Review: Return to Mysterious Island 2 (PC)

Return To Mysterious Island 2
Genre: Adventure
Developer: Kheops Studio
Publisher: Iceberg Interactive/Microids
Release Date: 08/14/2009

Based on the work by Jules Verne, Return To Mysterious Island 2 is, quite obviously, the sequel to Return To Mysterious Island. It was released in 2004 and received mixed reviews, but was apparently popular enough to warrant a sequel, albeit five years after the fact.

Last time, we left the series’ star, Mina, in a helicopter as she was getting ready to leave the island. Something obviously went wrong as she is now back where she started, only this time, she adopts a pet monkey named Jep, who acts as a second playable character. The game’s cover makes a big deal out of it, as it is supposed to open possibilities that are entirely new to the adventure genre.

Does this game really has anything new to offer, or is it just more of the same? Let’s find out!

STORY/MODES
Let’s start with the original Return to Mysterious Island; if you have never played the game, you can still play this sequel without skipping a beat. The game offers an audiovisual recap of everything you may have missed, in the form of a narrator explaining the story so far on a background of still photos. It’s basic, but it is also very useful. After that, you simply pick a save file before being introduced to the current events in the form of cartoonish drawings.

Apparently, Mina got on the helicopter that was supposed to take her off the island, but the island’s volcano erupted and struck the aircraft with a rock, sending it crashing into the ocean. After being saved in extremis by Jep the monkey, Mina takes a look around the island and discovers that the eruption has altered the landscape, and that a mysterious illness is affecting animals and plants alike. As she waits for more rescue teams to come by, she decides to explore the island in order to find the source of this disease and get rid of it.

The story is interesting enough, but most of it is conveyed by monotonous monologs and still cartoonish cut scenes once in a while. It also advances at a sluggish speed, to the point where you sometime forget why exactly you are doing something. There’s also the ending, which I will not spoil, but which tries to go for something emotional with a cut scene-altering choice, but which I thought ended up pretty flat.

Still, if you like Jules Verne’s universe, chances are you will appreciate the story this game has to tell.

Story/Modes Rating: Decent

GRAPHICS
The game’s main engine is in full 3D, but cut scenes are sometimes rendered as cute cartoons. The cartoonish parts are surprisingly the parts I appreciated the most. They display a lot of style and personality, while the 3D graphics are on the other hand dull and boring. Yes, the backgrounds are sharp, but some of the outside areas are so similar that it becomes hard to differentiate any of them and easy to get lost. The interiors are much better in that regard, but still look run-of-the-mill and somewhat generic.

The graphics do not look like they evolved that much since 2004. I have a hard time figuring out how the game could look so unique and exciting in its still drawings, but manage to become boring and outdated when it switches to the third dimension. The character models look lifeless and animals look as if their fur was just a suit they could take off at any time. When searching areas for various things to pick up for the inventory, I had a hard time making out half of the objects. There are no visual clues to tell you when you can interact with something, which I guess makes the game more “realistic”, but trying to notice a blade of grass on a green tropical background can quickly become a pain in the neck. The result is that the game degenerates into a simple sequence of entering an area, scrolling over everything with the mouse in hope of noticing a cursor change, picking up everything you can and then moving to the next area.

So in short, the backgrounds are pretty well made, and even somewhat gorgeous, but something went horribly wrong with the rest.

Graphics Rating: Mediocre

SOUND
You will hear some music when it comes to cut scenes. It almost sounds like something out of a Die Hard soundtrack with its hard drum and sense of impending doom. The rest of the time is mostly silence though, as the game offers some jungle sound effects when navigating through the island, but nothing really worth noting. The sound effects are much better though, with monkeys cooing and screaming appropriately and everything basically sounding as it should.

The game does feature voice over works, but doesn’t make a good use of it. Mina sounds bored all the way through, even when she must make life-altering decisions. There are also sequences where you play as Jep and have to “dialog” with other monkeys. I didn’t know monkeys could make the same noise with so many intonations, but these “interactions” become nerve-grating pretty quickly.

On a side note, some of these dialogs between Mina and Jep look and sound very corny. In fact, some of them make our protagonist sound downright schizoid. Sure, I also talk to animals from time to time, as my dog can attest, but you won’t see me trying to explain a situation of emergency in a hundred words and then send it to fetch me a first aid kit. Some of the voice over work would have passed better as simple narration, as if we were hearing Mina’s thoughts.

Sound Rating: Mediocre

CONTROL AND GAMEPLAY
Return to Mysterious Island 2 does not reinvent the wheel, but frankly, it doesn’t need to. If you have ever played an adventure game before, you already know how this works: you control your character with the mouse, either to point and click where you want to go or to pick stuff up. The mouse’s cursor change accordingly to the actions that can be taken at the moment. The system works flawlessly except for the previously mentioned fact that some of the interactive objects are impossible to discern from the background. As for the rest, the inventory is absolutely gigantic, but still stays easy to maintain as objects can be moved around and combined to make new objects. My only gripe is that the inventory does not organize itself automatically; instead, everything you pick up is thrown onto a pile that you then need to organize yourself in your inventory. It seems like a useless step when most other games simply throw the object into the nearest available spot. Frankly, that always worked fine with me.

One of the biggest parts of an adventure game is the puzzles. Here, the puzzles are nothing new; you will have to arrange circuit boards, solve mathematical problems and figure out how to use what’s in your inventory to advance further. If you are stuck, the answer is usually either laying around waiting for you to pick it up, or waiting in your inventory for you to combine two objects. There is also a simple problem which comes back every once in a while: your characters have energy bars which do not really deplete, but which the game reminds you of from time to time, usually after something big happened. You will then need to search for food or hug your partner, which apparently has healing powers. Love conquers all, folks. These parts are repetitive and completely tedious, and quite honestly add nothing to the game. If the bar really did deplete by itself, then it would add a sense of urgency to the game, but it would also take away from the puzzle going on at the moment. It just looks like an ill-conceived idea from the start.

