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The introduction of Mina’s monkey sidekick Jep turns out to be a stroke of design genius. Mina finds young Jep severely injured and nurses him back to health, after which they become inseparable. Rather than being an artificial and sappy character injection, Jep proves to be absolutely vital in overcoming numerous challenges Mina confronts: he can undertake tasks in remote locations, collect hard-to-get objects, and utilize various items from your inventory. Equally important, Jep provides a companion to Mina, who otherwise would be quite lonely, and a real emotional connection develops.
The puzzles in Return to Mysterious Island involve the most creative possibilities for inventory combination I have ever seen in a virtual adventure (the only title even close is Tivola’s Chemicus: Journey to the Other Side). The designers obviously went overboard to make sure that you collect a ton of items (not all of which you may end up using) and can try a huge variety of different combinations in order to solve the challenges you face. Unlike other similar offerings, you often combine several items together (in a designated assembly area) – not just a couple – to achieve your desired goal. When you combine items, you frequently create an entirely new substance, and you can also disassemble your creations back into their component parts. This feature encourages inventive experimentation, without a feeling that only one predetermined combination will work (so if you missed an item a ways back you may be able to find a substitute), since many of the puzzles have more than one solution and different combinations may produce the same result.
All of the puzzles, regardless of whether or not they are inventory based, fit logically into the story. The non-inventory puzzles include the usual range of deciphering messages with activating and fixing equipment. Some challenges, like having to use arcade action skills to get a group of hostile monkeys to stop throwing rocks at you, can be a bit exasperating in the context of this type of offering. Plus, some time-pressured puzzles threaten to break the deliberate exploratory pace of the gameplay. However, none of the challenges are unfair, and if you fail to solve a time-based puzzle in time you automatically get to try again from the start without penalties or tedious backtracking.
Return to Mysterious Island features a bonus point system that is quite different from what is typical in most virtual adventures. You receive bonus points for collecting inventory items, combining existing items to create new objects, and solving puzzles. Each time you earn 100 points, a special Pictures Gallery has bonus images added to it. This serves to provide a real incentive to be careful and exhaustive in one’s play experience, rather than just trying to race through. When you finish, you see your final score, and there is even the possibility of replaying the offering with different strategies to see if you can improve.
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