We all know how enjoyable a good mystery can be, whether it’s hunting down dastardly criminals or investigating odd disappearances and ghost stories.
Mystery of Shark Island starts with a more basic question of “where the heck am I?” and takes things from there, proving along the way to be one of the more interesting entries into the genre to come along in a while.
The game begins with this strange little note:
“Woke up on a beach next to a stone box with a set of odd carvings … Stone box seemed to come alive when I touched it. Can’t get it open. Keep thinking I’m hearing voices.”
From this intriguing and somewhat creepy introduction, you’ll set off to explore Shark Island – which is actually a series of islands that form the shape of a shark – and discover the secrets that the area holds. Why do conch shells seem to echo with children’s laughter? Why do you seem to be getting younger? What civilization used to live on the island, and why did they leave these mysterious portals behind?
Game play is loosely based on the familiar I-Spy and Mystery Case Files formula of having to search for a list of items on a cluttered screen. However, while other games task you to find an eclectic mix of bowling balls, umbrellas, ladders and other unrelated junk, in Mystery of Shark Island you’ll be searching for a very specific set of items: seashells that must be placed inside the mysterious box to cause it to spit out keys that are used to unlock the portals to travel to other islands.
Since your bounty is shells, you’ll spend your time at the beach as the tide washes over the sand and brings in a mixture of valuable shells and junk like rocks, jellyfish, algae and busted shell pieces. You have to sift through all the worthless stuff and pick out the nice flawless shells before the next wave comes in and washes everything away. Clicking on a non-shell or shell fragment by mistake has the stiff consequences of destroying your bonus multiplier, which is essential in later levels – in other words, randomly clicking around doesn’t work.
At the beginning of each “wave” you’ll be given pictures of the shells that are hidden somewhere on the screen. Conches, starfish, seahorses, urchins, sand dollars and sea glass are just some of the things you’ll be looking for.
You don’t have to collect all the shells in an area to move on. Instead, there’s a certain amount of time before the next wave comes in, and you have that much time to find as many shells as possible. Each found shell earns points that go towards getting a key
To proceed to the next island you’ll have to solve a short “portal puzzle” by using the keys you’ve collected to rotate three segments of a door in the correct order.
The nice thing about having to collect shells – beyond getting to see the pretty animation of waves crashing onto the beach – is that this task actually makes perfect sense in the context of the story, unlike other “find the hidden item” games that have you searching for ridiculous collection of things that have nothing to do with anything!
And if you’re thinking that searching for shells over and over again is going to get old fast, rest assured that the game has ways of keeping things interesting and challenging.
Sometimes shells will be partially buried in sand – which you’ll have to brush off by moving the mouse overtop – or hidden under rocks, which you can lift by clicking and holding the mouse. There are also a few medallions that might wash up on shore that can give you little boost like raising a strong wind to blow away junk objects, or increasing your strength and making rocks easier to lift.
In later levels, the pictures of shells will be replaced by black silhouettes, or even simply question marks, making the shells themselves much harder to find.
There are changes in scenery from classic tan sand to volcanic black sand beaches to rocky tide pools, and the perspective also changes from up close (bigger shells) to farther away (smaller shells, and more of them).
It’s this last feature that caused my only pet peeve. In the larger panoramas where objects are small, it can be almost impossible to tell true shells from shell fragments. This isn’t enough of an issue to significantly put a damper on the game, but it did result in having to do some of the levels over again after mistakenly clicking on the wrong thing and destroying my points multiplier. (Also, I wouldn’t really recommend playing Mystery of Shark Island on anything smaller than a 12-inch screen.)
That aside, Mystery of Shark Island does everything else right. It has pretty graphics, a suitably mysterious story to get to the bottom of, and most importantly, interesting and unique game play that puts a few twists on a popular genre.