Adventure games are an odd genre that has stretched back over several decades. They represent some of the best stories and characters found in video games, and also some of the hardest games ever created. Whether you prefer an old-school unforgiving Sierra game where death lurks around every corner, or a humorous romp through a crazy and colorful LucasArts property, or you want to trudge through the somber and depressing (but incredibly engrossing) entries of the modern Telltale Games series, you can probably find an adventure game that will give you hours and hours of entertainment. In celebration of this long-lived genre, here are some of the best adventure games ever made.
10. Broken Age
One of the biggest Kickstarter success stories to date, the game, released in two parts over 2014 and 2015, features a return to the old-school 2-D adventure game style. From the mind behind such hits as Day of the Tentacle and the Monkey Island series (we’ll get to both of those), Broken Age follows two different protagonists from two different worlds. Vella is a young female with big ideas, and most of them don’t involve being eaten by a big scary monster that visits her village every few years seeking tribute in exchange for safety. Meanwhile, Shay is a young man trapped on a space ship that tends to his every need, which is really, really boring after a while. When both attempt to break free from their destiny, they set into motion a strange series of events that will change both their lives, and their worlds, forever.
9. Zak McKracken And The Alien Mindbenders
A game you never hear that much about, Zak McKracken was one of the first adventure games created by LucasArts, as they took the formula found in popular Sierra games such as King’s Quest (again, we’ll get to it) and decided to make things just a little easier on players by making it impossible to die or lose the game. In exchange, they added even crazier puzzles to add an element of challenge, forcing players to think about things from truly odd perspectives in order to solve them using seemingly random objects. It has been credited as the inspiration behind future LucasArts adventure games such as the Indiana Jones and Monkey Island franchises, and is one that is sorely in need of a modern re-release.
8. The Walking Dead: Season One
By now, everyone knows about Telltale Games and their dedication to turning any licensed property they can find into a dialogue-filled, point-and-click story where your choices can change the outcome, a style which has become the signature of the modern genre of adventure games. In addition, their games were among the first to use the “episodic” release strategy, breaking every game up into chapters that would be released over a period of several months. One of their first, and definitely one of their most successful entries in this genre was The Walking Dead, based on the graphic novel series, and coincidentally released at the same time that the popular television show was burning up the airwaves. The Walking Dead takes a cast of original characters through a world where the zombie apocalypse has just occurred, centered around Lee Everett, a convict who was freed during the chaos of the outbreak, and Clementine, the young girl he meets nearly immediately afterwards and vows to protect. As anyone who has watched the show or read the comics should know, there are no happy endings in the world of The Walking Dead, and this game provides an excellently-written story that forces the player to make incredibly difficult and occasionally gut-wrenching decisions, often on the spur of the moment, that can sometimes determine the fate of the people around them.
There’s just something about Myst. It’s a very simple game, your character travels silently through mostly spectacularly rendered environments, gathering clues and solving puzzles, eventually meeting strange people, trying to solve the mystery of the island and get back to the real world. Unlike many adventure games, you don’t really have an inventory of random things you pick during the course of the game, and your interaction with other people is incredibly limited, with most of the game being played silently, by yourself. And yet, from its release in 1993 until it was surpassed by The Sims in 2002, Myst was the best-selling PC game of all time, and a big force behind the adoption of the then-fledgling CD-ROM format on PCs. It’s also sometimes accused of killing the adventure game genre for a long time, due to removing most of the properties (interactivity with objects and NPC’s, continually moving plot, dying when you screwed up) that were staples of that type of game at the time.
6. Until Dawn
The most recent entry on this list, but no less deserving of a spot. Picking up the concept from Telltale’s series of adventure games where your decisions matter, Until Dawn flew by under the radar until its release on the PS4. A common complaint of Telltale’s games was often that even though you were told your choices would change the outcome, in the end, very little of what you chose ended up making a difference to the story. In Until Dawn, every decision you make, from which path to take to whether you try to run or hide, could result in the death of one of your characters. In the end, how many of your band of teenagers survive their night in a mysterious ski lodge (indeed, if any of them survive at all) is entirely up to your decisions, some of them made in a split-second. While the story and characters represent nearly every horror movie cliche in the books, the incredibly realistic graphics combined with some good acting performances and an abundance of jump scares combine into something that a truly unique adventure game experience.
