Return To Mysterious Island 2 has a rather deceptive name. You see, Mina (the feisty castaway from the first game) never actually made it off her paradise prison. This sequel picks up exactly where the first one ends, with a rescue copter lifting her and her monkey pal Jep to safety - or so you think. Mere seconds later, a fiery missile brings the copter crashing down into the foamy seas. The pilot cops it, Mina’s knocked out cold, and the charred wreckage is stuck on the sea bed and quickly filling with ice cold sea water. As far as escapes go, this one’s right up there with Steve McQueen crashing head-first into a wall of barbed wire.
When Mina and Jep finally fight their way free of the wreck, they find themselves washed up back on the island. Mina must recover her strength and patch up her wounds, then work out just what it was that shot the copter down before another rescue party meets the same fate. Fans of the original will probably be hit by a serious case of déjà-vu at this point, as the gameplay and starting locations are mostly unchanged. As before, you can look freely around the environment using the mouse, and move in a set direction or examine an object with a simple left-click. Many remnants from Mina's previous exploits are still strewn around the landscape, including a busted robot which comes in very handy later on.
Puzzles and challenges in particular remain incredibly faithful to the first game. Return To Mysterious Island is all about survival, which gives a refreshingly realistic feel to the gameplay (with the exception of the occasional foray into science fiction). Mina and Jep’s health and energy levels decrease over time, and can only be refilled by obvious means - foraging for food, creating medicinal broths, and so on. The solutions are almost always logical, so you won’t find yourself combining a rubber duck and a hairpin in order to create a rocket launcher. Developers Kheops Studios have also cleverly designed the game so many puzzles have multiple solutions. This eliminates the common problem of mind-numbing pixel-hunting, which usually punishes the player for missing some tiny object that blends into the background.
Your main enemy in Mysterious Island 2 - much to the delight of jeep owners and frequent flyers - is the environment itself. Volcanic lakes, deep rivers and insect-infested forests will all make you very glad that in real life, you’re sat in a comfy chair with a nice cold coke and a bowl of Cheesy Wotsits. However, at times you do have to wonder if Mina and Jep are really taking their rather grim situation seriously. For instance, they may be half-starved and trapped in a creaky old windmill while a grouchy jaguar patrols outside, yet they’ll refuse to eat more than one type of any particular food because they’re ‘bored of it’. In another case, Jep had just risked life and limb to fix up Mina’s injuries and bring her some food, yet she refused to let him onto her shoulder because he was ‘a bit dirty’. Well, there’s gratitude for you. Next time, Miss Lah-de-dah, we’ll just leave you to die in a pool of your own blood, while we parade around your still-twitching corpse.
Speaking of Jep, his involvement in this game provides one of the few updates over the previous title. He’s now included as a playable character, so you can take full control of him at set points. This is more than just a gimmick, as his small frame and natural simian abilities allow him to climb up trees and squeeze into nooks that Mina can’t feasibly reach. Jep’s controls are identical to Mina’s and he somehow has access to her entire inventory (quite where a monkey hides a full-sized rifle, or a bunch of oranges, I don’t really wish to know). However, he can also communicate with fellow monkeys to either befriend them or bully them, and sniff out particular items of interest. Sadly, there isn’t an option to throw your poo at anything.
Another small change in gameplay is the addition of a number of simple minigames. Interestingly, these can also be downloaded onto an iPhone or iPod Touch, and played on the go. It’s a unique concept, although the games themselves are only minor distractions - clicking on a number of ants as they scurry around, for instance. An easy mode is included for when your patience wears thin.
While the graphics are fantastically atmospheric, and backed up with some excellent speech and sound effects, the game requires very little in terms of hardware to run smoothly. The official system specs ask only for a 1.6GHz processor and a measly 256MB RAM. Combined with the simple controls, this is definitely a perfect laptop game.
Return To Mysterious Island 2 may play it safe and give gamers more of the same, but the first was an excellent adventure so it’s by no means a bad thing. Think of this game as a continuation instead of a sequel. That said, anyone who hasn’t played the original won’t be too confused by the events of the second. Some story elements and characters make a return, but Mysterious Island 2 helpfully includes a brief recap of the first game’s plot and works just fine as a standalone game. Of course, with the first title available for download through Microids’ website, there’s no excuse to not play that one first.