Long before J.J. Abrams' grandmother was even a twinkle in her father’s eye, Jules Verne was weaving his own tale of shipwreck and intrigue in the novel ‘The Mysterious Island’. Set after the events of the book and following the exploits of a young castaway named Mina, ‘The Return to Mysterious Island’ is like an unofficial video game sequel to Verne’s 1874 novel.
Originally seen on the PC back in 2004, The Return to Mysterious Island (or RTMI) has had a complete UI overhaul for its handheld debut on Apple's iDevice. Weighing in at a hefty 256mb, it’s one of the largest downloads available from the app store and with good reason. The game is spread out over hundreds of pre-rendered scenes that can be explored in full 360-degree orientation with just a swipe of a finger. As well as the impressive visuals there is also a hefty chunk of audio monologue as well as a whole host of ambient background noises and music.
Cut from the same cloth as games like Myst and Riven, RTMI presents you with the basic understanding of the menu and movement interfaces before hastily leaving the party and letting you get on with it. There is very little to guide you through the relatively open ended environment of the mysterious island and the real bones of the gameplay come from just exploring your new home and working out ways to overcome the often subtly placed puzzle elements. In a similar way to the old LucasArts point and clicks of the early 90s, objects can be picked up and combined to create useful items for overcoming certain situations. Since there is often a distorted logic to these item combos, a lot of your time with RTMI will be spent in the menu screen desperately mashing together knife and wood in an attempt to fashion the tools needed to progress Mina’s story.
Of course this semi-frustrating object management would all be for nothing if RTMI’s plot was held together as shoddily as your stick/vine/thorn-combo fishing rod. Thankfully the story elements are truly engaging and, although not quite on par with the literary subject matter, provide a wonderful vessel to keep you coming back even after the puzzle elements have got the better of you. The biggest downfall of RTMI comes in the form of the single 20 seconds or so of audio that’s looped continuously throughout the game. In an adventure that inspires hours of play at a time, hearing the same panpipe jingle over and over again borders on ruining the experience completely.
Overall RTMI is an impressive package indeed. The narrative is deep and engaging and there isn’t anything currently in the App store (bar maybe Myst) with a story as intelligently delivered.