Return to Mysterious Island is a graphic adventure based on the Jules Verne novel from which its title is taken. In the role of a modern-day a sailor named Mina who sets out to circumnavigate the globe alone, players find themselves shipwrecked on the mysterious island described in Verne's book. Mina discovers the remnants of a civilization on the island, and eventually takes up residence in the same "Granite House" the five unfortunate dirigible passengers discovered almost 150 years earlier. Mina also comes to find that she is not alone on the island. Her "mysterious stranger" is no self-exiled castaway, however, but the ghost of Captain Nemo himself. She'll need to explore the island, solve its puzzles, and uncover all its mysteries, to help the poor soul of Nemo find the eternal peace it so desperately seeks.
If you love inventory-heavy adventure games, then rejoice: Return to Mysterious Island was tailor-made for you. Where some adventure game designers throw a bunch of totally abstract and unrelated puzzles together and call it a day, developer Kheops took the time to do things right. Return to Mysterious Island features not only an interesting setting inspired by a classic novel, but also puzzles that really tie into the game world and make good sense.
You play as Mina, a young woman who sets out on a solo sailing expedition and encounters a fierce storm that tosses her into the sea and onto the beaches of a tropical island in the South Pacific. You play the game from a first-person perspective, moving between distinct nodes, though you're still able to pan the camera in any direction. As you explore the island in search of a way home, you soon realize that you're not alone. All kinds of wildlife inhabit the place, most notably some clever monkeys, one of whom you'll befriend.
It seems that you might have some human company, too. Early on, you encounter a mysterious figure. Does he mean well or portend evil? Is he a real person or simply a figment of Mina's imagination? There's really not a whole lot to the game's plot, so there's not much more we can say without spoiling it for you. Suffice it to say, it involves the famous Captain Nemo and his submarine, the Nautilus.
The story is inspired by Jules Verne's novel The Mysterious Island. You don't need to be familiar with the novel to enjoy the game, but it helps to know that it deals with a small group of men who escape the perils of the American Civil War via hot air balloon, only to be blown off course to the eponymous island, the same one where Mina ends up in the game. There the castaways need to rely on their skills and smarts to forge a viable community out of the wilderness.
Return to Mysterious Island ably builds on the same theme of survivalism. You begin with just the clothes on your back and a futuristic cellphone/electronic encyclopedia that needs its batteries recharged before you can fully use it. Right off the bat, you have to focus on the essentials: finding and preparing enough food to build up your strength. After that, you'll need to find or create the items needed to survive and escape the island. As the game progresses, you'll end up with around fifty or sixty inventory items at once, and with your wits and the help of some chemistry notes you find you can combine them into all sorts of tools and weapons. You'll feel like a regular MacGyver, fashioning bows and bricks and knives and batteries. You can even give Betty Crocker a run for her money by baking a cake.
Thanks to a handy inventory system, it's easy to learn about the possible uses of each item (a sort of hint system) and then combine them into tools or chemical compounds. You can also disassemble many objects to reuse their components for new creations. The fun is in seeing how you can turn innocuous items like lemons or bamboo or porcupine quills into very practical items. At first it seems like you're just collecting odds and ends and bits of plants, but soon enough you find yourself with gunpowder and medicine and candles. For added interest, a friendly monkey accompanies you, and you can "combine" inventory items with him, using him to attach a rope ladder to a high cliff, for example. For diversity, you get a few non-inventory puzzles, like slider and code puzzles, though these are pretty derivative of other adventures. You'll also encounter a cleverly staged but fairly easy sequence of riddles that you have to solve to win the game.
One of the most interesting aspects of Return to Mysterious Island is the way it's partially nonlinear. You can combine the abundant inventory items in many ways. Sometimes there's only one solution to a puzzle, but often there are a few different things you can make to get past, say, a stick-wielding monkey or vile sea beast intent on devouring you. The game encourages creativity, and it rewards points for how many items you find and combine into useful objects, so you can try for a higher score if you replay it.
Return to Mysterious Island offers an attractive game world to explore as you're pondering what to do with that lump of clay or bit of sulfur you just picked up. The game world isn't very big, but it's well detailed. Creeping vines and hot springs and the ramshackle remains of buildings that served the island's previous castaways all work to create a believable little world. The most interesting aspect of the game's visuals isn't actually the island scenery, but the cutscenes. The developers took an unusual approach to them, mostly relying on black and white comic-book-style panels, coupled with sound effects and voiceovers. Thanks to the attractive art and freshness of the approach, these scenes works well. The visuals are complemented by solid voiceovers, realistic sound effects, and exotic music replete with harp, sitar, celesta, and wordless choral parts.
Return to Mysterious Island can be a lot of fun, but it's not without its faults. In addition to a pretty simple story, the game suffers from some pixel hunts and half-baked action sequences that are way too easy. Some hardened adventure game veterans will find many of the puzzles too easy, though more casual fans should find plenty of challenges. The biggest fault is that the game is too short; you can finish it in about five hours. On the bright side, it retails for about half what most new releases cost. Still, the game's brevity is a shame because Return to Mysterious Island mostly succeeds admirably, and it would have been fun to explore its world even more.
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