Top 10 Classic Point-n-Click Adventures
Back in the good ol’ days when gaming was primitive (the 1990s) there was a large and popular genre called ‘point-n-click’ adventure games. They were simple fare, forsaking action and speed for slower paced, story focused games that were driven my environmental interaction and puzzle solving. In short, you’d direct a character around a location finding items to pick up, characters to speak to and puzzles to solve that will inevitably lead you the mcguffin du jour and onto the next part of the game. As the console gaming market began to develop past simple sprites the genre started to flounder. The games translated poorly to the now popular gaming machines and audiences lost interest. With no money to be made the genre slipped under the waves of progress.
These days there are a number of brilliant indie made games of this ilk, and Telltale have successfully turned out some games based on popular titles, but today we’re going to cast our gaze back to the time when pixel sprites still looked better than polygons and remember these gems.
10. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
Breaking the mold of the usual fantasy game settings of colourful, magical, fantasy worlds Broken Sword is set in the real world (mostly). Playing as an American tourist who gets caught in a bomb blast in Paris, you must try and unravel a conspiracy involving the Templar order across Europe and the Middle East. The great story and voice acting have kept it popular for over a decade and spawned multiple sequels.
Although the art style is reminiscent of old school animations it is much more serious in tone that most games of the genre, making it popular among adult gamers. Being available on many current platforms there’s no reason not to enjoy this classic.
9. Discworld 2: Missing Presumed…?
Terry Pratchett’s unrelenting Discworld book series has developed into almost 50 volumes, movies, animated shows, cookbooks and everything else – a video game was inevitable. The odd world of Discworld, the meta-fantasy epic, is the perfect setting for a classic point and click adventure with a whole cast of screwballs to interact with. Putting characters into the shoes of failed wizard Rincewind (wonderfully voiced by Eric Idle) you travel the flat planet looking for the Grim Reaper who managed to blow himself to kingdom come, preventing people the world over from being able to shuffle off the mortal coil.
Visiting Klatch, Four-Ex and even Death’s Realm this is a treat for fans of the fantasy world. The first came was pretty nifty but held back by middling controls and some downright silly puzzles. The second game cleared these issues up but wound up being very dialogue heavy. Still it’s a great game that is worth a dive into.
8. Full Throttle
Most adventure games focus on the underdog hero, the nerd. Guybrush is a weakling wannabe pirate, Simon is an obnoxious teen, Bernard is a massive geek and so on. Ben was different. He was the leader of a motorcycle gang who has a very straight forward approach to puzzles. Locked door? Use Boot on Door. Annoying bartender? Use Nosering on Bar. It was a refreshing approach to the genre that came at the time when they were all starting to look the same.
Published by Lucasarts and designed by Tim Schafer this puts it high up in the adventure game standard. The characters are very cool (especially the arch-villain voiced by Mark ‘The Joker’ Hamill), the quasi-futuristic setting is used to good effect. A new thought process is required for the different style of puzzles making it feel unique in the field. It’s a shame about the slump that occurs when the ‘action’ kicks in.
7. Simon the Sorcerer
During the heyday of the Lucasart’s era of point ‘n’ click adventure British studio Adventuresoft got on the bandwagon with Simon the Sorcerer, a game that unashamedly borrows from another very popular title that appears on this list. Instead of coming across like a cheap knock off this game stands up on its sold writing and imaginative set pieces. Chris Barrie from Red Dwarf provides the voice for the titular petulant teenager who is plucked from his life and sent on a quest to rescue a wizard. The game doesn’t break any new ground in the genre, or even experiment with it, but this doesn’t get in the way of the fun.
Instead of having a series of connected locations the main areas are spread out over a larger space connected by mostly empty areas. The backgrounds are always very nicely drawn and animated and having to explore the forest to find everything makes it feel more like a complete world. Fortunately the tramping back and forth to solve the puzzles is balanced by the ability to fast-travel to found areas. The humour is dry and occasionally breaks the fourth wall to good effect. Sadly for fans of the genre the recent smartphone versions lack a good control scheme and is temperamental in keeping save files.
6. I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream
This left of centre game is as unique as the title suggests. A game made specifically for an adult audience at a time when ‘mature’ games wasn’t really a concept, I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream is one of the most confronting interactive experiences ever made. Even by today’s standards when the graphics and sound are notably dated it still sends a chill down your spine.
Based on a short story of the same name the game revolves around the last five people on Earth, kept alive by the super-computer AM who was built to fight the nations wars but instead chose to eliminate the human race. The last five people have been kept alive so that AM can torment them for its own amusement. At the point where the story starts AM is putting each of the five into a scenario designed to test them with the player taking control of them one by one. If you balked at killing Little Sisters in Bioshock then this adventure is best avoided. One character must confront his guilt over his perceived responsibility for his wife’s death – finding her dangling from a meat hook being a warm up for feeding your own heart to a talking jackal. Another is trapped in a world mostly coloured yellow, which terrifies her for a reason that players soon find out the reason for in a heart stopping recreation of her trauma. At first one character who has been given amnesia by AM seems a gentle soul under it’s revealed that players are playing as a sadistic Joseph Mengle type surgeon in a concentration camp – something that becomes very clear when your standing in front of a victim with a scalpel in your hand.
