Where its predecessor was a cute, old-fashioned adventure cut along the same lines as classics from the genre's golden age, Return to Mysterious Island 2 is cliched and annoying. Kheops Studio seems to be trying too hard in every possible way, turning your island environs into one great big pixel hunt that leads to outlandish and illogical puzzles. Toss in some outrageous advertisements along with some rough edges and a few bugs, and you've got one of the most disappointing sequels of the year so far.
The letdowns start with the phoned-in plot. Return to Mysterious Island 2 (er, shouldn't this really be Return to Return to Mysterious Island?) kicks off at the conclusion of the last game. Sort of. The big helicopter rescue that looked to be spiriting plucky heroine Mina and her monkey sidekick, Jep, away from this deadly island didn't turn out too well. Even though it appeared as if the two were flying off into the sunset, the escape was aborted at the last second by the island's pesky volcano. It erupted into life at the worst possible moment, knocking the chopper out of the sky and altering the island terrain by causing the lake to overflow. So this weird tropical paradise that was once home to Captain Nemo and his famous submarine, the Nautilus, has been changed around so that you're not simply exploring the same old locations. Your objectives have changed a little, too. Instead of just trying to get off the island, you're also trying to save it, which leads to an interesting choice at the conclusion.
But too many of the challenges are flat-out ludicrous. Aside from a few set-piece braintwisters involving the usual suspects, such as fixing circuit boards and solving basic math problems, almost all of the game deals with done-to-death inventory puzzles. You know the drill--you've got to gather everything that isn't nailed down, no matter how ridiculous it might seem, because you know you're going to need all this stuff at some point in the near or distant future. It's an adventure game, so you have to pick up snake skins, sticks, coconut shells, steel cables, chalk, fish, gasoline cans, and so forth. Your inventory is packed with so much trash that it's like somebody dumped a garbage can out on your desk. Most items are at least used in a logical way eventually. Hauling around all that clay, for instance, comes in handy when you find a kiln. Grabbing a big blade of grass is helpful later on when you need to scoop up some ants. And so on. Still, Kheops never even tries to hide the game mechanics with an excuse as to why you're playing as a kleptomaniac. So you feel like you're just going through the motions in a generic point-and-click adventure game.
Far more absurdities arise while you're playing as Jep, a monkey so smart that he could probably solve America's health-care problems. It wouldn't be so bad if this magic primate pulled off the odd implausible trick, but he does everything short of brain surgery here. He can't combine objects, although that doesn't matter much because he can do almost everything else. Jep figures out how to inflate a life vest and unbuckle a seat belt when Mina is trapped in the helicopter underwater at the start of the game. Jep somehow knows what plants to gather in the jungle to cleanse an infected gash on Mina's leg, and also how to collect and deploy carnivorous ants to act as stitches (don't ask) to close up this wound. Jep realizes that he needs to cover himself in mud to be able to grab the hornet's nest required to chase off a jaguar threatening Mina. And this is just in the first hour or so of the game. Later on, Jep negotiates truces with monkeys, plays jaunty tunes on an ocarina, and completes various other tasks that you would have a tough time dealing with yourself in real life. It's truly crazy, if admittedly kind of cute when you're not laughing at the impossibility of these stunts. Or at the inventory that Jep somehow manages to haul around, seeing as he's always got enough stuff on hand to fill a U-Haul. At least Jep is easier to take as a character than Mina. Her lines are corny and terribly acted, whereas the simian sidekick charismatically coos like a movie monkey and stars in attractive comic-book cutscenes that liven up the otherwise bland 3D visuals.
Finally, there are some noteworthy tech problems. Random crashes are relatively common, and exiting the game almost always causes your system to lock, forcing a Windows reset. Graphic tears and blurs are another irritant. The top part of the screen often blurs as though you're looking through a kaleidoscope. Loading times are extremely long between screens. These pauses often run upward of 10 seconds, into that dead zone where you start thinking that a game has crashed. So forget about trying to play the game if you have a system anywhere close to the recommended specs. It's hard to imagine a PIII 800 with 128MB of RAM running this one at anything smoother than slide-show speeds. But at least the game works well enough where the ads are concerned. Yes, there are advertisements even on this deserted island, and they are every bit as obnoxious as you might imagine. One moment you're bungling in the jungle with Jep, and the next you're staring at an iPhone that has popped up out of nowhere. You can't use it, either. It just appears on the side of the screen, sticks around for a little bit, then vanishes. This icon actually indicates that you can port a puzzle out of the PC game to solve on the go with your iPhone, although if you don't own Apple's latest must-have device, this comes off as nothing but an out-of-the-blue product placement.
Any way you look at it, Return to Mysterious Island 2 is a tremendous disappointment. Where the first game was a nostalgic treat reminiscent of old Sierra and LucasArts adventure classics, this follow-up is a lazy and uninspired collection of cliches.