There are few adventure games as polarizing as Cyan Worlds’ 1993 classic point-and-click adventure game, Myst. On one hand, there are those who champion its groundbreaking focus on lush, hand-crafted environments, uniquely evocative atmosphere, and challenging puzzles. On the other hand, Myst’s detractors heap scorn upon its slideshow-style presentation and lack of clear objectives as constituting nothing more than a frustrating non-game. Pyst, the 1996 parody game developed by Parroty Interactive and Bergman-Stallone, Inc., undoubtedly drew its inspiration from this latter base of opinion, but although it sprinkles some chuckle-worthy moments throughout its (very) short playing time, it ultimately comes up lacking in its attempt to lampoon its best-selling target of derision.
It must be said before venturing further that, as an older game, modern systems may have significant difficulty running Pyst. I was forced to install a copy of Windows 98 on my computer using virtual machine software, from which I then launched the game. Adventure gamers are used to often jumping through technical hoops such as this, but for the less tech-savvy player, such hurdles might prove to be a major issue.
Pyst’s premise is simple: after hosting over four-million players, Pyst Island has been reduced to a money-grubbing, trash-strewn wasteland. Movie theatres, “Post-Punk” rave concerts, and a large infomercial-spewing television set looming over the island landscape are just some of the “improvements” that have been made to Pyst’s once pristine environments.
The game begins with a send-up of Atrus’s opening monologue from Myst, and then deposits the player on the docks, as in the original game. However, rather than hearing sounds of the ocean gently breaking upon the pier, you're greeted by squawking gulls and faint sounds of vomiting. The wooden docks are rotting into the sea and the island’s familiar gear-like sculpture off in the distance has been vandalized, painted to appear as a Mohawk-wearing punk rocker.
Players hoping to point-and-click their way around this twisted island environment, however, will be disappointed. In an apparent attempt to both parody Myst’s slideshow navigation and remain within budget constraints, Pyst is presented as a series of “interactive postcards,” complete with perforated “paper” edges and captions at the bottom (the opening scene is titled “The dock after Woodstock,” for example). This gimmick is further emphasized by the fact that each one showcases a different “main attraction” on Pyst Island. The player is unable to actually “walk” from one location to the next; instead you navigate between individual scenes using arrows at the left and right edges of the screen.
In addition, arrows at the top and bottom of the screen “flip” each postcard over to reveal one of two fully-voiced missives from previous visitors to (or current residents of) that location on Pyst Island. Pressing an oblong button at the bottom of the screen activates a brief voiceover “guided tour” for each location, provided by the overeager duo Bob and Sheryl, employees of real estate developer Octoplex Corporation. These provide a few laughs as they hype the supposed perks of each location or detail renovations planned by their employer.
The game does a competent job, both graphically and aurally, of portraying an idyllic paradise that has been overrun by massive hordes of people and turned into a tourist trap. Familiar Myst locations, such as the Clocktower and the Library, are sullied with advertising posters, spoiler-ific graffiti left behind by visitors, or some other sort of commercial exploitation. Hotspots, appropriately signaled by the cursor transforming into a radiation symbol, allow interaction with the various items onscreen. The few pieces of music to be found in the game are actually somewhat majestic, but are comically juxtaposed against Pyst Island’s least-majestic locales.
Another source of comedy is Pyst’s substitutions for Atrus and his treacherous sons, Sirrus and Achenar. Heading up the trio is King Mattruss, the bloated, visitor-hating “ruler of Pyst Island” (played by John Goodman), and his sons, the effete germophobe Prince Syrrup, and Prince “(formerly known as Prince),” a smug dudebro-type who enjoys chasing women and throwing parties. The characters’ performances constitute one of the few true comic highlights of the game, though some players may simply find them annoying rather than funny. This risk is diminished, however, by the brevity of their appearance.
In fact, “brevity” seems to be the unfortunate watchword for Pyst in general. Coming in at around an hour’s worth of playing time, Pyst feels like an extremely abbreviated “highlight reel” of befouled, interactive Myst screenshots. There are no puzzles to solve, and aside from a few moments that Myst fans and haters alike will recognize as jabs at the obscure messages and notes found throughout the original game, much of the humor is unrelated to the Myst universe, and feels like a bit of a lost opportunity.
The game can deliver some laughs for those who enjoy its brand of humor, though it occasionally shows its age (former-Soviet Russia jokes! Computer speeds measured in the low Megahertz range!). Overall, however, Pyst is probably only worth a look by die-hard Myst fanatics, if just for the sake of completing their collection, and by the critics who truly wish a plague on the Miller brothers. Everyone else can safely skip this title; even at a reasonable price, for most adventurers the incredibly short duration, lack of any actual puzzles, and mediocre humor just aren’t worth the time it would take to track down a copy and get it running.
Only die-hard Myst lovers and haters need pursue Pyst‘s half-baked blast from the past. Everyone else can pass on by.