In the early days of gaming, it was all about competition. Pong was a one-on-one deathmatch to determine who was the best… white square reflector. Okay, so maybe that’s a bit too grandiose a description of the classic ping pong simulator. But the point stands that games were all about getting the best score back in the day. Fairly early on, however, developers began to experiment with just what a game could be. They gave us platformers, like Super Mario Bros.; they gave us role-playing games, like Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest; and they gave us adventure games. More so than any other genre, adventure games forsook the focus on high scores and competition and instead used head-scratching puzzles to frame their complex stories. Admittedly, some of the puzzles were way out there in terms of logical consistency, but few things felt better than finally, finally figuring out the solution to a brain-basher that had kept you stuck for ages.
The genre, while less prominent today, is still pretty well represented. I’ve compiled a list of the top five adventure games and series, representing both the classics and the newcomers to the adventure game archives. Here we go.
5. Broken Age
One of the earliest video game Kickstarter success stories, Broken Age was the return of developer Tim Schafer to the classic point-and-click gameplay he was famous for. Following two seemingly disconnected stories, Broken Age uses well-worn tropes of the genre, updating them for a modern audience. And as disconnected as the stories initially seem, the way in which they are intertwined is a brilliantly executed twist. Tricky puzzles and a charming art style make this a must-have for any adventure game aficionado.
4. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
Everyone knows video games based on movies are terrible. Almost without exception. Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis dodges the movie-based-game curse by being a completely original story not tied to any of the Indiana Jones films. Here, Indy is tasked with unlocking, you guessed it, the secret of the lost city of Atlantis. The storyline is captivating, to the point that I always wished Lucasfilm would adapt it into the next Indiana Jones film. Maybe that doesn’t say much, considering almost anything would have been better received than the Indy reboot we got a few years back. Still, a developer in their prime making one of the finest adventure games ever deserves a spot on this list.
3. The Fall (Parts 1 & 2)
A dark science fiction story about what it means to be alive, The Fall comes from a largely one-person studio; however, you’d never know it from the quality. It follows the story of an artificial intelligence embedded in a space suit. Falling to the surface of a planet, the A.I. is unable to rouse the owner of the suit, and so it takes control, hoping to abide by its prime directive and protect its master. Things get weirder from there. Puzzles are a little more environmentally based than adventure-gamey (genre fans will probably get what I mean), but that by no means disqualifies it from inclusion here. Both games are available digitally, with a third and final chapter coming sometime soon.
2. Day of the Tentacle
Another classic from developer Tim Schafer (along with co-director Dave Grossman), Day of the Tentacle was my first and, for a long time, my favorite adventure game ever. Filled with quirky characters and hilarious dialogue, Day of the Tentacle follows Bernard, the nerdiest, cowardliest character from Lucasarts’s Maniac Mansion. So yes, this is a sequel, but knowledge of the previous game is only a nice-to-have here, it won’t impede your enjoyment. Bernard and his two friends become separated in time, with one trapped in colonial times and another in an alternate future in which evil tentacles have taken over the world. They’ll have to find a way to cooperate to set everything right again and get back home. It is, in my opinion, the finest example of the Lucasarts adventure game tradition. A remaster is available on PCs and modern consoles, so pick it up right away.
1. The Myst Series
An adventure game in a very different style from the others on this list, Myst is a first-person point-and-click experience with a pervasively lonely atmosphere. Dropped on an island with no clues except a single, discarded note, players have to first unlock the mysteries of Myst Island before delving into its connected Ages, or other worlds. Its sequel, Riven, was a brilliant upgrade on all fronts, with a more developed and integral story, much better graphics, and even more difficult puzzles. The series would go on to produce several more titles, some by other developers, and while they’re all worth giving a go, the first two titles have earned their spot at the top of this list for expanding our idea of what a game could be and for crafting a finely realized fantasy world that’s still a blast to explore.