thrust on the joystick send even the meanest of them crashing over her head in a judo throw that even Big Arnie would be proud of.
Watch out for the sharks though - they look faintly ridiculous cruising around the platforms, but don't be distracted. I.et them get too close and little princess will waft away in a cloud of vapour. There are bonuses to collect, and flowers to collect through 40 rather awkward levels. There are time limits, too - if you don't clear a level in time, the nasties switch into "meany mode" making things even more difficult.
The fact is, Rodland is a darn good game. Graphics are delightful, with a nice variety of backgrounds, and plenty of awkward platform patterns. The princess and the nasties are nicely drawn, and everything works together well. Just make sure you keep a barf-bag handy, though - puking on the keyboard is not recommeded.
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