Top 20 Adventure Games of All-Time feature

NOTE: this Top 20 dates back to 2001.

For more current lists of top adventure games, please visit:

 


 

 

So how does one come up with a list of the Top 20 Adventure Games of All-Time?

Would you believe darts and a bulletin board?

Okay, maybe not. But I would be foolish to think that this list in any way represents some sort of objective truth about the greatest adventures ever. It is simply one hardcore adventure purist’s attempt to somehow come up with a fair ranking for the truly great games.

What factors are at play here? Well, there are really multiple attributes that a Top 20 Adventure must possess. There is a historical quality attribute; at the time this game came out, what kind of score did it deserve? There is an innovation factor; how much did this game contribute to the progress of the adventure genre? There is a progress of time factor; in the years since the game has come out, how well has it held up? And of course, there is the all-important fun factor, which needs no explanation. These factors are taken together in an attempt to assign each game one overall “greatness” number, but don’t think this is a completely mathematical process. Sometimes, I just look at a game and say, “You know what? Game X should be ranked over Game Y, because I say so.”

I attempted to compile a similar Top 20 list in 1999. This list is different in a very important way: this time, I played through each of these twenty games within the five months prior to writing the countdown, which I did not do last time. I also played through the games that were contenders for the list, just to be sure I was ranking everything properly. I believe this list is more fair and balanced as a result, but I don’t expect it to be disagreed with to any lesser extent.

It is important for me to emphasize that these are the opinions of Evan Dickens, and only Evan Dickens, and do not represent the opinions of any other AG staff member or the site as a whole. In fact, the rest of the staff will be publishing a rebuttal article to my countdown in January.

Please join in the debate! Each day, there will be a new poll posted in the Site Feedback forum, where you can vote and discuss each day’s ranking to your heart's content. Remember, all the feedback I get makes a difference. Some of these games have moved up (or down) from the last countdown because of a deluge of feedback that forced me to reconsider some things. You can also feel free to e-mail me with any of your thoughts and/or comments.

Doing this countdown is the most enjoyable thing I have ever done for the site, and it is my hope that it will be equally enjoyable to read. Thanks for joining me, and happy adventuring!







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About the Author
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Evan Dickens
Staff Writer
Evan Dickens is the former editor-in-chief of Adventure Gamers. Now semi-retired, he meanders about on his front porch firing his slingshot at passing cars and griping about "the old days". Full Bio

Comments

Moelman
Sep 5, 2008

All I have to say is: No Myst?  Its my favorite adventure series for sure.

soukie
Nov 28, 2008

Westwood’s ‘Blade Runner’ is peculiarly missing. But selecting top 20 is a very difficult task, and otherwise the list does include all games that are on my own top ten. (Another notable adventure I would consider for inclusion in the top 20 is The Colonel’s Bequest.)

zorkhead
Jan 26, 2009

It doesn’t have a lot of sexy graphics or voices or music, but the original Zork series is still one of the best adventure games of all time.  It’s challenging, but has logical puzzles that, once you get them, you say,“of course!”

Shockwave
Feb 1, 2009

What about ‘The Dig’??? Alien world, humor, death, joy, ADVENTURE, mystery, betrayal, redemption, amazing puzzles plus you could call your friends! Best one in my books.

Avi Oots
Feb 8, 2009

1. The Quest For Glory Series needs a much higher ranking.  The fact that it isn’t in the top 10, let alone the top 5, is absurd.  I am glad that you mentioned that #4 was your previous choice, (it is Lori Cole’s favorite of the series after all) but SOD needs to stand on it’s own.  Truth is, there’s no reason why 1, 2, and 4 shouldn’t all make this list.  We are talking about one of (arguably THE) greatest adventure series of all time.

