People often ask me what my favourite type/genre of game is and I always find it difficult to answer such a question, as I tend to view games, not in genres, but in styles.
For example, take ‘Final Fantasy X’ and ‘The Secret of Monkey Island.’ I would imagine that to most people they seem like games from completely different genres and most people would be absolutely right. One of them is a Japanese RPG and the other is a point-and-click adventure game. But to me, as a designer and writer, they are two extremely similar games. They are both linear and they are both story-driven experiences, in which the mechanics are often subservient to the plot. They both feature a young male lead from a foreign place, who is portrayed as somewhat comical and at times, quite pathetic, but who thinks of himself as a superstar. They both feature a female love interest who holds a position of power and they both have a long story, in which you can travel from place to place via an overworld map.
That isn’t to say these games don’t have huge chasms of difference between them. But in my odd subconscious, I link them together because of mechanical and plot-based elements.
Anyway. That was the extremely long way of me saying that I don’t have a favourite genre, but I do have a favourite style, timbre, feeling or whatever other arty-douchebag word you want to use. What I also have is a type of game that I am known for, because there is a type of game that I make for a living and they are point-and-click adventure games.
I’ve played a hell of a lot of point-and-clicks and I reckon I’m pretty well versed in them at this point. So I felt it was high-time I shared a personal list of my favourite point-and-click adventure games. As always, this is a very subjective list and isn’t meant to be definitive in any way, as it is based on what I felt personally when I played these games over the last 20 years or so.
Also, I’ve never played ‘Maniac Mansion’ or ‘Day of the Tentacle.’ I know, I know. Don’t cry about it. I’m intentionally saving them for a rainy day when I’ll really need them. Such as a divorce or when I find out my son supports Derby County (English Football Joke.)
12. Toonstruck (1996)
In the mid 90’s, CD technology was just a baby and a lot of game developers saw those little shiny circles and thought to themselves; “Oh my God! 700 megabytes! We can put shit loads of video footage on them!” Thus began that era of gaming that we all like to forget about, the FMV era. Toonstruck was one of those rare games that used FMV and actually did it well, by combining it with green screen technology. The game’s plot centers around a comic book artist (voiced and acted by the Doc himself, Christopher Lloyd) who gets sucked into the whacky world of his creations along with his sidekick, Flux Wildly (voiced by Dan Castellaneta of ‘Simpsons’ fame.) This game was both technologically and financially ambitious at the time and was, unfortunately, a commercial failure, despite receiving excellent reviews. If you can get it to run today, you’ll find a kick-ass adventure in a truly imaginative world.
11. Sam & Max Hit the Road (1993)
The early 90’s were a glorious time for point-and-clicks and Sam & Max are two endearing characters from the golden age of the genre. For those of you unfamiliar with the series, Sam & Max are a pair of private investigators who happen to be a rabbit and a dog. They are compelled to embark on a ludicrous case involving an escaped Bigfoot and a girl with a giraffe neck, which takes them all across America. This is a classic LucasArts adventure title and one that ought to be in any serious fan’s collection.
10. I Have no Mouth, And I Must Scream (1995)
If you like your narratives disturbing and insomnia-inducing, this is the game for you. Based on the Harlan Ellison short story of the same name and co-written/narrated by the man himself, ‘I Have no Mouth and I must Scream’ is a nightmarish trip through the twisted psyches of five unfortunate humans, being kept alive in a future Earth by a sentient computer who wants nothing more than to torture them, physically and mentally, for the rest of time. The hopelessness of their plight, combined with the frankly disturbingly innovative ways in which the characters are tortured makes for a kind of horror game that we rarely ever see.
9. Dragonsphere (1994)
The main thing I remember about Dragonsphere was that it was hard. I’ve played some frustrating adventure games in my time but this one had me seriously stroking my beard and at times, ripping out my dreadlocks. But that’s OK, because tough is fine when the puzzles make sense, which they do in this game. Aside from having absolutely phenomenal graphics for it’s time, the game also has a deceptively complex plot. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone who hasn’t played it, but the initial story of rescuing a king and killing an evil sorcerer quickly gives way to all kinds of twists and turns. Given the obscurity of this game, I really can’t recommend it enough. The world itself is highly whimsical and beautifully drawn, the voice acting is good, the story is engrossing and the puzzles are hard but very imaginative. If you haven’t already, you should consider giving Dragonsphere a try.
8. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (1992)
This should have been the plot to the fourth ‘Indiana Jones’ movie. Made around the time of the release of the third movie, ‘The Last Crusade,’ this game succeeds simply by being and genuinely feeling like an Indy adventure. You travel the world, from American College campuses, to Arabian bazaars, to desert excavation sights, punching, pilfering and parachuting your way from location to location. This game is just pure, old-school fun combined with cool puzzles and that classic Indy whit that we love so much.
