Destination: Treasure Island
First posted on 15 February 2010. Last updated on 27 February 2010.
Pirates (as in murderous seafarers) have long sparked the imagination of adventure game developers. Pirates conspire to capture Gwydion (Prince Alexander) in King's Quest III: To Heir is Human. They inspire the career of Guybrush Threepwood in The Secret of Monkey Island. They are lifelong foes of Peter Pan in Hook (an adventure game adapted from Steven Spielberg's movie of the same name). They come in their "black ships" to ravage the island worlds of Myst.
Destination: Treasure Island (not to be confused with Treasure Island released by Radon Labs in 2009) bills itself as the sequel to Treasure Island, the classic pirate novel written by Robert Louis Stevenson in 1881-1882. Exactly 4 years after the events in the novel, the teenage protagonist Jim Hawkins is attempting to relocate Long John Silver and untold riches—but the mutineers previously stranded by Long John are also after him and the treasure.
The game's developer, Kheops Studios, is a French company best known for creating short adventure games that are packed with nonlinear inventory puzzles set in colorful historical or literary environments. Destination: Treasure Island fits this successful mould, yet it also raises the developer's own standards by featuring more character interaction and more consistent storytelling qualities in this game than its spiritual ancestor, Return to Mysterious Island—a game also developed by Kheops Studios that is inspired by the work of Jules Verne.
The game includes a basic instruction manual, which may be helpful reading to familiarize the player with the game's unique inventory system. Unfortunately, the manual is not usefully illustrated to show the inventory's graphical interface.
The plot in Destination: Treasure Island revolves around a series of rhyming riddles. The first installment of these poems is delivered to Jim by Long John's parrot, Captain Flint, while Jim is in the midst of an escape from the mutineers. Judging from the cryptic message, Long John is still alive and awaiting Jim in the place called Emerald Isle. Jim travels there and continues to follow the clues, in search of Long John and buried treasure.
The puzzles in Destination: Treasure Island closely follow the same riddles. The clear goals of the quests and the explicit foreshadowing are probably partly intended to make the game (like the novel) accessible to a younger audience. At the same time, the structure is surprisingly flexible. The player may solve many of the riddles out of order. Moreover, the game's early stages have 2 alternative paths, depending on the player's actions in the opening scene.
From the start, it is also clear that the production values in this game are solid. The heroes and villains resonate with energetic, if caricatured, voices. The music is likewise lively. The theme song uses the "Yo Ho Ho and a Bottle of Rum" lyrics (from Stevenson's novel), set to the tune of "Hush Little Baby" in a Caribbean beat. Oddly, it is a catchy combination, and it sticks in your head long after playing the game!
Visually, Destination: Treasure Island is pleasing, with many photogenic and exotic settings. The scenes are pre-rendered as 3D, panoramic nodes, allowing the player to look in every direction. The settings are varied and detailed, from jungles and beaches crawling with life, to caves covered with strange inscriptions, to abandoned shanties stuffed with useful junk.
The character animation, while more plentiful than in some of Kheops Studio's previous games, is still sparse and stiff in Destination: Treaure Island. Characters often just stand around swaying, even when they are facing mortal peril. Rather than animated cut scenes, series of sketches fill most of the interludes.
Nonetheless, Destination: Treasure Island is a well paced game. The script delivers a balance of serious narration and either humorous or action oriented dialog. The main plotline has the right number and kind of nuances for the game's needs, so that puzzles and exploration are well integrated, rather than being spun around disjointed subplots, which are a device that makes a lot of shortened literary adaptations stumble. For example, Kheops Studio's previous literary adaptation, Return to Mysterious Island, seems to meander among several incongruous subplots—about a ghost, a population of mechanically skilled monkeys, and a set of killer robots—that do not add up to feel like Verne's work.
By contrast, Destination: Treasure Island feels like a more faithful "sequel" to its source material, in terms of genre and storytelling momentum. The game, albeit on a simpler level than the novel, even has a moral twist in it, when Jim realizes that his quest's true goal is not what the riddles imply. However, an alternative ending enables the player to ironically ignore the moral.
The gameplay in Destination: Treasure Island resembles that in other game titles by the same developer. These games employ a unique and sophisticated inventory system, whereby items may be assembled, disassembled and recombined in various ways. As the game progresses and some inventory pieces get consumed or some combinations are no longer needed, the player must consider how to reuse components, not necessarily whole tools.
Unlike some of Kheops Studio's other games, Destination: Treasure Island does not include redundant components. The player must find every useful piece of material that is present in the game world. However, most of the items are near the places where they are first needed, or are conspicuous in some way, so the game does not suffer much from pixel hunting frustrations. The game is paced so as to maintain a good balance between puzzle solving and scenic exploration. The level of difficulty (and hence level of frustration) is also moderated by the fact that Jim and other characters (even the parrot) provide plenty of specific feedback for partly correct attempts. I greatly prefer this gentle hinting approach to the "silent treatment" or stock replies on which other games often fall back.
Aside from the inventory puzzles that are Kheops Studio's specialty, the game offers other puzzles ranging from combination locks to exercises in tying knots. The combination lock puzzles usually rely on some mix of interpreting a riddle and examining a scene. They may require inventory objects too. The knot puzzles are rather pointless insofar as they rely solely on trial and error. At each step in tying the knot, the player must pick 1 of 2 pictures to show the correct step. Pick the wrong choice, and the game lets the player know it is wrong, after which the player must redo it from the start and get it right. Successfully completed knot puzzles are replayable in the inventory screen, in case the player wants to study real-life knot tying from them, as suggested by the game manual. I guess this is a case of niche marketing—but if you are not interested in the replay, the knot stuff takes very little time.
With a length of only 6-8 hours, Destination: Treasure Island is a very short game. Some sections, notably the alternative beginnings and endings, may offer a bit of replay value. Still, the length of gameplay is likely to be a disappointing factor for many players, as the game is neither priced nor advertised much differently than other longer, competing adventure game titles.
Overall, Destination: Treasure Island is a fun, bouncy, brain teasing game with pacing and hinting that make it accessible to an audience including young fans of adventure novels. Similarities with the developer's previous games are evident. However, this game seems to be an incremental improvement on the generally good model set by the developer's previous efforts. Consider choosing Destination: Treasure Island as your next port of call if you are already hooked on games by Kheops Studio or if you have not yet sampled Kheops Studio's distinctive wares.