Genre: Sci-Fi Adventure
Release Date: June 2009
Platforms: PC, iPhone
Note: Originally published 18 November 2009
When the first game in your series is already titled “Return to Mysterious Island” what do you name your sequel? “Re-return to Mysterious Island?” “Many Happy Returns to Mysterious Island?” How about “Sharp U-Turn to Mysterious Island?”? Well, Microids settled upon the inelegant if inevitable “Return to Mysterious Island 2.” Depending on where you look, they sometimes add the subtitle “Mina’s Fate.” The first game already had a “Return” in the heading because it was itself a sequel of sorts to the Jules Verne novel of 1874, “The Mysterious Island.”
Verne is the guy who not only basically invented science fiction, but was the original tech nerd. He loved gadgets back at a time (the late 19th century) when steam power still had a wow factor. Okay, so Verne has a huge success with “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” and a number of years later he pens, what else? A sequel. Yes, “The Mysterious Island,” among other things, is a sequel to “Leagues.” Therefore, RtMI2 is a sequel to RtMI1 which is a sequel to “The Mysterious Island” which is a sequel to “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea.” Got all that?
I haven’t played the first “Return to Mysterious Island” but I know from checking the website, as well as from watching the RtMI2 intro, that it follows the modern-day exploits of a young adventurer named Mina who gets stranded on Verne’s île mystérieuse. RtMI2 continues a split second after the end of the first game. I mean, Mina is back on that dang island bang, just like that. So, what else would an intrepid adventure game hero such as Mina do? She starts trying to get off the island again. This time, though, she’s already got her loyal simian sidekick Jep. In fact, Jep’s billing has gone up in RtMI2. He’s a good half of the game, which is to say you play Mina about half the time and Jep the other half. The situation on the island has changed, however. This time, Mina has to get off in a hurry; either that or figure out a way to keep the mountain from erupting. Or, I guess, re-erupting. The island was completely obliterated by a volcanic eruption at the end of Verne’s novel, but who’s counting?
Gameplay in RtMI2 consists of you, as either Mina or Jep, but mostly as Mina with Jep perched on Mina’s shoulder, roaming around the island trying to make use of all the stuff that everybody else stranded on the island before you has built -- in some cases, eons ago. For an invisible island way out in the Pacific hundreds of miles from civilization, this place sure has been busy. First, there was that alien, or maybe not an alien, named “X” who constructed all his quasi-mystical machinery. Why? Who knows! Then Captain Nemo and the Nautilus showed up. Then the five Civil War era Yankees landed, blown astray in a balloon. And, finally, Mina arrives. Twice! The joint is positively littered with brick kilns and moonshine stills and laser cannons and strange portals and you name it.
And who would have it any other way? After all, what is an adventure game? It’s a kid having the run of a giant toy store. Hey! Look at that! How does that work? Where does this go? What happens if I push this? RtMI2 is chock full of stuff to look at and ponder and poke at and try to figure out. Good adventure games also have colorful characters. Mina is indeed the only living human on this island, but that doesn’t mean it’s not full of wild, interesting characters. There are robots, there are disembodied voices and there are monkeys. Barrels full. Mostly it’s Jep who encounters these fellow apes. Simian conversations are carried out in grunts and pictograms, but you quickly get the idea.
One thing this game has, in spades, is inventory. Oh, baby. Mina and Jep start the game with a shared inventory screen with, I kid you not, 196 available slots. In fact, much of the gameplay of RtMI2 consists of managing and reconfiguring this vast inventory. The game also has a fair sprinkling of that adventure craze-du-jour, the minigame. Either Mina or Jep must perform some action within a certain time frame or confined space. One, for instance, has Mina fishing in the lake and landing flounders of varied sizes. I still don’t understand the appeal of minigames, but I don’t really mind them either. Also, there’s a handy “easy” button alongside most of these challenges, if you want to bail. Of course, it’ll cost you “coping” points.
Coping points is just one of several RPG-like elements in the game, mostly in the inventory screen. Both Mina and Jep have their own health bars, which at certain times have to be at their maximum to perform an action. Also there’s a “pride” bar. The more times you play a minigame in easy mode, the more this bar shrinks. There are also “friendship” bars over the heads of the monkeys Jep encounters. Jep has to either appease, cajole or threaten these apes if he wants to get anything from them, or to get past them. The coping points are displayed on a number counter, which gives you your score, a la Sierra Online, upon the successful completion of the game. Be forewarned that you can die in RtMI2. Hint: don’t grab any live electrical wires with your bare hands, or bare paws.
Another thing good adventure games have is wide-eyed exploration. RtMI2 uses some kind of 360-degree nodal system. You click hotspots to advance to the next panoramic node. But these panoramas are quite gorgeous, and quite active. Waves are moving, birds are flying, fire is crackling, clouds are scudding. The scenes were, to my eye, remarkably realistic. The game is played in first person perspective, except for cutscenes, with a picture of Mina, Jep or both in the lower left corner of the screen. The island in many spots is quite beautiful and you may find yourself stopping on a shoreline or two just to admire the vista. The game employs the time-honored device of starting you off in a certain area and then opening up more real estate as you progress. The cutscenes are rendered in “action” comic book style. This too is a current adventure game craze. No doubt it owes its popularity to reduced production costs, but I for one find it a more than acceptable convention.