This very unique distinctive horror title is brilliantly brought to life by the exceptional voice work and the innovative ‘moods’ system of the characters that sees them fail if their despair at their situation overcomes them. Extra layers to the psychology comes in many forms, most memorable being the mysterious radio broadcasts that seem to be coming from other survivors. Whether this is genuine or another of AM’s manipulations is yet to be seen. Not one of the best adventure games in terms of gameplay but it has fantastic design and is one of the most singular horrific interactive experiences you can have. For fans of psychological horror it’s a must play.
5. Sam and Max Hit the Road
During the 90’s this was one way that primary school children could enjoy a drug trip without ever touched a drug. Sam and Max: Freelance Police are a talking dog in a suit paired with a psychotic rabbit who solve crime in a bizarre version of the United States. They are called into action by the mayor when the local freak show reports that its frozen bigfoot specimen has escaped and needs to be found. Sam and Max travel across the land visiting various tourist traps like Mount Rushmore Bungee Jumps, Alligator Golf and the World’s Largest Ball of Twine in pursuit of the missing monster, taking time out to enjoy side games like Car Bomb, Highway Surfing and Whack-a-Mole.
The comedy and dialogue and as surreal as it is brilliant. If you don’t laugh out loud while playing this game you should see a doctor because there’s something wrong with you. The logic behind solving the puzzles is utterly demented and at times encourages the players to try out a random object with another (or using Max on a hapless passer-by) just to see what happens. Oddly enough, in spite of the insanity, game never feels completely broken (except maybe with that damn mirror puzzle where it wasn’t clear that the screen extends beyond the first area).
4. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Whilst the whip-cracking, fist fighting adventures of Indiana Jones may not seem like a logical choice for this kind of gameplay the focus on exploration and discovery makes this an engaging game on it’s own. Loaned an extra layer of awesome by the inclusion of the title character and the unmistakable tone and style of his bigger screen escapades, this game is elevated from a damn good game to a great one.
Based on an unused Indiana Jones movie script (that proves far better than the recent Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull) we see Indy teaming up with archeologist turned physic Sophia Hapgood to uncover the truth behind the fabled lost city, which inevitably turns into a race against time with the Nazi’s. Unlike many games of its type it offered great reply value by including three different paths to follow (one based on action, one based on intellect and one based on team work), each giving the player a different set of locations to explore, puzzles to solve and encounters to over come. Whip cracking good fun!
3. Beneath a Steel Sky
The collaboration between Tim Schafer and Lucasarts could’ve dominated the top 5 of this list but that would have been a great disservice to this slice of cyper-punk awesomeness. Revolution studios always went with a deeper meaning in their stories, more complex themes and more realistic worlds. Their greatest accomplishment of the Phillip K. Dick-esque journey into the pollution drenched future controlled by computers and AI. Playing as Foster, a desert dweller, your adventure begins having been abducted from your camp only to escape when the transport crashes into the city. At first it’s about survival but the plot thickens as you seek to uncover the truth behind the all powerful computer system LINK.
For some games having all of your artwork produced by Dave Gibbons (better known to comic readers as the illustrator of ‘Watchmen’) would be the top selling point. The design is downright stunning, easily ranked as one of the most imaginative and perfectly realized games of the era. The story is a wormhole of questions and philosophies about control, class and artificial intelligence with a great set of logic puzzles to work your way through. BaSS has been ported to many modern platforms, so you’ve got no excuse for checking it out.
2. Day of the Tentacle
There were a number of serious, even dark, adventure games but it cannot be denied that it’s the quirky titles that really struck a chord with designer Tim Schafer wearing the quirky crown atop his quirky head. And out of his many brilliant adventure games none were as quirky as Day of the Tentacle.
When the evil Purple Tentacle grows arms and tries to take over the world it’s up to nerdy Bernard, oddball medical student Laverne and metalhead Hoagie to save the day using Professor Edison’s time machine. Things go wrong when the time toilets malfunction leaving the three characters trapped in different time periods of the same location. The madcap story and cast of freaks provide a framework for a downright brilliant trail of mind-bending puzzles that makes great use of the time travel concept. Changing the original design of the American flag in colonial days so another character can use it as a tentacle disguise in the distant future is only the tip of the ice-berg.
A sequel to the ground breaking Maniac Mansion, one of the original adventure games, DotT came with the original game packaged as a game within a game for players to find on an old in-game computer. An awesome bonus.
1. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
‘The Secret of Monkey Island’ set the bar for the point-n-click adventure genre. It was a household name for gamers and was the most imitated – both in style and mechanics – of any other game. It used the innovative SCUMM system that became the norm for almost every other adventure game of the time. The quirky adventures of wannabe pirate Guybrush Threepwood and his run-in with the ghost pirate LeChuck are still talked about and quoted even today. Tell any old gamer that they ‘fight like a diary farmer’ and you’ll always get the same response.
It would have made the #1 spot on this list if it wasn’t for one thing – the sequel. Bringing back all the main players – Guybrush, LeChuck and Governor Elaine Marley – in a bigger and more imaginative tale. The colourful world of the pirates is fleshed out with multiple new locations and memorable characters, great design, plotting and puzzles that challenge without frustrating. Pity the ending was such a cop out that needed to be ret-conned at the start of the next game.
The Monkey Island series as far outlasted the genre it kicked into gear decades earlier, with both of the original games been re-released in recent years and sequels still being made. Then there’s the undeniable influence it’s had on the Pirates of the Caribbean film series – but that’s a list for another day…