The Dink Network

Mystery Island

January 7th, 2017
v1.01
Score : 6.7 fair
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Peasant Female Australia steam
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Mystery Island was included with the Freeware release of Dink Smallwood that I first played in the year 2000. It's intended to be a sequel to the main game, but really has little in common with it in terms of storyline and gameplay. It opts for a different play style and adds some new and unique scripting techniques and engine features which make it very different to the original game. For a better understanding of the design and development process I highly recommend reading "The Making of Mystery Island" as it explains in detail the planing process they used which involved writing the scripts before actually designing the maps. Unfortunately their planning process didn't prevent a variety of flaws (with several of them game-breaking) from ending up in the final product.

The game itself starts of with the usual RTSoft sense of humour in the form of the punchable decorative dragons, but soon after goes straight downhill. Upon talking to the king and selecting the "wrong" option, you'll be blasted with a WAV file that sounds vaguely like a marimba playing a sequence in a minor key along with seeing a pop-up box that tells you that the game has ended. Anyone who is intent on playing this game to the end will soon become very well acquainted with this sound due to the many "trap" choices throughout and will probably come to hate it.

Upon boarding the ship and beginning the adventure, the player will see one of the many 3D pre-rendered stills that are scattered throughout the game. They'll also hear one of the game's MIDIs which are all original compositions. The soundtrack and the new graphics almost manage to redeem Mystery Island and make it feel much more professional when compared to its predecessor but unfortunately many will give up before they get to hear and see all of them due to the sheer frustration of playing.

From here, the player is forced into several different "arcade-style" sequences before they find themselves at the island. These sound like great fun, but they really only exist to annoy the player and draw out the game, as one's success in them is almost entirely random. When I first played, I assumed there was some sort of pattern or consistency to the "Cave of Terror", but only learned much later that it was entirely random with a 50% chance of passing it, with one's choice being largely irrelevant. The "puke" sequence is thankfully much more transparent in terms of what to do, but unfortunately in many cases just as random as your shipmates unhelpfully run to opposite corners of the deck, causing you to lose when there are more than 9 active pukes for some inexplicable reason. The shark sequence is the only one that involves skill but not very much of it. It also makes zero sense that you'd go back to the Cave of Terror over and over again and these sorts of glaring oversights are distracting and cheapen the experience.

The only redeeming part of this section is the hilarious shipmate banter, and I recommend all players talk to the crew after every arcade sequence as it almost makes up for how terrible the rest of it is. Unfortunately there isn't very much of it and soon afterwards, you're dumped onto the island and must traverse through one of the most notoriously irritating bits of Dink modding ever, namely the camera section.

It is commonly known that the camera destruction sequence is one of the most poorly regarded DMOD plot devices of all time, simply because at release many PCs couldn't handle it due to the Dink engine's timing being reliant on the speed of the user's CPU. As such, many people around the world collectively wasted thousands of hours attempting to traverse this shoddy bit of game design only to find out later that it was more or less impossible for them to get past it without either a cheat script or a faster PC. Thankfully, if the player manages to destroy them all, they'll find the rest of the game to be rather straightforward for the most part, assuming they can figure out what the hell to do.

Despite the relative simplicity of the post-camera end-game section, there is very little assistance provided to the player in terms of figuring out what to do next. The girl who is supposed to assist you provides vague hints from time to time but that's all you're given. There's also the possibility of making it unwinnable if one accidentally kills the duck or attempts to fight the endless robots, along with various other niggles such as being able to trigger the camera sequence while being a duck. For the player to heal, they must find the incredibly obscure burping tree or hope that the rather strong enemies drop enough hearts. All of these little things add up and overshadow RTSoft's attempts to innovate and develop an alternate and fresh D-Mod style. Dink's commentary of the state of the various houses and his responses upon hitting things almost make up for this lack of effective story development but mostly fall short.

If Seth and the other devs had decided to fix some of Dink's glaring gameplay flaws first as part of their vaguely methodological approach and been more stringent in their bug testing, they could have produced something truly unique and remarkable. Instead, all they did was build upon the flaws present in Dink and add a few more new ones to create a largely unrewarding experience that is occasionally funny, along with some nice graphics and music here and there. At least the credits look cool.