Top 100 All-Time Adventure Games
In the early eighties, a young company named Sierra On-Line took a chance with a brand new type of game that introduced animated “3D” graphics to the already-popular text adventure format. Created by Roberta Williams, the game was King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown, and at the time there was nothing else like it. As in a text adventure, players communicated with the game by typing in two-word commands, but King’s Quest’s 16-color graphics created a full visual world where before there had only been words. Using the arrow keys, players could move the protagonist Sir Graham across the screen, behind rocks and in front of trees. The unassuming hero with the feathered cap could jump, swim, and tumble to his death. And, with skillful input from the player, he could recover the three lost treasures of Daventry and become king.
By modern standards, the first King’s Quest is incredibly simplistic. Its storyline is little more than a mish-mash of fairy tale themes and its gameplay is riddled with dead-end scenarios and potential fatalities. But even if the pixelated graphics, finicky text parser, and often-frustrating gameplay haven’t aged gracefully, Quest for the Crown will forever be remembered as groundbreaking for its time. Its success jumpstarted the graphic adventure genre and paved the way for Sierra’s industry dominance in the eighties and nineties. Its historical importance has secured a spot on this all-time classic list, though it’s from a historical perspective that King’s Quest I is best enjoyed today – not necessarily as an adventure gaming masterpiece, but as a glimpse at how it all began.
You might also like: King’s Quest II: Romancing the Throne and King’s Quest III: To Heir is Human
The work of H.P. Lovecraft has inspired a myriad of novels, movies and games over the years. One of the most frightening, Shadow of the Comet, perhaps captures the eerie atmosphere of such tales as The Dunwich Horror and The Shadow over Innsmouth more effectively than all of them. As photographer and journalist John Parker, you are called to a secluded New England town to do a report on Halley's Comet, but you'll soon find yourself investigating the strange events that occurred there during its previous passage in 1834, when an astronomer came to the village and went mysteriously insane. The original interface of this 1993 Infogrames adventure is quite cumbersome by today’s standards (at least before being updated in a CD-ROM re-release), making segments requiring quick reflexes incredibly taxing, and some solutions like the infamous Icarus-like escape device are a bit silly, but the otherwise gripping story and fear-filled atmosphere are what make this adventure an unheralded classic that every horror fan should play.
Like any good Lovecraft adventure, when you walk through the early twentieth century streets of Illsmouth, even in the comforting light of day, the atmosphere is so thick and ominous that you constantly feel that something bad is about to happen. The unnerving, disquieting soundtrack feeds this tension beautifully, reinforcing the sense that every corner you turn may conceal one of the unspeakable horrors of the Cthulhu mythos, putting a constant strain on your nerves. The horror isn’t merely implied though, by any means. Something ancient lurks beneath the town, waiting to be reawakened, and you better hope it’s not you. Some sequences, particularly toward the end of the game, are definitely not for the faint of heart and are bound to send a thrilling shiver down your spine. If you're looking for an adventure capable of keeping you on the edge of your seat and then making you jump from it, you still can't go wrong with Shadow of the Comet, even to this day.
You might also like: Prisoner of Ice, Phantasmagoria
It may not have the most cohesive story or the best puzzles of all the adventures on this list, but boy is Discworld II fun. In 1996, Rincewind and his walking luggage trunk were back for yet another round of acerbic British humour, and the young wizard looked awfully good delivering it. A year after the original game brought Terry Pratchett’s imaginative world to PCs, the sequel arrived sporting some pretty standout cartoon graphics. It was a beast to run due to its lavish backdrops and detailed animation, but now that the hardware has caught up (and far surpassed it), the vivid art design still hold up well today. Better yet, this fantastical world is full of interesting sights to see and oddball characters to meet, from the dwarf lothario with a stepladder to Uri Djeller and his strenuous spoons. The Discworld is a fun place just to be.
