My first experience with Mina’s adventures, which are loosely based on the stories of Jules Verne, was with Return To Mysterious Island on a Windows Mobile device. It was one of my favorite portable adventure games, and the iPhone version proved to be an even slightly better experience. Imagine my delight, then, when I found out that there was going to be a sequel on the iPhone. I couldn’t wait for this game to come out, and now that I have it I’m not quite as excited. It’s nice to be back in Mina and Jep’s life again, but I’m not finding this adventure quite as engaging as the first time around. I also still don’t see some much needed tweaks to the game engine from the first time around. Still, Secrets Of Mysterious Island should provide some thoughtful game time for true adventure gamers. As a bit of advance warning, there might be a spoiler or two in this review, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
The game literally starts out right where the last one left off. That doesn’t mean you need to have played the first one to enjoy this one, but it does mean you might want to shy away from this one if you’re planning on playing the first one as well. Mina and Jep have just been rescued from the island, but as the helicopter is flying away it gets shot down into the ocean. Now it’s back to the island and figuring out what’s going on this time around. What’s interesting this time around is that you actually start off by playing Jep, and throughout the game you will have the opportunity to play as both characters separately as well as the chance to solve puzzles that require both of their talents. The only bad thing about this is that the viewpoint doesn’t seem any different whether you’re playing Jep or Mina, so the only real way to tell is by looking in the inventory screen to see who the primary character is.
To move around in the beautiful world of the mysterious island you can drag your finger around the screen to look around at your panoramic view. This is really important, because the game does have a 360 degree playing field, and there will be objects scattered everywhere that need to be picked up. If something can be picked up it will have a little hand flashing on top of it. If something can be interacted with it will have a gear flashing on it. To pick up / interact with objects simply click on the appropriate symbol. Sometimes you might need to have an object from your inventory “active” in order to complete the required action. To do this you enter your inventory and drag the item you wish you use from its inventory slot to the Auto slot. If you can successfully complete the action (pick up or interact) then you’ll get some kind of notification that you were successful. Unfortunately, you won’t always get a message explaining what the game is looking for if you’re not successful. This is a shame, because there is so much inventory in this game that it’s often hard to determine what items are needed to solve a particular puzzle.
To actually move from location to location you click arrows that show up when there is an available path to take. This is another thing that I was hoping they’d improve from the first time around. Between the panoramic view and the fact that a path doesn’t necessarily look the same in both directions, it’s quite easy to get lost in this game. It would be really nice if there were at least some indication of where you had come from. Even better, some sort of crude map would be nice. I’d much rather have a concise, quick game that feels like it jumps from puzzle to puzzle than a game that’s long only because it takes so much time to remember where everything is at.
The inventory is still one of the highlights of the Mysterious Island sagas. The sheer amount of items you can collect is a bit overwhelming, but that just means that there’s a lot to do, because you won’t find much waste in this inventory. Like the first installment, the cool part of the inventory is that you’ll often have to combine several items to make something more useful to the task at hand. What sets this apart from other games that use this system, however, is that you can take items back apart and then use certain components from that item to build other items. There are also some puzzles that you can solve with more than one combination of items. Overall it’s a rich inventory system that pretty much goes unrivaled in the adventure game arena, at least where mobile games are concerned.
I’d almost have to do a side by side play to compare, but I feel like the graphics have actually been kicked up a notch in Secrets. It’s not that they weren’t already gorgeous the first time around, but they are just astounding in this game. Everything is pre-rendered 3D goodness that just drips with details. The characters are well animated, and there are places where the background is animated as well. This is one area that could use a little improvement, however. While I think there’s more background animation in this installment of the series, the world still seems a bit lifeless. The one thing that is not 3D rendered is the cut scenes, which appear every now and again to help tell bits and pieces of the tale. These scenes are very nicely drawn, and I really wish there were more of them.
Much like part one, the sound effects are a bit lacking in Secrets. It’s especially disappointing given that you’re on a tropical island, which should be a great background for some decent atmospheric noises. What is there is fine, and the person that does the voice of Mina sounds good, so at least that’s a plus. The music is actually very well done and it seems that the lag and choppiness that was present the first time around is gone in this game.
Overall Secrets Of Mysterious Island is a worthy successor, and in some ways even surpasses, Return To Mysterious Island. The plot is intriguing, the graphics are outstanding, and the inventory system is among the best adventure games have to offer. Add to that the fact that you get to play as both Mina and Jep, and you have one excellent adventure on your hands. Unfortunately, much of the same baggage that existed in the first game came along for the ride here as well. Fortunately this is still among the cream of the crop for iPhone adventures, but I’m going to have to start being a bit tougher if the developers can’t get this navigation thing worked out for future adventure games. I want to spend my time solving puzzles, not visiting the same location over and over again because I’m lost. In the immortal words of Clark Grizwold, “Hey look kids, there's Big Ben, and there's Parliament…”