There is a reason for the change, of course. It isn’t just Mina and Jep at risk, it seems, as the island itself continues to be jeopardized by volcanic explosions and a mysterious green gas now threatens to envelop the local flora and fauna. Fortuitously, cryptic clues left behind by previous inhabitants tell of a hidden island base with thin ties to the Nautilus and the famous Captain Nemo that may hold the solution. So far, it all sounds rather similar to the first game, but that’s when you step into the Twilight Zone. Or at least, the next-best-Vernian thing, by means of a magical plant, a mystical force field, and an underground complex guarded by hostile monkeys, hi-tech machines, and an alien intelligence that not only links to the first RTMI, but also to Kheops’ own Voyage (or Journey to the Moon). That may sound like a colossal spoiler, but it’s little more than a plot device here to keep things moving in increasingly surreal ways. Having finished the game, I’m still not sure I understand the mind-boggling jumps the story takes, and while I appreciate the desire to interweave strands of multiple games, personally I found the sci-fi connection such an unnecessary stretch that it’s a detriment to this one.
On the other hand, the danger to the island does offer a perfect opportunity to show off the degradation visually. The lovely, if somewhat restricted, lush locations undergo an unpleasant transformation, with discoloured plants wilting, and small animals languishing, even dying. As with the first game, all this is depicted from a first-person, spin-o-rama perspective, navigated node to node by clicking directional cursors. Hardly cutting-edge stuff, but the simple style serves the game well, and the artists have done a nice job of rendering scenes both new and old, from beaches to clifftops, from subterranean caverns to the ocean floor, with stops at such locations as a windmill, a kiln, and other makeshift workshops. Ambient animations are limited, but there’s just enough cloud drift or lapping water to register activity, along with a few indigenous creatures, like a stranded giant sea turtle and coiled snakes ready to strike. Like its predecessor, RTMI2 has no lengthy video cinematics, relying instead on comic-like panels (now fully coloured) to convey important story points. I’d still have preferred a meaty opening cutscene and a rewarding finale to really punctuate the experience, but this is certainly an acceptable alternative.
What the game does show is… Mina! All but invisible as the sole playable protagonist last time, here she’s much more noticeable whenever you control Jep. But only to a point. Sadly, when playing as both characters together, you never see the other (except in an onscreen icon showing which character you currently control), and when playing only one, the second character will stay where you left them rather than follow you around. This forces you to backtrack to their position to rejoin them later, or you can access a quick-travel shortcut from the menu. Their few interactions when together are certainly worth exploring, so it’s a shame that corners were cut in this area, as I often forgot the other was with me (or wasn’t with me) for long stretches, rather negating the benefit of a dual-character adventure. Strangely, one of the few repeated character animations shows Jep “giving” items to others. This would be admirable, if not for the fact that his hand is always empty. I can willingly suspend disbelief of a monkey carrying literally dozens of items, from 21-foot wooden poles to lit fires to raw fish, but it’s probably best not to dispel the illusion so brazenly.
On the audio front, the game is also fairly sparse. Its light instrumental music is pleasant but plays only occasionally, while ambient sounds are quite suitable for the tropical setting. You wouldn’t expect a lot of voice acting from a game on a deserted island, and indeed there isn’t much, but what we do get is rock solid. Mina’s voice actress reprises her role from the first game, and while Jep is limited to a bunch of simian sounds, he’s remarkably endearing. If I had to be stuck on an island, I’d want Jep with me. Which is good, because as the story progresses, his welfare becomes inextricably linked to both your progress and your decisions, so your attitude towards him is an integral motivating factor. I’d go so far as to say that several scenes late in the game are downright poignant.
You should reach that point somewhere in the area of 10-15 hours into the game. Most games don’t require a range quite that broad, but so much of RTMI2’s gameplay comes in the form of optional activities that can significantly alter your play time. Other than, you know… for fun, there doesn’t seem to be much payoff for pursuing the extra tasks beyond a point system that rewards ambitious solutions. Even that is somewhat downplayed, however, by the fact that your score is accessible only through the inventory, and it’s never clear what actions will yield how many points, or what the maximum total is to compare your progress. There are ways to lose points as well, such as accessing the help system with the minigames, proving once again that there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
While monitoring your score, you’ll see the rest of what the interface has to offer, which should be instantly familiar to any Kheops fan. There’s a distinct inventory-combination section, a “transit” area for new item acquisitions (which continues to be more trouble than it’s worth), player character icons that can be interacted with directly, and menu options to read dialogue transcripts and documents and check your current goals. The latter proves something of a disappointment, mainly listing very general headings that add little insight to the actual tasks before you.
At the end of the day, Return to Mysterious Island 2 falls a little short of the expectations created by its acclaimed predecessor. For the most part, however, that’s not because of anything the sequel does wrong so much as certain aspects that simply weren’t handled as well as they might. When the game maintains its focus on adventurer-in-real-world scenarios, combined with a lightly touching relationship between the two protagonists, it’s a charming, often engaging experience that’s capably supported by its modest but pleasing presentation. A few too many minigames and contrived obstacles, along with a storyline that falls rather absurdly into science fiction trappings, contribute to an uneven experience overall, though there’s nothing here to discourage players completely. And for fans of the original, its budget price makes it well worth picking up. So go ahead: it’s good practice for the resourceful collecting you could and should be doing soon in your attempt to determine Mina’s Fate.
Note: The version reviewed did not contain the iPhone integration featured in later releases, and its functionality was not factored into the assessment.