Review: MYST (Nintendo DS)

MYST
Publisher: Storm City Games
Developer: Hoplite Research
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: 02/09/2010

MYST doesn’t really need an introduction. It’s a series that has been around for almost as long as I have been on this Earth. During its long tenure, it has spawned multiple sequels and a few remakes. In particular, one of these remakes was of the original MYST for the Nintendo DS, which was released in May of 2008. The game was developed by Cyan/Hoplite Research and published by Empire Interactive.

For those of you (myself included) who missed out on this gem, let me provide you with a little background of this original remake for the DS. From what I’ve read and seen, this particular remake was a small glimpse into what Hell may be like. That is to say, it is what Hell may be like if you were sent there and forced to explore its many levels with a magnifying glass, a typewriter, and camera while solving puzzles along the way. The blurry visuals, unforgiving stylus controls and shoddy soundtrack made this once beloved classic a complete disaster. But I’m not here to bash the remake for the DS or tell you something you most likely know already; I’m here to pose the question as to why a new publisher would take on the task of attempting to fix this mess. Perhaps someone lost an office bet, or perhaps they respected the original MYST too much to let its image be tarnished in such a way. Regardless, Storm City Games decided to hike up its man pants and attempt to fix what some felt was unfixable.

So sit back and relax and let’s travel together again to Myst island. Feel free to queue up “A Whole New World” right here.

Let’s Review

1. Story

The story begins with a narration from a guy who, in my opinion, sounds damn close to Raiden from the Mortal Kombat series. You’re able to see an image of him clutching a book as he jumps into a fissure. He explains as he is plummeting to his death that his hopes of destroying this “book” will not go as planned. I can only imagine why his foolproof plan wouldn’t have worked out. Nevertheless, as he continues his plummet and has me in awe with his command of the English language, he makes the player well aware that the book’s story has not yet been finished. Once Raiden is gone from view, the book slowly somersaults to the ground and is idle… just yearning to be clicked. I had much anticipation for what awaited me at this point. I could feel my grip tighten on the stylus as my eyes narrowed and the sweat fell from my brow. This was it.

So after much delay, I poked said book with my stylus and was instantly teleported into what can only be described as a, “What’s going on?” moment. The game begins with you, the player, just standing idle on a vast island. There are no character introductions, there is no background story of how you got here, nada, zip. You are left to assume that you somehow found the book old man Raiden had been referring to and thus brought to this place. Your objective is made about as clear as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

So you start off doing what any good adventurer does, exploring! After solving a few puzzles and navigating the island a bit, you will eventually come across two books, one red, one blue. Both books contain a different gentlemen trapped inside who is requesting your assistance with collecting remaining pages for his respective book in order to free him. They both also request that you not help the other for reasons unbeknownst to you at the time. So you set forth on your page hunting mission, exploring other book worlds called “ages” to complete this task. I won’t give away too much more of the story, because half the fun, I’d imagine, would be finding out on your own. But by now, hopefully you get the picture.

2. Graphics

It’s not a secret to anyone who has researched or read about the first MYST DS release that it was plagued by grainy graphics. A huge part of this game is navigation and puzzle solving. Well, it’s a bit difficult to do this when you can’t clearly see minor details that are required for a puzzle to be solved, considering that most of the puzzles require you to click a small button or lever, for example. In this version, the graphics are clear and distinguishable. For example, I found no issues with using the magnifying glass tool to read game text. This had been an issue in the previous release.

My only complaint would have to be that for me the game was just visually dull. It didn’t look bad, it just wasn’t very exciting, especially for someone like myself who was experiencing this for the first time. There wasn’t anything that visually made me want to continue exploring this world when I first started. As a mentioned before, when the game begins you’re not even sure what it is you are looking at. Even when you do start to navigate, and you realize the “theme” of the game, it wasn’t all that compelling. I’m not saying I wanted a CGI cut scene with boobs every fifteen minutes (thanks Dante’s Inferno), but throw me a bone here. If you’re going to have me stuck in a tunnel for fifteen minutes trying to figure out a puzzle, the least you could do is put some interesting things to look at in there, if only for the novelty of it.

