Jules Verne is considered to be one of the pioneers of science fiction thanks to fantastical novels like Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, Around the World in Eighty Days, and The Mysterious Island. It’s the last story that The Adventure Company and Kheops Studio have chosen to craft a Myst-style adventure game around with positive results.
Return to Mysterious Island follows a hypothetical plotline that takes place about 50 years after the events that occured in The Mysterious Island. The book tells the tale of several sailors who get stranded on an island and come in contact with the island’s inhabitant, a mysterious stranger who turns out to be Captain Nemo – the captain from Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea – now an old man.
In the game, a young sailor named Mina also becomes stranded on the island after being knocked overboard while sailing her one-person boat through the South Pacific. She encounters the ghost of Captain Nemo, who has now been dead for many years and asks Mina to give his body a proper burial and lay his spirit to rest. That’s simply one of the things Mina must do – she also has to find a way to get herself off the island.
Return to Mysterious Island is a first-person point-and-click adventure that is similar to Myst and games of that ilk. You see the surroundings from Mina’s point of view, and can look 360-degrees in any direction, as well as up and down, using the mouse. You interact with the environment with the mouse pointer, which is context sensitive and will change shape when it rolls over an object that can be picked up or manipulated in some way.
You’ll need a keen eye to be able to spot all the items you’ll need to pick up along the way as Mina explores the island. There’s a large inventory window with multiple tabs for storing items, and Mina can combine them to produce more sophisticated tools, such as fashioning a knife out of a piece of metal and a hunk of sandstone, and adding a stick of driftwood to turn it into a spear. When she discovers heat sources, she can also cook raw food ingredients, and later even use minerals to initiate chemical reactions for producing batteries, combustible materials, and other useful things.
The sheer scope of the game is impressive. The plot contains numerous twists and turns, and most puzzles have more than one solution, which is nice because if you feel you’re missing something obvious, intsead of sitting there stuck you can simply go at the problem from a different angle. You receive bonus points for finding the most creative way to solve a problem, and for performing other special tasks (for example, managing to catch a feather that wafts down from a bird’s nest before it hits the ground.)
The island is rendered beautifully, from tranquil lakes with realistic water, birds circling overhead in the sky, and lush greenery with animals and insects scurrying around, to creepy caverns and abandoned structures. You can hear Mina’s voice as she narrates the game, which is a nice touch, and pleasant music and ambient sound effects round out a great-looking and sounding package.
Exploring the island, with all its branching paths leading down similar-looking leafy trails, can be a bit confusing. It’s a shame that there’s no map, or at the very least a compass, to keep Mina (and us) oriented. It’s also easy to miss key items that blend in with the background the first time through an area, which means you’ll have to back-track. I often found myself falling back on the old tried-and-true (and criticized) method of pixel-hunting: run the mouse over every pixel on the screen until you find something you can pick up.
Later in the game, however, you’ll unlock an encyclopedia which explains what each item in your inventory does and gives hints as to how it should be combined with other items, which gets rid of a lot of the confusion without making the game too easy either.
In short, Return to Mysterious Island is a great adventure for fans of point-and-click games thanks to above average production values and a deep story that you can sink many hours into. It’s also a worthy homage to the early sci-fi spirit of Jules Verne with a compelling mixture of nature and gadgets and, without giving any plot points away, some classic Vernian twists.