First released in 1994, Myst is a point-and-click brain-bender of an adventure game that began a rich tradition of cruelly difficult puzzlers. Upon release, the title was famous for putting the player into the main character's shoes and challenging you to explore, effectively dropping you on an island with no instructions about what to do.
Myst follows the tradition of Infocom's text-based games, where you're placed in a unique world, told bits and pieces about it through objects left around the environment, and expected to scrape together a solution from the supplied materials. Unlike most text-based exploration games, you can no longer rely on a plethora of instruments and inventory to help you. All you have on the pre-rendered island of Myst is your mouse arrow and burning curiosity.
The DS version introduces a few new tools at the bottom of your screen in addition to your single inventory slot. You're given a magnifying glass to read the terrifyingly small and blurry text scattered throughout the game, a one-shot camera to record one (and only one) important image, and a notepad to jot down hints and clues to help you solve future puzzles. OK, you're actually given a notepad icon that leads to a useless keyboard interface for taking notes. This keyboard is so incomplete that I found myself unable to jot down a time properly because it didn't have a key for a colon or semi-colon. I had to find scraps of paper around the house to jot down useful notes to get through the game. There is also one map per every area or "Age" you visit, which displays on the top screen and cannot be zoomed in. Besides these few things at your disposal, you're completely on your own.
If this sounds like a great concept for a game, then you should go out and find it now. Play it, and don't use a walkthrough or FAQ. Push yourself to the limits all the way through, and really think about what you'd do if you were there. Just … don't do it on the DS.
Myst really is an amazingly complete experience if you let yourself "play" the character and gradually discover the setting and your place within it. Sadly, the hardware of the DS just isn't up to immersing you in the experience.
The first problem with this port of the game is sheer size. When you scale down a game that's meant to be played on a standard screen, it's going to look a little shrunken and pixelated. This hasn't proved to be much of an issue with most DS ports, but an exploration-based title where every detail could be the key to progress requires something a bit … bigger. When you can't solve the final puzzle because the button you need to press to finish it is too small for your stylus to hit properly, I'd say it's a glaring issue.
Another handicap that the DS faces is sound. Myst's story and puzzles rely heavily on sound. It becomes considerably more difficult to solve a puzzle involving rushing wind and bubbling water when they sound exactly the same through the DS's tinny little speakers. It should be a problem that's easily fixed with headphones, and in some cases, it is. The long-winded speeches of brothers Sirrus and Achenar are much more understandable through earbuds crammed up against your brain, but the effects still come out scratchy and distorted, as if they were being run through an old Victrola gramophone or a wax cylinder.
Is it fair to say that the DS has proved itself more inept at running a 14-year-old game than a 14-year-old computer? Honestly, yes. Look up screens of people running the original, and you can almost believe the claim of gorgeous pre-rendered graphics. Look at the DS version for too long, and you'll start to cry out of sheer eye strain.
With that said, there is still a rather old and well-loved game buried beneath all of the faults of the portable system. Myst is credited with spurring the CD-Rom revolution into full gear, encouraging a legion of fans to buy the drive just so they could experience it. Really, it was that amazingly revolutionary.
For those with the time and patience for an old-fashioned adventure, it will certainly test your wits and stamina. Simply figuring out the first puzzle requires that you find at least three hidden switches and then start frantically jotting down numbers. Once you've managed that, you have to deduce what each set of numbers means in relationship to its location, and eventually you may discover a "linking book" that takes you away from the island of Myst and to one of four other vacant islands that are in desperate need of exploration.
Myst is not a game about instant gratification, or even eventual gratification. The only reward you'll find for completing every puzzle in the game is the satisfaction of having done the right thing and working your brain to its limits to do so — assuming you can manage to avoid getting horribly stumped and resorting to a walkthrough. It's a tough inner battle when you've spent an hour clicking through a seemingly endless maze of tunnels with no perceptible results.
Once again, I have to emphasize that if this sounds like the game for you, find some way to play it on a computer. The joy of the game is in discovery, and in the next paragraph, you may gain bits and pieces that you should have picked up on your own through thorough examinations.
With that disclaimer out of the way, Myst's background and story can be found on the island's main library. It is here that you'll begin to piece together clues to get you off the island, at least temporarily. Your nameless, featureless character learns that the owner of the library was a master of something called "The Art," which allowed him to create books linking him to other worlds pulled largely from his imagination. It is also "The Art" that has allowed him to trap his two sons, Sirrus and Achenar, after realizing their foul deeds. As the story progresses, you'll find that the red and blue books on either side of the library contain these brothers, and each one claims to be wrongfully imprisoned.
You're faced with a choice, as interesting in its consequences as Bioshock's moral dilemma involving the little sisters. You can free either one of them by collecting all the blue or red pages scattered throughout the four remaining Ages of Myst, and you have to decide which one you trust more. Each Age and each new page will bring you a little bit more of the truth, leading up to the final climactic choice.
This is all of the plot that you'll get in this first installment of the Myst series, so you don't have to worry too much about winding twists and turns. The story is really told through the background and ambiance, rather than the characters, and this was one of its most lauded features. For the observant, it offers an interesting and uniquely interactive experience. Sadly, much of the detail is grainy in this port. You may find yourself wondering what was so shocking about a dirty piece of gray texture that you found in a box that was supposed to be a coffin.
As I've said over and over, the puzzles are brutal, but also simple. Once you figure out a certain trick here or there, you'll probably shout out "Of course!" loud enough to startle anyone in the vicinity. You'll get curious stares over your shoulder to see what could make you so smug and satisfied. Though they'll likely shake their heads in confusion (it's just a blurry elevator ride, so what's there to see?), you probably won't be able to shake that feeling of accomplishment.
For the dedicated, this nearly ancient game still holds a few charms. Myst can't survive in a modern market where everyone wants to satisfy their itchy trigger finger and drool over their high-definition Blu-rays, but it can still be a relaxing jaunt into another world. In many respects, the goal of Myst is to immerse you in another place and see what there is to see and enjoy what there is to enjoy. In that sense, it still succeeds among those willing to give it the time to do so — on a computer, not the DS.
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