As far as video game history goes, Myst will always be remembered as a title that helped to usher in the era of the CD-ROM as the next great medium for gaming. Just like The 7th Guest, Myst used stunning imagery, full-motion videos and CD-quality sound to immerse the player and deliver an experience that PC players could never get from their standard floppy discs. The game was a huge success on the PC and Mac platforms and drove CD-ROM sales to increase their adoption rate. The success of the game on computers meant that the new CD-ROM-based consoles wanted the title, and soon every console had its own port of Myst. A few years ago, Myst returned to the console space but only for the current portables, the Sony PSP and the Nintendo DS. They were ports of the original game, though, and not the RealMyst remake for the PC, and the technical shortcomings started to show, resulting in a game that visually didn't stand the test of time. Two years have passed, and with the last publisher now bankrupt and forgotten, Storm City Games has taken it upon themselves to resurrect Myst for the DS audience. While it is great to have such a respected title in their library, it might have been best to they had left this alone.
For those who are wondering, this is a repackaged version of same Myst game that Empire Interactive released two years ago in North America. A few bugs may have been fixed and the Storm City Games' logo replaces the Empire Interactive one, but aside from that, the game is the same. Without any new content thrown into the picture, it is safe to say that those who have invested in the previous DS version of the game will find nothing new here. You can read the original review, as it is still relevant to this re-release.
The plot of the game is a simple one that gets deeper as you progress. You play a nameless person who opens up a book titled Myst. Before you realize what is happening, you get sucked into the book and fall into a dark abyss. You regain consciousness moments later on a fantastic island with plenty of books and contraptions but no apparent way to leave. You stumble upon two books with a person trapped inside, each one asking for your help in finding the torn colored pages from their respective novels. Your quest is to find a way off the island and get back home using the available books and other devices as your only clues to find your method of escape.
Unlike most games, this one is devoid of enemies in the first minutes of gameplay. With no danger of death looming, you're free to roam the island and find ways to reach the four different ages hidden in their respective books. Getting to each of those ages is a puzzle in itself, as you manipulate things on the island or gather clues to unlock codes; the ages can be tackled in any order you desire. Within each age is a series of puzzles that require a combination of timing, logic and the item in your hand (you can only carry one item at a time). Each puzzle gets you closer to finding a page which gets you closer to finding out the mystery of the colored books and a way home.
As stated before, this is a spot-on port of the original Myst. This means that each screen acts more like a still picture with some movie files playing on top rather than a full 3D world. To get from one end of a forest to the other means you have to click the appropriate direction three or four times instead of just holding a direction to get there. It also means that the puzzles and their appropriate solutions are the same as well as the length of time it would take to finish the game with the best ending or one of the bad ones.
The puzzles are pretty devious, and while there are a few that seem like their solutions contradict the hints you've been given, most of them give you a sense of gratification once you solve them. One thing that this port does differently, though, is give you an additional age at the end of the game. Like the PSP version, you gain access to the Rime age, a level that PC players got to play in RealMyst. The level is short and not that spectacular. If you weren't already a fan of Myst, the payoff is worse simply because the ending feels like a very small teaser for Riven instead of an ending for the game. It is a bit more content to play with and makes this port slightly more substantial.
Aside from the additional age, the game has added some tools that make the whole experience a little easier. There's a camera so you can take pictures of your current screen, and there's also a notepad so you can jot down important clues for yourself. A magnifying glass lets you take a closer look at your surroundings, and there's also a map for the age you're currently visiting. The problem with these tools is that they aren't very useful. The magnifying glass is fine for the books and notes because it's almost impossible to read them on the small screen otherwise. Using the glass on any other scene, though, will result in a larger image of pixels instead.
The camera is nice, but it can only take one image, which is fine if you only have one puzzle to solve, but if you have a puzzle that requires multiple clues from other areas, it doesn't do much good. The notepad would have been a nice tool if it had stylus support, but you can only type out notes, and with the tedious nature of tapping out one letter at a time, it's more efficient to write down notes on a physical piece of paper. Finally, the map is good enough to give you clues for important areas in the age, but without an indicator about where you are within the age, you won't find yourself consulting it too often. It might have been better if the tools weren't included in the first place since they're not particularly useful.
The controls work well, and of all of the ports, this control scheme is the best alternative to the PC's mouse controls. Everything is manipulated with touch controls, from the movement to the interaction with objects. Most objects only require simple taps while a few things, like the striking of matches, ask you to perform some stylus drags. The controls are responsive and, aside from the control problems with some of the tools, there's nothing in the controls that will mar the gameplay experience.
For a game that relies mostly on visuals for its puzzles and atmosphere, excellent graphics would be a must. That isn't the case here. Myst uses static pictures instead of rendering the environments and objects in full 3-D, and while the Nintendo DS isn't exactly a system known for producing high-resolution photos, the ones in this title are far below the system's capabilities. The color depth seems to have been reduced, and while it doesn't render the game unplayable, it makes it a bit more difficult to read some of the text and differentiate between some switches. The limited color depth also hurts the video portions since you can easily determine where the video blocks begin and end, with their thin borders conflicting with the rest of the image. The only time the videos don't look out of place is when you view the books, as the natural borders of the pages hide the video borders rather well. If the game used higher quality images, it would have lessened the sting of having the original Myst ported and not RealMyst.
One of the highlights for the original game was the sound. Through the power of CD-ROM technology at the time, you had soundtracks that sounded like they came from a movie and effects that were clearer than anything heard before. The same cannot be said for the DS version. Both the effects and the music both sound compressed over the system's speakers, and while headphones make the music a little better, it does nothing for the effects. You can still tell what the sounds are supposed to represent, but they're not very clear. The sound from the videos fares a little better. There is still some audio hiss once a video begins and ends, but at least any audio distortion and noise is intentional and not due to bad programming.
Myst is still a fine adventure game if you let yourself get wrapped up in the mythos and sense of discovery. As long as you aren't the type of player who immediately consults a FAQ or strategy guide the minute a puzzle stumps you, you'll enjoy the game the same way people did more than a decade ago, despite what is now considered a clunky interface. While the DS may seem like a perfectly good alternative to the PC for the game, especially since the touch-screen and stylus can replicate mouse controls rather well, the technical aspects don't hold up well enough. Low-resolution images hurt the game, since the system is certainly capable of producing better-looking pictures, and the new toolset isn't all that helpful most of the time. For those who want to play the game, it is best if you can find a PC copy of the game to get the best technical experience possible. If that isn't feasible, though, and you really want to experience Myst, rent it instead, as buying it would only lead you to remorse.
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