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Reviewed: Return to Mysterious Island
Author: Michael Ahlf       Date: March 2nd, 2005
Page: 2

Starting at the beginning - players don't get to play as a Jules Verne character. All of those are long dead and gone. It's somewhere in the 21st century, and a young lady named Mina is attempting to sail the oceans alone when she's capsized by a storm. She washes up on a strange island that's not on any charts - but her cell phone, with its GPS and encyclopedia, has no power. Players nagivate Mina throughout the island, picking up possibly useful tools, solving the puzzles of the place, and examining the tools and structures the original stranded group left behind.

The premise is simple - find Nemo's body and give him a proper burial.

Mina washes up on a beach, cut off from civilization.

An inviting enough place, if you're on vacation, but not a good place to get stranded.

Nemo's ghost is on the island, and the driving force for the first half of the game is to find his body and give him a proper burial. Don't worry, it's not as easy as it might seem; there is plenty to do on the island. Even the simple task of "finding food" is a challenge - Mina can harvest oysters, catch a fish, cook crabs, or eat eggs to get her strength back. This is the true genius of the game, in that very few puzzles have only one solution. A bow can be made with different sticks and a string, arrows from different thin reeds and using either porcupine needles or straight thorns for arrows; a hostile monkey dissuaded by a captive snake as easily as the bribe of a pie. Some items that are creatable in the game aren't even necessary, such as a kite.

Prepare to outwit the local wildlife for your dinner.

Part of the game's genius - rather than simply finding the solution to the puzzles, players have to "build" them out of what's at hand.

In a fit of genius, I've acquired fire. Time to cook some dinner.

Part of the game's charm is in exploring old areas - some abandoned, some not quite so abandoned, as a horde of monkeys have taken over the ruins of the castaways' windmill and pottery kiln. Every major location mentioned in Jules Verne's novel is present, though some are more crushed than others; the farmhouse on the edge of the volcanic eruption is almost completely destroyed. Even the Nautilus is present, and Captain Nemo appears to have set some defenses of his own after the castaways were rescued. It's a joy to behold, from a storytelling point of view, even as it's sad to see what became of the warm and friendly Granite House after the castaways left.

Cooking an oyster is the way to go.

They're not bad raw, but watch out - you could break your makeshift knife, and then where would you be?

Outwitting the local wildlife doesn't always lead to dinner; sometimes it leads to other rewards.

The rest of the game's charm is in its replayability; while not unlimited, it offers a great deal of options for solving the various puzzles, and a scoring mode based on what tasks are completed and items created. Getting a maximum score takes some time, and the discovery of a new formula for an item is a rewarding experience all of its own. Don't forget to give your pet monkey a bath with that newly created soap!

Adding to the game's enjoyment are the well constructed cutscenes; the designers didn't waste time rendering them, but instead had them drawn by hand in black and white, in color schemes appropriate for the illustrations in a Jules Verne novel. The music and sound aren't bad, though the voice acting is limited; most of the areas are meant to speak for themselves by appearance, rather than voice exposition.

If you're looking for a game that's laid back, and easy to play, the adventure genre is a good start, and Return to Mysterious Island is a great introduction for new players as well as a great addition to any gamer's collection.

Added:  Thursday, March 03, 2005
Reviewer:  Michael Ahlf
Page: 2/3

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