3. Sound

Another problem when the PC version of MYST was ported to the DS the first time was with the sound. Music and sound effects that were once clear coming through your computer speakers now sounded like a rusty organ grinder on the DS. So it pleases me to say that in this version I did not experience this. I tested the game sound both through the DS speakers and a pair of ear buds, and through both, the sounds of the waves crashing, seagulls chirping (Do seagulls chirp? I don’t know.), and so on was all clear. The voice acting was also very crisp and pleasant to the ears. Did the sound quality blow me away? No. But it didn’t take away from the experience of the game, which is a step up from the previous installment. The only thing I would say that I wish had been different would be for the music to have been a little more consistent. I found myself more often than not just listening to random sound effects than game music. I’m going to assume this was done intentionally to enhance the feeling of immersion in the world. That said, I think to not recognize the impact music makes on a game for the player is a major flaw. For example, when you think of the Lost Woods from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, what is the first thing that comes to mind? How fun that tunnel puzzle was? Or the music? I rest my case.

4. Control and Gameplay

Using the stylus to navigate the world works decently enough. You see an area you want to explore, and you tap towards your destination until you arrive. You see an object you want to interact with, then you simply select it with the stylus as well. Rinse and repeat. There were complaints that with the first release that the stylus would become non-responsive to what the player was selecting and it would turn into a jousting match between yourself and the game just to turn a corner or select an object. This is another area this version claims to have resolved. Well, I can say that while there some moments where I may have had to poke something more than once with my stylus, I never had any experiences that left me completely frustrated in regards to that.

The game also provides you with a handy dandy typewriter for typing down notes. This can prove to be quite useful for solving puzzles or to just make a quick self-note of a specific place of interest. You’re also provided with a camera that you can use to take a snap shot of something that perhaps you’re not sure what to do with now, but can’t help but feel you will want to come back to reference later. One very useful feature is the “zip mode;” you basically point with your stylus where you want to go (provided you can see it in game) and it allows for some quick movement to the selected area. This a real time saver, considering the amount of back and forth maneuvering you’ll be doing. Lastly, the game also features an overhead map, which will also aid you as you progress through the game. Although I will say it would have been nice if it featured a “you are here” X that could track where you are in the game, instead of just a generic map.

5. Replayability

I just honestly can’t see any compelling reason to replay MYST again. Once you’ve learned the puzzles it takes away from the enjoyment of the game, and that alone just takes away from its replay value. You know how at family gatherings you somehow always end up playing Trivial Pursuit? And you have that one relative who has memorized every answer in the game? And you wonder to yourself, why do they continue to play? Are they a glory hound? Do they achieve satisfaction from winning, even though it wasn’t a challenge due to the sheer repetitiveness of it? This is the same type of person who would replay MYST and then tower over someone else playing the game just to taunt them as they struggle to figure out just what the hell to even do.

6. Balance

I always hate when you first start a game and you have to suffer through some boring tutorial, which you just know you don’t even need. All you wanted to do was grab your gun in Halo and start shooting up some Covenant; you didn’t want to have to wait in a med lab to test your “reflexes.”

Well friends let me tell you, this was the first time I wish I had gotten a tutorial of some kind. For a game that has such limited options as far as navigation and interaction go, you would think it would be so simple. I was utterly confused from the very start and felt the complete lack of direction of what to do to be a bit overwhelming. Now bear in mind I live in New Jersey and I’ve lost a few brain cells since I’ve been alive just by breathing in the air, so it’s possible I’m just a complete idiot and the game is really simple. I might just be slow on the uptake of what to start doing first. So I tested my theory by letting a friend who has never heard of MYST before quickly try the game out and share with me his thoughts. The intro ended, the game started and I could literally see the expression on his face change from what was once a starry eyed fearless gamer into what can only be described as a man who had just seen what a naked woman looks like for the first time. He then slowly handed the game back to me and we never spoke of it again.

