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Review by: Bob Mandel
Published: December 13, 2004
Many of us have dreamt of being stranded on a remote island. From book classics like Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson, and The Island of Doctor Moreau to modern reincarnations like the movie Castaway, plus the television series Lost and Survivor, the sense of uncertain adventure, with the urgency of survival, makes for riveting possibilities. Perhaps the most compelling story of all along these lines was presented in Jules Verne’s fabulous novel The Mysterious Island, a sequel first published in 1875 to his more famous 20,000 Leagues under the Sea. Now the French developer Kheops Studio has fashioned a new version of this tale entitled Return to Mysterious Island.
This new game maintains the spirit of the book but presents some distinct differences. In the Jules Verne novel, which takes place during the American Civil War, a few Confederate prison escapees traveling in a hot air balloon go off-course, and end up landing in an unknown tropical South Pacific island. They then receive unexpected assistance from Captain Nemo and his submarine Nautilus before a volcanic eruption destroys the island. In contrast, Return to Mysterious Island assumes that the island never exploded, that the fate of Captain Nemo and the Nautilus is still uncertain; and that the sole castaway is a woman named Mina, who while sailing alone around the world is caught in a storm, is thrown overboard, and washes up on the island. As expected, when you find yourself stuck on a remote deserted spot, you are not in the best of shape. Mina begins exhausted from her ordeal and immediately needs sustenance and warmth – finding food and lighting a fire is not as easy as it might first appear. One striking similarity between both the game and the novel is that those on the island realize that to survive it is imperative to unlock the island’s mysteries.
Playing the role of Mina, once you regain your stamina you can wander around the island to your heart’s content. You explore many different settings within a rather small environment, including the beach, plateau, stone arch area, and lake area. It is very exciting that you get to see several locations from the novel, including the Granite House, the kiln, and the windmill, plus learn a great deal about the history of the island. Best of all, you get to see the submarine Nautilus. Although the locale is restricted to the one island, it is full of interesting nooks and crannies, with extremely diverse topography, and strange hot springs, caves, manmade structures, flora and fauna. Much of what you find is dilapidated and needs fixing, providing extra challenges.
Mina is a fascinating and resourceful young heroine. She is both spunky and scientific, and constantly chatters about her discoveries and stumbling blocks. She clearly is at home in nature and shows compassion for animals. Sometimes her comments helpfully provide useful clues about what you need to do to overcome obstacles. She has a phone, but it generally does not play a pivotal role in the game. Although the emphasis here is not on character interaction (you do not learn a great deal about Mina’s background or personal relationships), and a sense of humor is not noticeably evident, you cannot help but develop a sense of admiration for her stalwart, resolute determination to figure everything out in an inhospitable, unpredictable environment.
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