7. Gemini Rue (2011)
Whenever people tell me that point-and-clicks are a genre of the past I take a swing at them. But not before telling them about Gemini Rue. Gemini Rue is an excellent dystopian, cyberpunk adventure set in the distant future. You simultaneously play as a man trapped in a government facility where a person’s memory is wiped and then reconditioned to be more useful to the government, as well as his brother Azrael, who is attempting to break him free. Seamlessly being able to switch between the two characters is a great innovation as it alleviates the headache caused by getting stuck on a particularly tough puzzle. Gemini Rue is also quite a rare find in the genre as it is a wholly serious adventure game, defying the comedic tendencies of most point-and-clicks.
6. Discworld 2: Missing Presumed….!? (1997)
Adventure games, perhaps more so than most genres, rely heavily on good world design. After all, who wants to go on an adventure in a boring world? Discworld, therefore, has a head-start in as much as it can draw from the excellently written and phenomenally designed world created by Terry Pratchett in the series of novels with the same name. In Discworld 2, you play the role of useless wizard ‘Rincewind’ once again, as he travels around the disk attempting to uncover the secret behind the fact that people have stopped dying. The puzzles are cool, the gags are witty and Eric Idle is by far the best actor to have ever portrayed Rincewind. What’s not to love?
5. Broken Sword: Shadow of the Templars (1996)
Despite having an American lead in Robert Stobbart, Broken Sword is a very British adventure, created by English studio ‘Revolution Software.’ Few games can recreate that ‘Indiana Jones’ level of swashbuckling adventure and hidden secrecy without having the man himself in the title. But Broken Sword manages it, taking you on an epic journey through France, Ireland and all over Europe to uncover a sinister and supernatural plot devised by the enigmatic society of the Templars. The way European stereotypes are portrayed is quite over the top, but done with an evidently loving touch that makes you love every single character, even the villains. This really is chilled out gaming at its highest level.
4. The Longest Journey (1999)
Time seems to have forgotten this particular gem. When it was released in 1999, adventure games were no longer in the limelight and that fact, combined with the solely PC release of this game, perhaps doomed it to obscurity. Those of us who did play it found a game of infinite imagination, with a storyline straight out of a particularly awesome acid trip and possibly the coolest female protagonist of any game ever. The game was ahead of its time in so many ways, from the mature themes such as exploration of sexuality and explicit language to the excellent use of a 3D engine in an adventure game, something which was quite impressive at the time. The Longest Journey was both long and entertaining and no serious adventure games collection is complete without it.
3. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge (1991)
If you haven’t heard of this game then chances are you won’t have heard of any of the games on this list. The Monkey Island series really is the flagship (no pun intended) series for point-and-clicks. This is the series where the partnership of famed game designers Ron Gilbert and Tim Schafer really paid its dividends and cemented them as firm fan favourites.
Anyway, you take the role of Guybrush Threepwood, a hilariously useless pirate as he goes on his second adventure on the high seas. This game really is just packed full of awesome characters, imaginative locations and brilliant puzzles, something which Schafer and Gilbert never seem to get wrong. But for me, the most memorable element is the use of ‘iMuse,’ a kind of audio integration that enables the game to effectively improvise the transposition of music between rooms, making it seamlessly change subtly as players move from location to location.
Monkey Island 2 is an absolute classic and a pinnacle of the genre, one that every gamer ought to play.
2. Beneath a Steel Sky (1994)
With a lot of collaboration from ‘Dave Gibbons’ who you may know as co-creator of the comic book series ‘Watchmen,’ Beneath a Steel Sky creates a typically dystopian future vision of Australia, in which cities are huge steel-metropolises, with the rich living at the bottom and the poor living high up with the smog and congestion.
You play as Robert Foster, a man who was taken in by a tribe of scavengers who live in the desert beyond the city. When the military police fly out to seize Robert and take him back to the city, killing his entire tribe in the process, Robert causes the plane to crash over the city and thus begins an epic journey through an amazingly designed and realized future-society.
This game somehow manages to take the horrific dystopian elements of cyberpunk and blend them with the natural comedic tendencies of point-and-clicks. For that fact alone, it deserves many a play-through. This is due in no small part to the excellent comedic duo provided by Foster’s sidekick, Joey the robot. Add onto that a cast of hilariously over-the-top British stereotypes and you’ve got yet another masterpiece from ‘Revolution Software.’
1. Grim Fandango (1998)
This game just did everything so well, except sell. Grim Fandango has the most wonderfully bizarre plot. You play as Manny Calavera; a man who is dead and his job in the afterlife is to sell travel packages to the recently deceased and send them on a journey to heaven. The speed and comfort of this journey is determined by how good of a life the person lead. Upon discovering that his boss has been scamming good people and forcing them to embark on horrific journeys through the underworld, Manny decides to flee purgatory in search of a saintly woman he accidentally damned to walk through hell.
If you haven’t played Grim fandango and that plot still hasn’t peaked your interest, you have no soul.
Add onto the amazing story and characters the elements of top-notch voice acting, solid and entertaining puzzles and an award-winning score by experienced composer Peter McConnell and you have all of the elements that make up the best adventure game ever made.