2. Curse of Monkey Island is by far the best of the MI series and should be represented here.  Earl Boen’s LeChuck is hands down the best and funniest voice acting ever offered in a computer game.  The graphics and animation are maybe the greatest and most gorgeous in any adventure game.  Best opening sequence ever, and hand painted landscapes that literally made me stop playing for 10 minute intervals just to bask in the wonderment of being utterly engrossed in the environment.  The jokes and voice acting in general are, I think, the funniest in the series (“So do post-impressionist paintings Mr. Threepwood, so do post-impressionist paintings).  But perhaps the most singular achievement, and what makes this game one of the greatest adventure games in history is Michael Land’s live-recorded score, which represents the single greatest soundtrack in the history of video gaming.  The opening theme in all its live acoustic glory was so astounding I put it on my ipod for continued listening.  But the oboe fugue that gently blankets the action while walking around town on Plunder Island is something on another level entirely.  To say it made me stop playing just to listen is an understatement—- it made me weep.  I have never been that drawn into a game, into the virtual world I was playing in, than when I was hearing that music against those graphics on that wonderful sunny afternoon on Plunder Island.  I could literally smell the warm salt air coming up over the docks.

Considering your penchant for ranking based on X achievement and Y significance, CMI should make the top 5 for its singular achievement in gaming music alone, and a as direct result, being one of the most engrossing adventures ever.

3. Day of the Tentacle is a good game, but dude…  It’s clear that you have a preference for the lighter family stuff (which makes it even more curious why CMI didn’t make your list), and while DOTT is a great game, its ranking sort of discredits your list as a legitimate reference and shifts it more into the realm of “Oh, right, it’s just what this guy likes.”  Which is fine, considering your many disclaimers to that effect, but I think you might shy away from the too-bold-for-legitimacy title of “Top 20 of All Time.”  Especially considering you put Fate of Atlantis ten spots ahead of Quest for Glory…

 

Fantasysci5 Fantasysci5
Feb 18, 2009

I agree with “The Longest Journey”, but this list seems to be a lot of comedy, like DOTT the best game?! And no Myst?! What the heck, that series has beena round forever, one of my favorites, and seriously shaped the adventure gaming community. LEt’s just say, I don’t agree with this list. Tongue

Jackal Jackal
Feb 18, 2009

Ssshhh, don’t tell anyone, but Adventure Gamers will be doing a new list some time (hopefully) this year. Until then, you can all keep blaming Evan alone for getting everything wrong. Grin

Ingmar Ingmar
Feb 19, 2009

That sounds very interesting Jack! Who do i have to send my money to, if I’d like to see the GK and Tex Murphy Games whiping the floor with the rest of the competition in the new list?  Smile No but seriously , definetely looking forward to it.

Fantasysci5 Fantasysci5
Feb 19, 2009

I’m looking forward to the new list. But you msut be CRAZY if you don’t have a Gabriel Knight (which I haven’t even played before) and a Myst game on there! Tongue

RootiePatootie
Feb 25, 2009

Although this list is now, by computer game age, pretty old, I overall agree with it. Although not a huge Myst fan I DID think it should have shown up on here though. I also would put Secret of Monkey Island at #1.

zorkhead: I too still love the Zork games and yes, Zork should have been on there. I discovered adventure games very early on in my PC gaming life with a text adventure called Pirate Adventure or something like that, on my TI-99, and then I found Infocom’s Zork and went on from there. I still have that TI-99 and game, plus all my Infocom games, intact!

I am dying to replay Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Father. So I took out the Limited Edition package I have with that and The Beast Within and there it was, an empty CD sleeve where Sins of the Father should be! Looked high and low and can’t find it. Can I still buy or d/l purchase this somewhere???? AIIIEEE! I can’t believe it’s gone!

ozzie ozzie
Feb 26, 2009

It’s a well thought out list, but there are definitely some entries that seem inappropriate and some that I miss.
For example, what’s King’s Quest 1 doing up there? It’s an awfully designed game devoid of originality in every iteration, with dead ends and unfair deaths sucking out all the fun.
Sure, it initiated a whole genre, but that doesn’t make it better. This is the list of the Top 20 adventures of all time, so there’s no reason to excuse its flaws because of its age.
And I thought that Space Quest 4 was at best average.

On the other hand, where is Death Gate? This is one of the best adventure games I ever played and I enjoyed it more than some other entries on this list, so it seems weird that it didn’t get its well deserved place! It had its flaws sure. Too much reading, too linear, but still, nigh perfect!

Gonzosports Gonzosports
Feb 27, 2009

I enjoyed this list, and Evan’s thoughts on these games, but to me they’re from someone who has a wholly different outlook on games.

