There's something nice about an Island. An area entirely cut off from its surroundings is always useful in a game where you need to have limits to where the player can go, but don't want to use artificial or unrealistic boundaries. And yet they're actually rarely used. Here are ten of the most interesting islands to be found in games.

For an alleged pharmaceutical company, Umbrella has some very odd business practices. Not even the world-conquering Microsoft has its very own prison colony. But while Bill Gates may not be able to lock people away for daring to use Linux, Umbrella can dispose of anyone who objects to their strategy of turning people into mindless zombies. And what better place to oversee these prisoners from than a rather nice mansion, home to one of the founding families of Umbrella. The downside, of course, is that like everywhere in Resi, in order to get around you need a baffling array of items that are scattered all across the island. Need to pop to the loo? You'll want the Eagle Crest, hidden beneath the fifth headstone behind the sliding blocks in the graveyard on the other side of the island.

Remember what I said about islands being small, contained areas? Forget it. Vvardenfell is pretty damn big. At least nine distinct regions, numerous cities and settlements, guilds, cults, armies and enough dungeons to keep any adventurer busy until retirement. And yet Vvardenfell is actually probably the smallest setting of any Elder Scrolls game. After all, it's only one small part of the Morrowind province, and the previous two games allowed you to explore all eight provinces of Tamriel. Of course, in those games it was all procedurally generated repeated textures with little variation. By limiting the raw area covered, Morrowind allowed Bethesda to create somewhere unique and vibrant.

Picked out in pastel and crayon shades, how can anyone not love the distinctive look of Yoshi's Island? Like something out of a children's colouring book, the backgrounds you're fighting through are almost as cute and endearing as the little dinosaur you're playing as. The areas you visit may be standard fair, but their original style and design ensures that your trip to Baby Bowser's castle will always be an enjoyable one.

Actually, I'm not sure if the island has a name, but it's a fair bet to assume that this is what it's called. Stunt Island was an old DOS game that let you be a stunt pilot in the movies. You had a number of scenes to fly, and once done you could edit the captured footage into a little film of your own. But that was just for starters. A comprehensive editor allowed you to set up your own stunts and challenges, and this is where the island itself really shone. Spread around it you could find replicas of numerous landmarks as well as nearly any set you might envisage yourself needing for a film. Want to fly-by Alcatraz? It's there. Unload a missile into a football stadium? No problem. Conduct a daring raid on a military base as an egg-dropping duck? Stunt Island's got you covered.

An abandoned nuclear testing facility on Alaska's Fox Archiapelago. Hardly sounds like the most glamorous setting, does it? And yet by the time you've trekked across it a few times and escaped at the end of your ordeal, you'll already be missing the place. While MGS2 and 3 may have improved on the first Solid in many ways, location just wasn't one of them. The Discovery, the Big Shell, even while sneaking through the jungle, chances are you'll find yourself getting nostalgic for a military-grey, snow-covered island somewhere out in Alaska.

Also known as The Floating Island, the setting of Sonic 3 and its follow up/second half, Sonic & Knuckles, was for a while the focal point of the series. Presumably the original home of the Chaos Emeralds, Angel Island got its name because the ancient civilisation of Echidona used the Emeralds' power to suspend their home in the air, hidden among the clouds. When Echidona was wiped out by Chaos, the Echidna race seemingly perished- apart from one, left as guardian of the Master Emerald. The true origins of the Emeralds and Knuckles, as well as more of the history of Echidona, is what (in my view) the storyline of the Sonic series should be focusing on. Sadly, since Sonic Adventure 2 introduced Shadow, he's pretty much hijacked the plot, so it looks unlikely that we'll be finding out much more any time soon. Angel Island will be holding onto its secrets for a while longer yet.

Although similar levels appeared in Super Mario World, it wasn't until SM64 that the size-switching concept was placed onto an island and given a name. Undoubtedly one of the most imaginative areas found in Mario's 3D début, this Island plays tricks with Mario's dimensions, rendering him either smaller than a Goomba, or as a colossus bestriding the miniscule world with ease. An impassable obstacle at one size becomes insignificant at the other, and a nuisance enemy to big Mario can mean instant death when shrunk.

I love Myst. Not just the series or the game, but the place. It's only small, and yet onto that tiny mass of land is packed some of the most beautifully designed architecture ever seen in a game. Right from the word go, the haunting emptiness of your lovely surroundings draws you straight into the mystery, and long after everything's resolved the memories of the place will stay with you. The full-3D remake of the original game, realMYST, allows you complete freedom to explore and, in the words of the developers, brings it to such vibrant life you'll wish it was real. You know what? I really do.

The eponymous destination of the Monkey Island series must be one of the most famous islands in gaming. According to legend, it can only be found by use of voodoo magic, and beneath its surface lies a portal to hell itself. And there's also a deranged hermit, a tribe of vegetarian cannibals, bouncy rubber trees... and lots and lots of monkeys.

Unravelling the mysteries of Koholint provides Links Awakening with one of the more engaging plots in the series. Add to that the fact that the island itself is a fascinating place, and it's easy to see why LA is many people's favourite Zelda. Even picked out in shades of green and visible pixels, the designers managed to create places and people that you'll really care about, and which make the game's ultimate secret and conclusion a bittersweet victory. From the comforting sense of home in Mabe Village, through the bizarre Animal Village, the savage Goponga Swamp, and finally making your way up Tal Tal Heights to the Wind Fish's egg, you're bound to enjoy your stay on the island of your dreams.

Whether it's by boat, plane, swimming or some sort of magical portal, it's always worth the journey to see what fun, what mysteries, what adventures await you across the waters, on that distant island.

List by BlackMageJawa (03/22/2007)

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