More than any other game, Myst is a real marmite experience. Despite selling over 12 million copies (including sequels), many hardcore gamers treat it with derision. "Where's the game?" they cry. "It's nothing but a glorified coffee table book," they complain, while others find its cryptic puzzles too hard. So much for 'hardcore', eh?
Still, the more casual audience can't seem to get enough of its lush graphics, intriguing plot and play-at-your-own-pace dynamic. That's why, 14 years after its first PC release, it's been remade for DS.
Boasting no instructions, no living beings, no inventory and no death, the game is adventure puzzle solving at its purest and, arguably, its best. Finding yourself trapped in a beautiful but unpopulated land, after opening a book, you wander around an island, reading tomes and letters, pulling levers, opening hidden vaults and chambers and travelling through different ages to uncover Myst's underlying story.
With much of the drama in written form, you're left to ponder the puzzles in a serene and beautiful land while listening to the sound of lapping water on the nearby shores… or rather you would if the DS could conjure up such an environment. It can't, alas. It's as simple as that.
The graphics are pixellated and washed out. The added magnifying glass to enable you to zoom in on the top screen only serves to magnify how ill-suited the DS proves when it comes to display the sumptuous environs. The sounds are scratchy, too, despite being specifically remastered for the DS.
So what you're left with are the incredibly taxing and obscure puzzles. They have, of course, always been this hard, and you shouldn't expect any let up in difficulty, whether in the main game or in the newly added Rime Age section (previously a bonus level to be found in the realMyst release).
To be fair, there are a few changes to the DS version that attempt to compensate for the lack of graphics and sound. New video clips have been added, along with a couple of new gameplay features. There's a notepad for you to scribble on that does come in handy as you would usually play Myst with a notepad and pen which, of course, isn't that convenient if you're playing on your bus journey home from work.
You also have access to a camera to take stills of the screen so you can remember earlier puzzles you may need to refer back to. In typical Myst DS style though, you can only keep a single photo at a time.
And, most disappointingly, the one feature we would have expected to see is conspicuous by its absence. Considering you will spend a lot of time reading through stained, aged books with florid scrawling text, we'd have liked to have seen the DS being used in its book-like vertical orientation. Instead, you have to make do with using the magnifying glass and then moving it around to look through the pages.
Overall, then this is something of a missed opportunity. The decline of the point-and-click adventure game has been one of saddest things in recent gaming history, so it's great to see the DS picking up the baton with games like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney and Hotel Dusk: Room 215.
Being one of the greatest adventure games of all time, Myst should have fitted in right alongside the above duo. But on the DS, it's not even close, so an experience that should be all about atmosphere leaves you feeling somewhat lacking.