In the course of my lifelong love for video games I have come to appreciate certain genres in particular. One of those is Graphical Adventure Games. In my mind they are in a distinct class apart from all other types of video games, partly (I think) because they can be enjoyed & experienced along with another person. The following list represents those Adventure Games that have stood out over the years. Some of them are free, some are no longer available through traditional retail channels and others are just simply well worth the time if you can get a hold of a copy.
As with novels Adventure Games run the gamut with respect to theme, prose, depth and overall presentation. Some are funny some are sad, some are short & simple others lengthy and filled with challenging puzzles. Some games resemble interactive cartoons, others feature photo-realistic 3D graphics. We tend to enjoy a broad range… It’s the production value that matters. That’s why you’ll find a mix of games that might run inside a browser, or be offered as a free download, or (more likely) were written for older versions of the Windows Operating System.
Obtaining a game, and then getting it running properly, can sometimes be an adventure in itself.
Anika’s Odyssey – If you are new to Adventure Games then Anika’s Odyssey is a great place to start. The game can be played right in your browser, meaning that no download or installation is required and…it’s Free. There is little in the way of dialog and no inventory puzzles to manage. Just click on objects and see what happens. The story follows young Anika who undertakes a journey to rescue something of great importance. It’s a brief adventure that can easily be finished in about 30 minutes or so, but somehow manages to transport you to another world, similar to the way a well-written and illustrated storybook does. Developed by Trickysheep.
Apprentice – For those who are new to Adventure Games it is helpful to know a little about the famous LucasArts titles of the 1990’s (screenshots here). The reason is that a great many games since then, especially from the indie community, are modeled after those ‘classics.’ Apprentice is one of them. This delightful little adventure by Ian & Greg Schlaepfer places you in the lowly shoes of Mortimer Pip, wizard’s apprentice and all-around doer of chores and other menial tasks. The production value is impressive for an indie freeware title and goes out of its way to pay homage to its source of inspiration. You should know that not all adventure games focus on cartoon humor, nor do I endorse the entirety of the LucasArts library. But there are a few standout games and good fun to be had for those who enjoy the occasional light-hearted (even silly) adventure. Here is one example.
Beyond Good & Evil – An Action Adventure game through and through, Beyond Good & Evil earns a place on this list for having a well-crafted story that is more than just a pretext for its characters and game world. There’s a good balance between light and heavy themes here, with a moderate difficulty level that should keep it accessible to a broad audience. Rather than running about bashing things you’ll find yourself watching & listening as the main character slowly unravels a conspiracy.
The Curse of Monkey Island – Arguably the crowning jewel of the LucasArts classics, this third installment in the Monkey Island series will whisk you away to a land of high adventure and daring do (and plenty of forehead slapping jokes). Follow the misadventures of Guybrush Threepwood in his ongoing quest to rescue Elaine and put a stop once and for all to the dastardly pirate LeChuck. The animation and backdrops are superb, supported by good writing and a top-notch cast of voice actors (something no respectable Adventure Game should be without). The scenarios and humor present throughout the Monkey Island series are intentionally corny, but mostly avoid becoming blatantly juvenile. It helps to be in a silly mood when you play…and be sure to have Guybrush interact with as many things as you can.
The Dig – When “The Dig” originally debuted in 1995 the meme of the day was cartoon graphics and lots of humor. So it was a bit of a risk for Sean Clark and his team to release a game with dark graphics and a heavy plot. They did, and the reviews were mixed. But I played it several years ago and enjoyed it. This one is not recommended for newcomers and may give even Adventure Game veterans a worthy challenge. To help more fully enjoy the story consider accessing the Universal Hint System for this one.
Grim Fandango – Thanks to the DOD fan site (to which this game’s title links) there is little left for me to add. Grim Fandango isn’t the sort of Adventure Game I normally play, but earns a place on this list for being unique and entertaining. The voice acting is also some of the best I’ve heard. Even so, it isn’t recommended for most people, especially casual gamers. The game is extremely difficult, uses an unconventional control scheme and doesn’t do any sort of hand-holding. But, if you’re a fan of the old LucasArts titles, find the game intriguing, or just want to know what all the fuss is about, then I recommend using a walkthrough. At least that way you’ll get to experience the story without the intense frustration. Downloadable save files are available as well.
The Inner World – A creative story, delightful scenery… and wonderfully voice acted. Fully animated cut-scenes bring the whole experience together for a memorable adventure. Despite appearances some of the themes and content are appropriate only for adults and are recommended for that audience only.
King’s Quest – Rather than being objectively outstanding, King’s Quest receives a mention for its cultural/historical value. When originally released in 1984 this was a breakthrough title, establishing the mold that Graphic Adventure Games would follow for decades to come. Prior to 1980, Adventure Games were predominantly text-based. The version featured here, by AGD Interactive Studios, is a fan remake of that original classic (by developer Sierra On-Line). It features enhanced graphics, runs on modern Operating Systems and is available as a free download.