Riven isn’t the best adventure game of all time, it’s the best GAME of all-time. It’s one of a handful of games (Morrowind, among others) that I consider actual works of art. You could literally study the Heart of Darkness/Filial Relationship connotations in it in a graduate level course.

The omission of Riven, and Myst, and the sequels is jarring, and undeserved.

Secondly, the exclusion of any Infocom title is also completely wrong. Beyond how they literally (pun very much intended) created the adventure game, some of their games are still astonishly deep, compelling and playable. Take a run at Suspect, or Planetfall…or The Lurking Horror. A Mind Forever Voyaging is another game bordering on art (I need to finish it to see how I feel.)

Because of this list, I bought many of the games on here - and it was a nice rundown of games I’d missed while I’d been busy playing mostly RPGs. I know lists will always be opinions, but I do hope when the list is revised, it might be more of a committee approach. I understand some people don’t like Myst, but I’m not fond of Broken Sword, but I can understand its inclusion (designed well, seamless movie integration, cute cutscenes, but it is the most hackneyed, mess of a mystery I have ever seen.)

I am done now.

Bluddy
Sep 10, 2009

I like DOTT as much as you do, but for many items on this list it seems like you were scratching your head trying to think of entries. KQ1, Beneath a Steel Sky, Maniac Mansion and SQ4 should not be in there. I’d suggest as replacements Conquests of the Longbow and GK2. If you MUST have a SQ, SQ5 in my opinion is a better game, but probably neither one should be included.  A Myst game probably deserves a spot, too.

inflikkt inflikkt
Nov 16, 2009

wheres kyrandia? yea blade runner could be up there too.. but i think the kyrandia games were just excellent.. in fact id go so far to say i enjoyed the kyrandia series more than kings quest.  full throttle and qfg should be higher too imo.  sq1?  sq5? ...hm… i always loved the star trek adventure games too..  *shrug*

pbakker22
Jun 16, 2010

It’s been many, many years since I’ve thought about - let alone played - an adventure game, but lately I’ve been thinking about them quite a lot and have started gaming again, and this article was largely responsible for that.

By the time I was twelve I had played gems like Wintergames and Worldgames on the C64, but by 1989 I had my own PC. I would sit behind my XT, Hercules monochrome screen computer, a beast of a thing, carefully typing in the commands to load Othello. To do this, I had to learn DOS. I distinctly remember the weight of the DOS manuals on my lap. I can honestly say that I never studied any books as diligently as those DOS manuals.

Anyway, my PC was second-hand and came with two large boxes of floppy disks on which were countless games. I think I tried them all at one point. I began to feel the power and excitement of playing a game, of being able to control a small universe. It was the addiction of immersing myself into worlds where my imagination was jump-started, where I could be a hero, where I was accepted and didn’t have to deal with being a teenager in real life.

In my case it was all in green of course, but I didn’t know any better. Then one day I walked into a computer store, of which there were precious few at that time where I lived, and bought Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, mostly because I was obsessed with Indiana Jones. I recall I pestered my mother to buy it for me, no small expense considering it cost about $100 at that store. Coming home and starting the game I realized that it wasn’t really designed for a monochrome computer; I couldn’t make out several things on the screen. I was frustrated beyond words and spent weeks trying out everything. I can’t remember exactly what it was that I couldn’t see or do in the game, but it got to the point where I was calling some helpline in the States, from Europe, for help. Somehow someone at school heard that I had this game and my problems with it, and introduced himself to me. He told me he had a PC with an EGA screen. I didn’t know what that was, but when I went to his house he showed me.. colour! I was blown away. We eventually solved Indy on his computer and became best friends. We played all the games he had, I had, and looked for more. Then we discovered King’s Quest, and a whole new world opened.

I can’t begin to explain the impact the KQ games had on me. I don’t recall that I played them in order. Mostly I remember how much I loved those games (I think KQ 1-3 had already been released by this point). My friend and I would sit and play for days on end. It boggles the mind when I consider the patience I had playing games such as these, sitting in front of a screen, literally for days that turned into weeks, dealing with the frustrations of incorrectly typed or misunderstood commands, the many deaths and saves and restores. In the summer we would start playing at 6am and stop only late at night, with few breaks in between. For several years we played other games too of course, but it was Sierra’s Quest series that pretty much defined gaming for me.

