Even when adventure games were in their heyday, they tended to suffer from the same problem: Their puzzles could be solved just by systematically clicking on everything in your inventory. Worse, that was often the best way to go about playing them, because the puzzles made absolutely no sense. Why does playing Toccata and Fugue in D Minor backwards on these wind chimes open this door? Because it does. Return to Mysterious Island 2 is a refreshing antidote to such left-field logic, grounding many of its conundrums in real-world common sense. It also lets you play as a monkey, which is pretty damn cool all by itself.
In the first Return to Mysterious Island, you played as Mina, who crash-landed on an island that didn't show up on any charts and that turned out to be the final home of Captain Nemo. Yes, that Captain Nemo - the game is loosely based on the events of the novel The Mysterious Island, by Jules Verne. During the course of the game, Mina found Nemo's home, Granite House, his sub, The Nautilus, and made pals with a local monkey she named Jep. The sequel picks up right where the original left off, with Mina and Jep being rescued by a helicopter, which is unfortunately shot down mere moments after Mina climbs aboard. So here you are, back on the island, trying to find yet another way home.
Mysterious Island 2 is a classic adventure game, so expect to spend the bulk of your time exploring your surroundings, picking up anything that isn't nailed down, and solving lots of puzzles. This definitely isn't point-and-click by numbers, though. For starters, most items you obtain have more than one use, and the game won't stop you from using something in a way other than its "true" purpose. The carnivorous ants you use to sew up Mina's cut, for example, also make a tasty snack for Jep, so if you decide to feed him before tending to Mina's wounds, oh, well, I guess you're just going to have to get some more ants. Don't worry - the game won't let you misuse anything that's truly irreplaceable - but you won't get far just randomly clicking on your inventory.
You take turns playing as both Mina and Jep. Both can pick up items, but only Jep can communicate with the many other monkeys you'll find on the island. He can employ many different methods, like grooming, begging for gifts, or playing on an ocarina (ok, so not everything in the game is realistic), but the same approach won't work for every monkey. Some are aggressive, some are friendly, others couldn't care much less. Figuring out how to get through to them is one of the more interesting and unusual puzzles you'll encounter as the game progresses. He can also sniff out items that might escape Mina's notice, and of course climb trees.
While you might be wondering why you'd ever not want to play as the monkey (it really is pretty damn cool), Jep has two major failings: He can't read, and he can only perform relatively basic tasks. For higher-reasoning type activities, you need Mina. She can communicate with the robots Nemo left behind, read maps, and most importantly, use tools. Some items you find can be deconstructed into their component pieces, like a steel cable that can be pulled apart, or an envelope that can be opened. Others can be combined to make more complex objects, and this is where Mysterious Island 2 becomes most satisfying. Applying a bit of real-world common sense to the objects in your inventory will frequently point the way to solving a puzzle or problem. If you're hungry, but have a pole, a string, a hook and some worms, it shouldn't take long for you to realize that you're just a few moments away from going fishing. Of course, that pole you've turned into a fishing rod might also come in handy for something else. Flexible thinking about how you can repurpose items is a major part of Mysterious Island 2's gameplay.
Return to Mysterious Island 2 also sports an intriguing feature for those of you with iPhones. Certain puzzles can be downloaded to your iPhone, played on it, then resynchronized with the game. Unfortunately, the instructions for how to do it were entirely in French, so I'm not sure how well it works. For that matter, I don't have an iPhone. But the idea is a good one, and it may be a solid step toward making adventure games feel more vital to a new audience.
Bottom Line: Return to Mysterious Island 2 is a good looking, old school adventure game that's devious and tricky, but never unfair. If you're a fan of the genre, you'll appreciate its braininess and grounding in the real world.
Recommendation: At least give the demo a try. If you do like some old-school pointing and clicking, you may even want to start with the first Mysterious Island which is also excellent, and sets the stage for the sequel.
Susan Arendt kept drowning Jep in the lake, but she swears it wasn't on purpose.