The Last Express – Every once in a while a game comes along and completely redefines a genre. In 1996 a team led by Jordan Mechner created one of those games – they called it The Last Express. If you’re new to Adventure Games, this isn’t the one to start with. But it is worth a look, especially if you enjoy a good mystery, a hearty challenge, and don’t mind first-person perspective adventures. There is so much about this game that is both stylish and unique, that’s it’s difficult to put into words. Instead, let me refer you to this review by Michal Nekasec, and this YouTube trailer (which does contain spoilers). Content in the full game may not be suitable for children.
Lilly Looking Through – A delightful tale in which older sister Lilly must rescue her brother from a wayward ribbon. Or is it something else? Lovely art, animation and voiceover with an interesting mechanic involving a looking-glass. In terms of brevity, it’s the equivalent of reading a short but thoroughly enjoyable children’s book, rather than something akin to a novel.
Machinarium – From the Amanita Design team comes one of the most endearing point n’ click Adventures in recent memory. There is very little not to like about this game. From the endearing characters, humorous non-dialogue, to the detailed hand-drawn backgrounds and superb musical score, everything has come together in a near perfect package. Available as a digital download for all major Operating Systems. A word of advice: If you run Firefox (with BetterPrivacy extension) and/or CCleaner you will want to read this thread, and possibly this thread too.
Moop and Dreadly – Otherwise known as Moop and Dreadly in the Treasure on Bing Bong Island. I should start by pointing out that this is a ‘kids game.’ Not in the sense that only kids (and kids at heart play video games) but in the sense that this game was designed for and geared toward – kids. So I played it. And…I really enjoyed it. I’m also willing to bet there are many of you out there who will enjoy it too. Feel free to bring a child along for the ride, if that will make you feel better. A short (easy) adventure with fun, lovable characters and some great voice acting & dialog.
Return to Mysterious Island – Despite its name…is not a sequel. Instead, it is the first of two games (so far) in an original series based loosely on the Jules Verne novel “Mysterious Island.” The qualities that stand out most in this game are its clever use of Inventory Puzzles (sometimes a problem can be overcome in multiple ways) and the richly detailed island setting, waiting to be explored. I would recommend this one as a second, possibly even first game, for those new to the Adventure Game genre. The story and puzzles are engaging, without being overly complex, with a nice journal system to help keep things moving forward.
Samorost – Having written about these games previously I won’t attempt to add too much more, other than to say that the original Samorost set the bar for how a casual, point n’ click Adventure should play. There’s no dialog, no inventory and moderate puzzles at best. With all of that out of the way, the player can just simply enjoy a delightful little story and fascinating scenery. Samorost 1 is free to play; Samorost 2 is $5 (but offers a longer adventure). Both are browser games and a great pleasure to play.
Sunset Over Imdahl – By now you have probably realized that Adventure Games come in many shapes and sizes, a wide variety of art styles, degree of difficulty and level of user interaction. Perhaps…the only thing they truly have in common, is an emphasis on the story over elements of gameplay. Here is a game that has widely been misunderstood to be a Role Playing Game, probably due to Teo Mathlein’s use of graphics reminiscent of RPGs from the 16-bit era of console games, but is rather an Adventure Game at heart. A free download of less than 8MB, this medium-length adventure follows the story of a young boy sent through time in the hopes of preventing a great disaster. (S1) (S2)
Syberia I & II – The Syberia games, lead by Designer Benoît Sokal, presently hold the position of our most favorite Adventure Game. For us, these two games, which can be thought of as parts 1 and 2 of the same story, represent the best expression of traditional Adventures. They constitute the standard by which all others (of this type) are measured. A wonderful, engaging story is only the beginning. Everything is there, including an intuitive interface, challenging (but not overly difficult) puzzles, amazing backgrounds, art, animation, sound, musical score and of course the always important quality voice acting. If you ever only play one Adventure Game in your life, this should be it. Also highly recommended as the first for those new to the genre.
A Tale of Two Kingdoms – Sometimes I am amazed at not only the talent of independent game designers, but their generosity in giving away their games for free. Here is one example of a freeware Adventure Game that truly shines. The art, interface and animation embody much of what you would have seen in the early 90s, and gives the impression of being a ‘retro remake’ title. Yet, both the game and story are original. If you find you enjoy it, consider a small donation to help support their work.
What Makes You Tick? – Here is another fine example of independent game development at its best. In 2007 Matthias Kempke released his project as a freeware title. It was well received and deservedly so. The entire package provides a relatively short adventure, but offers a quality production that’s rarely seen in a freeware offering. If you happen to enjoy this one then you’ll be glad to know a sequel is in the works.
You may also enjoy:
- Most Memorable Video Games – An Historical Timeline
- Fessic’s Favorite Free Video Games