One of things the game tries to put the accent on is the second playable character, Jep. Playing as the monkey is more or less the same thing as playing as Mina, except for the fact that you can climb farther and that you can’t read or use complex objects. Still, Jep can gather food or water, negotiate with other monkeys, save Mina from drowning and then nurse her back to health. In short, that monkey is a genius. I bet that with a little bit of time, you could teach Jep to play baseball and make him star in his own movie with Matt Leblanc. Still, aside from the sheer novelty of a medically-savvy monkey, the second character serves no real purpose as it is simply a gimped version of the main character which can speak the monkey language. That’s about it.

Finally, the loading between each scene is nearly seamless, but the game will sometime take up to ten seconds just to load a series of dialogs. This is both weird and frustrating.

Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

REPLAYABILITY
Unlike most adventure games I have come across, this game uses a scoring system. Your characters have pride points which you can add or subtract depending on your actions; for example, using hints will take away pride points. Some of the actions you will take during the game will add to your total score, but the game doesn’t make a big deal out of it. You will simply be shown your score at the end of your game and that’s it. The game’s cover insists that there is fun in playing the game over and over again to beat your own score, but scoring systems work better in arcade games such as shooters or in puzzle games like Tetris. The incentive to come back does not really work here.

Otherwise, there is absolutely no reason to come back. There is nothing to unlock, and the only alternating path happens at the very end of the game. Simply save before making your choice and reload later to see what happens in both endings.

Replayability Rating: Poor

BALANCE
The game is not really hard; it is simply frustrating. The puzzles are easy enough, and even sometimes border on childish. The real challenge comes from figuring out what essential object you missed a couple of paths ago that prevent you from solving the basic problem that is thrown at you. When you do have what is required in your inventory, most of the puzzles are a piece of cake. Most of them lack originality and creativity. Even if you are not paying attention, trial and error will get you by a lot of the time. Even some of the puzzles which I thought would require a minimum knowledge of chemistry were reduced to reading journal entries and following a recipe. I expected more challenge from a game inspired by the work of someone as creative as Jules Verne.

Balance Rating: Poor

ORIGINALITY
I will admit that I haven’t played the first game, but I researched the subject and apparently, not much as changed in terms of settings. Sure, the island’s landscape is altered because of the volcano’s eruption, but it’s still the same characters in the same setting. Still, something could have been made out of this, but these characters go through the same adventure games clich├ęs we’ve played again and again. I will admit that introducing a second playable character, one that isn’t even human at that, is a pretty good idea, but only in theory. In execution, it amounts to nothing more than a smaller, less equipped version of the main character. Finally, as mentioned previously, the puzzles do nothing to boost this category’s score.

Originality Rating: Below Average

ADDICTIVENESS
The story is not good enough to make you hungry for more. The puzzles are not satisfying enough to make you want to see what the game has to offer next. The characters don’t have enough personality to make you care about what happen to them. The gameplay isn’t stimulating enough to keep you hooked.

As you can see, Return to Mysterious Island 2 doesn’t have a lot going for it in this department. Most of the adventure games I have played recently had mastered at least one of the areas aforementioned enough to make you come back for more. For example, Tales of Monkey Island does nothing to reinvent the franchise, but the story is good enough that you feel the need to keep going. Such is not the case here. In fact, I found it hard to find a reason to care at all past the first hour or so.

Addictiveness Rating: Bad

APPEAL FACTOR
This game probably has an audience already from those who enjoyed the first Return to Mysterious Island. After all, if the publisher thought a sequel was necessary, they most probably had enough positive feedback from their customers to warrant such a game.

As for the rest of the world, I will hope that those who are seeking this game because of the connection to Jules Verne will not be fooled as this product bears no similarity to his work outside from a couple of names and a general setting. It would be like trying to market a game as being based on 1984 by George Orwell because Winston Smith is name-dropped at the start and it takes place in London.

Finally, adventure games aficionados might also be tempted to try this one because of the original’s reputation. As I have said, I have not played the first one, but if what I have read is any indication, it might be a better investment than the sequel.

Appeal Factor Rating: Decent

MISCELLANEOUS
Despite its flaws, I can at least affirm that my experience with the game was free of bugs and glitches. Not a huge positive, but sometimes, you have to appreciate the little things.

The game also boasts a new features which allows you to play some of the game’s puzzles on the go on your iPhone or iPod Touch before synchronizing it back home with your save file once you are finished. That’s a neat little idea, which I unfortunately couldn’t test, as I don’t have an iPhone or iPod Touch. Anyone who absolutely wants me to try it out can feel free to send me one.

Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Story/Modes: Decent
Graphics: Mediocre
Sound: Decent
Control/Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Poor
Balance: Poor
Originality: Below Average
Addictiveness: Bad
Appeal: Decent
Miscellaneous: Above Average
FINAL SCORE: MEDIOCRE GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
I know I said a lot of negative things about this game, and I stand by them, but the problem with Return to Mysterious Island 2 is not that it is completely awful. It’s simply bland and dull. While the gameplay is more or less competent, there are little flaws such as the lack of challenge and some puzzles’ monotony which drain any enjoyment which could have been had from the game. Everything is painfully plain in this game, which results in a lack of style and personality. This game is in a weird place where I can’t really fault it for being outrageously bad, but I can’t find any reason for people to be playing it either. This is why I think that a final score of “mediocre” is incredibly accurate in this case.

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