Sadly, maybe inevitably, I grew to hate these games, mostly because of their frustrating game play. I remember that I loathed Ken and Roberta Williams and would get a tight feeling in my chest whenever they released a new game. I think that’s why I eventually stopped playing, which looking back on now seems so silly. While I went through several PCs, there were plenty of other adventures to love of course, from Dune to the Monkey Island’s. I remember that my friend and I once didn’t see each other for a week, having each told the other that we were busy with something, and then when we met my friend wanted to show off how far he had progressed in Monkey Island, and it turned out I had reached that exact same spot in the game! Talk about competitiveness. Those days were precious.

I think the last game I played seriously was Prince of Persia: The Shadow and the Flame. By this point I had moved away and my gaming best friend and I were writing each other long handwritten letters about how far we’d made it in the game and sending each other our saved games. Then came high school, and gaming faded away. But I never really forgot about games, and sometimes I’d browse a website and see how many KQs were out, what else was new, what looked good.

Recently I’ve begun to gather a lot of those classic games as well as play newer ones. I’ve found some wonderful collections of older games online and there are some great websites out there talking about them. I’m sure I’m not the only one who discovered games like World of Warcraft and is addicted, but finds other newer games to be too much to handle. Maybe I long for more original, not necessarily innocent games, but maybe games from a more innocent time, games that I can identify with.

I don’t agree with all the games on the Top 20 list here, but who is number 12 and who number 1 is not so important to me. After all, any games on or not on this list are a matter of personal opinion. What is important to me is how Evan has captured what I think is the essence of gaming: how personal an experience it is. And I find that the comments on the article prove that even more. When I read of the nostalgia he experienced playing KQ 1, Gabriel Knight, or even DOTT, I find that I long to play those games again. And that’s what I’ve been doing the last few weeks. I started KQ 1 again, god help me, and will slowly type my way through it. I also got myself the Monkey Island Special Edition, and that’s just amazing. Tim Curry’s voice in GK is still brilliant, and that game just begs for the lights to be turned off. There’re others I can’t wait to try, such as Beneath a Steel Sky and Broken Sword.

It’s nice to rediscover old friends. So thank you Evan for this trip down memory lane, and for putting me back on the road to making more memories.

inflikkt inflikkt
Aug 26, 2010

i really liked farenheit and kyrandia.

MoonBird MoonBird
Aug 26, 2010

I cannot believe it! Where’s Nightlong? Toonstruck? Discworld? Simon The Sorcerers? But the most unforgivable thing is, that it hasn’t got Flight Of The Amazon Queen! This list is a bad joke. And I’ve never even heard of “Pepper’s Adventures in Time”. by the way. Also “Beneath A Steel Sky” is really not worth mentioning even in top 50. Terribly overrated game.

geosouv geosouv
Nov 15, 2010

The Syberia series is missing. I think it’s the best adventure of all time.

Lagomorph Lagomorph
Nov 30, 2010

Wasn’t there a follow up article with some honorable mentions? I’m trying to find that.

Mohlin
Jul 1, 2011

I haven’t played a single one of them…. So it must be a matter of the authors personal taste, since I also miss Myst and games like that in the list.

spiderman_0710
Aug 30, 2011

Using the author’s words ... ” Day of the Tentacle, not a doubt in my mind, is the ultimate adventure game, the greatest ever.”
Just perfect ... no better words to describe it.

archcorenth
Nov 13, 2011

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream?
Dune?
Blade Runner?
Gabriel Knight 2?
Obsidian?
The Fool’s Errand?

All of these are better than King’s Quest I.

And do text adventures not count and adventure games?

bevil031
Dec 30, 2011

Anyone who said that Evan, the author, put some of the games on top of the list, because of they’re his favourites..is..stupid. He stated that his personal favourite is Beneath a Steel Sky….and he placed it nearly on the bottom of the list…at #17…yup

yoko
Jun 9, 2012

hei what abous Syberia?

Jackal Jackal
Jun 9, 2012

This article was written before Syberia was even released. Might want to read one of the current lists instead.  Wink



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