In this adventure (subtitled Missing Presumed…!? or Mortality Bytes! depending on where you live), the young Rincewind has to travel the Disc in search of Death, who’s decided it’s time for a holiday. The puzzles marked a vast improvement over its predecessor’s unrelenting difficulty, making far more sense (as much as anything on this world can) in the context of the game, resulting in a much more enjoyable romp. The standout comedy cast returned, with Monty Python’s Eric Idle reprising his lead role. Discworld II is a consistently funny game that knowingly pokes fun at the genre throughout. Not a line seems to goes by without some reference to the decline of adventure games or conventional inventory puzzles. Ironically, it did nothing to remedy these criticisms itself, but its self-deprecating humour went a long way in lifting the game above its less successful contemporaries.
You might also like: Discworld, Time, Gentlemen, Please!
Before there was Monkey Island, there was Maniac Mansion. In fact, if not for the first adventure designed by Ron Gilbert (along with Gary Winnick), who knows how the adventure genre might have evolved. It’s so old now that many gamers may never have played this 1987 title, but it was that important in its day. Produced by Lucasfilm Games (now LucasArts), Maniac Mansion was the first true point-and-click adventure released, pioneering the verb-based SCUMM engine used to power so many of the company’s classic games to follow. The game was much different than its story- and character-driven successors, instead thrusting you into multiple roles on a simple rescue mission, with a choice of protagonists and an open, non-linear means of achieving your goals.
Twenty years after a large and ominous meteor crash landed on the family lawn of the Edison family, the mansion is now home to bizarre and murderous experiments. Dave Miller suspects that his cheerleader girlfriend has been kidnapped by Dr. Fred and sets out with two of his chosen friends to find her. After picking two friends to accompany Dave (from six choices), you can switch between your three playable characters at any time in order to use each person's skills to solve puzzles in a number of different ways. Some are more mechanically inclined, while others are strong, more artistic, and so on. The simple premise never involves any more than getting into the house, finding Sandy, and trying to thwart the plans of the evil scientist and his equally deranged family. As one of the earliest LucasArts adventures, Maniac Mansion includes some deaths and dead ends, but its open-ended gameplay and quirky, B-grade horror film parody humour ensure it retains much of its original entertainment value today, quite apart from its significant historical contributions to the genre.
You might also like: Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders
Leisure Suit Larry became an iconic figure in comic adventure circles in the late ‘80s and ‘90s, though the lovable-but-ever-unlucky loser didn’t truly come into his own (so to speak) for the modern era until 1997’s Love for Sail! It’s certainly debatable which game in the series was the best in its time, but the final adventure designed by Al Lowe for Sierra is the only one that really holds up well to this day. This is due mainly to its technical refinements, but its witty and somewhat bawdy humor, clever puzzle implementation, and colorful cartoon graphics have lost none of their original appeal. This time out, Larry finds himself on a luxury love boat trying to win a date with the vivacious Captain Thygh. Unfortunately for Larry, it’s a test of masculinity, a resource in very short supply, so he’ll have to use his big brain to solve tricky puzzles and cheat his way into the captain's bed.
Like its predecessors, Leisure Suit Larry 7 is an unashamedly “adult” game with a Benny Hill-style of humour full of sexual innuendo and risqué scenarios. The interface included a few enhancements over earlier iterations, however, with a fully interactive map to help you get around the PMS Bouncy and a rather distinctively-shaped smart cursor, which brought up a small verb menu that even allowed typing particular commands. Other fun gimmicks were added as well, like a Scratch-'n'-Sniff card and an ongoing “Where’s Dildo?” take on the Waldo craze. Leisure Suit Larry is never going to be everyone’s cup of tea, but putting aside any political correctness, the series remains one of the funniest ever. It’s tough to pass over the original game for its special place in history, but for ongoing accessibility and just plain fun, the seventh and final “real” Larry adventure is the most worthy representative for our top 100.
You might also like: Sierra’s Leisure Suit Larry series (especially #4!)
Next up: #70-66...Continued on the next page...