A Not So Haunted House
Not long ago, a powerful magician chanced upon a magical artifact known as the Mystic Diary. Its effects were unknown, but it was believed that by using it, one could unlock ultimate power. No one knows if it truly exists, or what happened to the magician, but the house he inhabited has since become abandoned. Worse, that house is also said to be haunted.
So ever the curious mind, you make your way over there…and discover that the rumors are only half-true. There are indeed ghosts of a sort haunting the house, but they’re not necessarily dead, just…trapped. And now it’s up to you to save them, and maybe put a stop to the magician’s plans in the process…for a respectable fee, of course.
That’s the story of Haunted Island, the second entry of the Mystic Diary series. If it sounds trite and cliché to you, well…it is. We got a faceless protagonist, a mystery to solve, and a haunted house filled with ghosts, all common mainstays in the hidden object adventure genre.
To its credit, the style is in absolutely no way horrific, instead aiming for a more whimsical feel. But in some ways, it’s not any better, because there just doesn’t seem to be much in the way of conflict. The spirits you encounter in no way act all that distraught or even annoyed about their predicament. If anything, they’re quite cheerful and easygoing.
The saving grace to the plot is that it can be funny at times. Both the ghosts and the player character display a wry wit. But overall, nothing about Haunted Island’s story is ever going to grab you.
Looks a Little Mundane
The graphics of Haunted Island are sharp and detailed, as should be expected. Everything looks as it should. They’re not the most vibrant and fantastic-looking things out there, but…well, that’s exactly it. There are a few nice touches to the graphics and effects; every time you read a new entry in your journal, for instance, you get treated to an animation of a quill writing it down on the latest page. But like the rather ho-hum story, little about the visuals is going to wow you.
Music is much the same. It fits the setting, it is easy enough on the ears to not be annoying, but is otherwise completely forgettable.
Some Old, Some New
If you’ve played your fair share of adventure HOGs, little about Haunted Island is going to surprise you. But that isn’t to say it’s necessarily all bad or even bad at all. Hidden object sequences are done well enough, even if they are the usual assortment of random items strewn about in odd locations with little rhyme, reason or context. They are surprisingly more difficult to complete than those found in other games, though that can often be attributed to the size of the objects you’re tasked to find, which can be really small.
Annoyingly, we sometimes get put through searching the same location at least twice, but fortunately, the developers were smart enough to make sure there are no doubles. Never once will you ever have to look for the exact same item in a HOG twice, so kudos to Haunted Island for that.
Good Mini Games To Challenge you
Minigames compose the other half of the equation, and they do the job competently enough. One nice thing about Haunted Island is that while its general style may be generic, a lot of its puzzles are most certainly not. There are a lot of coded messages to work out, and even some that require drawing with your mouse. And even those that are typical do things to make them harder than the equivalent found in most other games.
One example is an early jigsaw puzzle; it has a lot of pieces that come in the form of randomly torn pieces of paper, so figuring out how they fit together isn’t immediately obvious. But what’s more is that they have to be rotated as well, making the whole thing even tougher. It’ll take a decent amount of time and good attention to detail to pass it.
Sadly, not everything comes together as well as it should. Take the aforementioned drawing minigame. Sounds cool right? Unfortunately, it’s incredibly strict in how accurate it wants the symbol to be, turning what should be a simple task into an exercise in frustration. Another one involves lining some concentric circles up so that an image printed on them shows correctly; solving it should be easy enough, except it’s not obvious how said image needs to be oriented to be accepted by the game.
Interesting Hint System
If Haunted Island does succeed where others fail, it’s in the myriad of ways it assists the player. The first of which is the Goals button, which brings up a little checklist of what you need to strive for at the moment. It’s not quite as in depth as it could be, but it’s a nice way to remind yourself of what exactly you need to do, and where you’re supposed to go.
The regular hint button is still present, ready to highlight a random item in a hidden object segment for you at any time. However, the way it gives out other hints is much different than what you’re probably used to right now. Rather than tell you where you need to go, it shows you the place where a specific item in your inventory of your choice is supposed to be used. It’s…actually pretty interesting and works fairly well, especially since not all the items’ functions are all that obvious. You still have to take care when using your hints, because the length of time needed for them to recharge is pretty long.
Ultimately, is Mystic Diary: Haunted Island a bad game? No, not at all. Its HOGs are a little tougher than usual, and it tries to do a few new things now and then. Sometimes it hits, sometimes it misses. And though the misses can be annoying, they don’t bring the whole game down that much.
Conclusion - Not Bad, But There's Better Available
It’s just…it doesn’t do a whole lot to stand out from the crowd, and neither the story nor general style of the game is going to stick with anyone for any length of time. Haunted Island’s a pretty average game all around. If you’ve played absolutely everything else out there and are still bored, it might be worth your time, but there are many more interesting things to find out there.
Review by David Galvin
Dave Galvin is a freelance writer and avid gamer. Somehow, he managed to find a way to combine the two passions.
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