5. Sam and Max Hit the Road
If there was any justice in the world, Sam and Max would have become a huge franchise in the veins of The Simpsons or South Park. Instead, the crime-solving dog and his homicidal rabbit buddy are only remembered for short-lived cartoon series and this game, which is a hilarious mystery involving the search for a missing Bigfoot. Along the way, Sam and Max travel all across the United States, visiting legendary sites such as Mount Rushmore, the Mystery Vortex, and, of course, the World’s Largest Ball of Twine. Along the way, they’ll find lots of unique suspects to interrogate, experience cutting-edge virtual reality simulators, and discover the secret of the entire race of Bigfoots…Bigfeet…whatever.
4. Gone Home
The game that some people will tell you isn’t really a game at all, but they’re probably just mad that there isn’t any combat. In this game you have arrived at your family’s house in the middle of an oncoming storm, to find that nobody is there to greet you. What follows is an adventure through the past, as you search for clues to the whereabouts of your parents and younger sister, through journals, audio diaries, and a trail of clues that explore the secrets of the house, your ancestors, and your immediate family. An intriguing premise with an ending that will have you guessing just exactly what is going on right up until the end, it’s a game that everyone should experience.
3. King’s Quest: Quest for the Crown
King’s Quest was one of the first adventure games to expand upon the text-based originators of the genre like Zork by adding graphics to represent the action, instead of forcing players to use their imagination. The story of King’s Quest is a simple one, as Graham, you are tasked to find three artifacts hidden around the world and return them to the king. It sounds simple, but King’s Quest is set in the days before game developers cared about little things like preventing players from doing anything stupid. In King’s Quest, you can literally die before you’ve taken five steps, because the moat around the castle is full of crocodiles and there’s nothing to stop you from falling in. And that’s just the first in a number of deadly obstacles that can trip you up in your journey, leading to a quick death. In addition, it’s possible to miss key items (or use them incorrectly) and render the game completely unwinnable, and you may not even find out until hours later. It is because of King’s Quest’s unrelenting lack of empathy for the player (and the rest of the Sierra adventure games such as Space Quest, Police Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry) that the concepts of quick-saving and keeping multiple save slots became a staple of modern gaming.
2. Day of the Tentacle
Possibly the crowning achievement of the LucasArts adventure game library, with a long-awaited remake due in the near future, Day of the Tentacle combines a great story with clever puzzles based around a time travel conceit, and adds a cast of colorful and unique, fully-voiced characters, to create one of the most beloved games of the genre. Officially a sequel to the under-rated Maniac Mansion (which can be played as part of an Easter Egg within the game), the story sees the nerdy Bernard and his two friends sent to three different time periods (accidentally, they were all supposed to go to the past, but that’s what you get when you trust a mad scientist) in order to change history and prevent a giant purple tentacle creature from taking over the world. And that’s not even the weirdest thing to happen in this game! If you’ve always wanted to know what inspired the founding fathers when they were writing the Declaration of Independence, how to win a beauty pageant using spaghetti, or just want to know why it always rains when you wash your car, this is the game for you.
1. The Secret of Monkey Island
It’s been 25 years (as of September 2015) since Guybrush Threepwood began his quest to become a mighty pirate, and while the “mighty” part is open to interpretation, several games later, there can be no questioning his piratical abilities. The first game of the series set the tone for a weird and whimsical journey set in, on, and around the mysterious place known as Monkey Island, home to cannibals, rubber trees, and of course, the mythical three-headed monkey. Guybrush reels from one (often self-inflicted) disaster to the next, in search of the many and varied items that, while seemingly inconsequential, can hold the key to defeating the dread pirate LeChuck. And while searching for the secret of Monkey Island, you can also take part in the exciting world of insult swordfighting, where fights are won as much through wit as through skill with a weapon. The game received a special re-release with updated graphics a few years back, plus this list is done, so you have no excuse for not picking it up and playing it right now!