My point being, this game is pretty damn difficult to pick up at first, and it would have been nice if I’d been given a quick rundown of the basic kind of puzzles to solve and what my objective was. Just some sort of general sense of direction… anything. Even as you progress in the game, you never really have any clear direction, and puzzles can range from being incredibly basic to mind numbly frustrating. MYST never really seems to find a happy medium.

7. Originality

I’ve played some adventure games in my day, but I have to say that I’ve never quite played a game like MYST before. Even though it is by no means perfect, you can’t help but appreciate what the developers were able to achieve with what they had to work with at the time. Unfortunately, it’s no longer 1993, and what was innovative back then is no longer so now, as far as gameplay goes. While I do recognize the need to stay true to the original game seeing as this is a remake, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t add a true new age to the game instead of just Rime, which really isn’t new if you’ve played realMYST. This is sort of a letdown, since I’d imagine a large chunk of hardcore MYST fans who would consider purchasing this title would do so with the hopes of playing a new age, only to be disappointed to find out it’s not so new after all.

8. Addictiveness

Millions of people can’t be wrong right? That’s what I had to keep assuring myself as I tried to forcefully finish this game. I honestly don’t know if it’s just pure nostalgia that keeps fans coming back, or just some plain old fashioned dedication. It’s fine and good to have challenging puzzles: I’m all about a challenge and I don’t want things handed to me. But the way MYST goes about it leads me to believe that average player would either entirely give up or become frustrated to the point of just looking for a guide (which takes away from the whole point of games like these). The Spaceship puzzle is the best example of this. Ultimately an adventure game is supposed to be… well, an adventure. Unfortunately it feels like most the time the “adventure” part of the game takes a backseat. In its place you have advance placement puzzling solving. The moment a game stops being fun to the point where it causes nerd rage, you (I hope) stop playing it. Unless, of course, you’re a masochist like I am and force yourself through it regardless.

9. Appeal Factor

When MYST was first released in the early 90’s, PC gaming was still in its growing pains, and what MYST was able to do from a technical standpoint was and still is very impressive. It allowed gamers at that time to truly feel like they were exploring a unique world and solving a great mystery. But gaming has changed quite a bit over the years and each passing year it seems like games are being dumbed down more and more to appease the masses. With that being said, I can’t see anyone who isn’t currently a fan of the series or who wasn’t a fan of the series at some point in time enjoying this game. While I’m not trying to take away from any of MYST‘s accomplishments, it was just never meant to be played on the DS, and while this version has received some much needed graphics/sound tweaks, it still doesn’t solve the underlying problem. From a new player’s perspective, it still feels like an outdated gaming experience, and from a returning player’s experience, it’s the same old song and dance.

10. Miscellaneous

Hate it or love it, there is no denying the fact that the original MYST was a pioneer of adventure PC gaming back in the day, and as a result it has created a strong following of millions of fans. Some of said fans have even gone to such lengths as creating fan based websites which actively discuss such exciting topics as when games like this will be coming out. Not to mention the game has such a core following that it has even spawned its own MYST convention called “Mysterium”. No, I’m not making that last part up, Google it people. Sadly, this version is just not worth getting together with a group of friends and discussing, unless, of course, you’re planning on forming an angry mob seeking some sort of retribution. Then by all means, have at it.

The Scores:
Story: Good
Graphics: Decent
Sound: Good
Control and Gameplay: Enjoyable
Replayability: Pretty Poor
Balance: Dreadful
Originality: Very Bad
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal Factor: Poor
Miscellaneous: Dreadful
Final Score: BELOW AVERAGE GAME!

Short Attention Span Summary:
While this version of MYST does fix many of the issues of the first DS release, it doesn’t offer enough to the consumer to justify spending another $30 for an extremely outdated gaming experience, regardless of the fact if you are a fan of the series or not. If I go out for a meal and the chef burns my food, I’m going to have it returned and I can promise you that I wouldn’t pay full price for a new one. Apparently this is what we are expected to do with this release.

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