As a kid growing up with an IBM in the 80’s, our choice of games were mostly limited to awful strategy games programmed in BASIC or adventure games. Our family consumed a lot of these and we often played them together. I fell in love with being in an adventure where I had choices to make. I loved Choose Your Own Adventure books, but adventure games allowed for critical thinking.
Most adventure games have required hammering your way through a story while trying to determine what random inventory objects you’ve collected will help you advance the plot. It was a limitation of the beast, though some games were able to take this idea and still create captivating stories. The best games were so immersive that the puzzles were seamless rather than obtrusive.
I’m talking a lot in the past tense. Not every game on this list is from the 80’s, or even the 90’s. Some quality adventures are still made, but they’re fewer and far between, and I’ve had less time to play what’s out there. I have no doubt there are brilliant games I haven’t played.
Considering all the hybrids out there, what qualifies a game as an adventure? For me, it’s when the predominant feature of the game that shines through is the story. The Professor Layton games have stories, but they’re essentially pure puzzle games with threadbare plots thrown around them. Half-Life has a good story, but the predominant feature of the game is in the action. At times the distinction feels arbitrary, but I sense there won’t be any obvious games passed over.
I realize some of you have never really played adventure games; to be honest, many of the old games do not hold up all that well, and even the old ones I love often could not find an audience. To help you decide if a particular game might be appealing for you today, each game will have two scales.
The first scale is how well a game translates today. If the story is awesome, but the controls are so clunky or the parser so unforgiving that it would turn off modern gamers, then the rating will be low. If it’s still easy to pick up and play today, the score will be higher.
The second scale will show you how cruel or fair the game is. Can you put the game in an unwinnable situation because you forgot to pick up that knife on the beach fourteen hours ago? That’s the kind of cruelty gamers just don’t put up with today. I wouldn’t either, but I did when I was younger, and I still fondly remember some of those games. On the other hand, there are plenty of games on the list that never feel unfair. Hopefully, you’ll find these rankings useful in addition to my reviews.
I have played to completion around 120 bona-fide adventure games. While to some extent I like over half of them, there are about fifty that I find to be pretty solid and ones I would gladly play more than once, and in many cases, have done so. See you on Monday for DbT’s third countdown!