The puzzles are a varied lot. Which is good. In addition to the minigames and the inventory-fest there are a few fixed-screen logic challenges scattered about, as well as some purely mechanical devices to get working. The logic puzzles do not have an “easy” button. Which I applaud. They’re not especially difficult, but if you don’t glom onto the “trick” of each you might be staring at them for quite awhile. In fact, the hardest part of these puzzles as well as the other mechanical devices you’ll be trying to operate is figuring out just how they do operate. Also, Mina and Jep have unique strengths and weaknesses which factor into much of the gameplay. One other RPG-ish thing you have to keep in mind is the physical “state” of Mina and Jep, as represented by their inventory images. Some puzzles depend upon this. While there’s no serious pixel-hunting, I did have trouble spotting a few hotspots. Largely this was due, I suspect, to my widescreen LCD monitor.
RtMI2 is one of the most non-linear games I’ve ever played. At one point I’d been playing for two days when it dawned on me that I hadn’t made a lick of real progress. There is so much to do with the inventory and the machines and other things scattered about that you can play for quite a while, earning points all the time, and still get absolutely nowhere, plotwise. I had to stop on a couple of occasions and think, okay, but just how do I get to the next area? There is a main plot, but the island has a remarkable amount of side quests. Most of these do have a tangential connection to the overall story, but, again as in an RPG, you can run around jacking up your score by doing everything you can think of.
The game has appropriate, even helpful sound effects and the music is quite nice. It’s lyrical when it should be and insistently dramatic when it should be. The voice acting is expert. Mina is the only human but the robots and chimps sound convincing, too. The relationship between Mina and Jep is particularly well acted, adding a genuine poignancy to the otherwise exotic proceedings. One special sound note: there is a certain musical instrument in the game that both Jep and Mina have to learn to play. The instrument is quite rudimentary and I consider myself reasonably literate musically, but darned if this thing didn’t give me fits at times. If you are particularly tin-earred or otherwise sound-challenged, you might make note of this.
There were things I didn’t like about “Return to Mysterious Island 2.” But not many. I didn’t like the dying. Even though the game simply puts you back at the start of the trouble. But what is gained by dying in a game? To me, it’s a silly, pointless device. I would have liked a richer selection of screen resolutions. I’m starting to get tired of playing games in which all the characters look 60 pounds overweight. I also wasn’t crazy about the ending. You’re presented with a momentous choice, but it, too, like the dying, feels trumped up. Just have an exciting, slam-bang ending and send everyone home happy. RtMI2 also has two “special” features, both of which you will be prompted to set up (or not) during the game installation. The first is an integration with the iPod Touch or iPhone that allows you to export the minigames and then reimport them – if, that is, you own an iPod Touch or iPhone. The second is a form of internet chat that lets you interact with your pals while playing. I availed myself of neither of these. There are many, many things I enjoy doing with other people. Playing adventure games is not one of them. Internet chat during an adventure game to me would be like trying to line up a golf shot while my pal was slapping me on the back and asking me if I wanted a brewski.
I downloaded my game from the Microids website. There were three files, two of them gargantuan, and the website wisely recommends you use a download manager. I, of course, ignored this sound advice, but luckily got away with it. The total download came to roughly two and a half gigabytes. The game installed on my PC running Windows 7 Release Candidate 1 without event, but I did have trouble getting the game itself to start. When I went to the game exe’s properties panel and switched to Vista compatibility I had no further troubles. (Now there’s a first!) I’m not certain about the game’s availability on DVD (or CD). Which in any case seems to be an option fast disappearing from the scene. As is so often the case nowadays, the game was obviously translated into English, in this instance from French. At least with a Jules Verne story this is apropos. The game has remarkably few typos, and only a couple of head-scratcher translations (just what is an “avid” rodent, anyway?) though the French labels and other in-game documents were left as is. The main problem with translations is that the original idiom, if any, is lost. That is, characters tend to speak in flat standard English instead of colorful jargon. Which makes me wonder what a game like “Sam and Max” must sound like translated into French. “Zut alors, petite lapin ami!”
Microids has made a minor industry of mining the Verne catalog for these “updated” homage games. In addition to RtMI1 and 2 they’ve pumped out a game called “Voyage” that is apparently a mashup of “From the Earth to the Moon” and “Journey to the Center of the Earth”; and a game of “20,000 Leagues Under the Sea” titled “The Secret of the Nautilus.” Why Microids feels compelled to modernize these stories is a mystery to me, but I’m not complaining. Is there an author better suited to the adventure game than Jules Verne? Not on this planet.
It took me about 25-30 hours to complete “Return to Mysterious Island 2.” The game started slowly, due mostly to the learning curve needed to master that complex inventory, but it wasn’t long before I was sucked in. RtMI2 is not a groundbreaking adventure game, but it does do most things quite well, and it has amazingly few faults. Best of all, it lets you wander around “experimenting” better than any other game I can think of. It is commercial game production at pretty much its highest mark. It is also an adventure game that actually understands what’s fun about adventure games. While I could live without the iPhone product placement and the black “failed” screens, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay on Mysterious Island and I can think of no good reason not to award the game an overall grade of A.
• Windows® 98/ME/2000/XP
• 600 MHz Pentium® III or Equivalent (800 MHz Recommended)
• 16x CD-ROM Drive (24x CD-ROM Drive Recommended)
• 64 MB DirectX® Compatible 3D Video Card
• DirectX® 7 Compatible Sound Card
• 64 MB RAM