There’s been a long-standing rumor that adventure games are dead. In the midst of so many shooters and casual games, it would be easy to agree. And while I’ll be the old fogey complaining about how “they don’t make ’em like they used to,” I’d still maintain that the genre is alive and kicking if you look hard enough. Furthermore, there’s a plethora of older games out there as well. So here are 30 games that will help you scratch that itch for good, though not really old adventure gaming.
A note as far as what constitutes an adventure game: Is it puzzles? Non-linearity? Story? A rich setting that doesn’t rely completely on shooting for its core mechanics? I’d argue that any game that places more emphasis on a deep narrative and some level of puzzles is an adventure game. Some of the games have action and horror elements too, but that’s hardly the core of their experience. Or perhaps this is more a list of “game adventures” than strictly “adventure games.”
Beyond Good & Evil – Beyond good, anyway. A “Zelda clone” at face value, BG&E polishes up everything that series did well and brings it home with a lovable, fleshed out cast of characters and unique setting. Jade may well be the greatest heroine the medium has yet seen. And with a sequel due next year, you’d all do best to check this out while you still can.
Braid – TGR’s Game of the Year 2008, Braid tells the story of… well, that’s a good question. Unrequited love? Nostalgia for times since past? The creation of the atomic bomb? Braid is as open to interpretation as any game I’ve ever played, and furthermore, it’s just a damn good puzzle game. Perhaps one of the most fiendishly difficult and clever in the history of the medium.
Call of Cthulhu – Something’s rotten in the state of Innsmouth. With the haunting mythology of Lovecraft as a starting point, Call of Cthulhu succeeds admirably at realizing his foggy, turn of the century, port town from hell. Somewhere I’d never want to be in real life, but never want to leave in a game. Funny thing, that.
Chibi-Robo – More Zelda than Animal Crossing, this hilarious tale of a housekeeping robot trying to keep a maniacally bizarre family happy is one of the trippiest, funniest, most charming games to come out of Nintendo. It’s also a great exploration game with lots of secrets hidden in each nook and cranny, for its more diligent players. Shame no one played it.
Day of the Tentacle – Officially 100% not tentacle porn. Rather brain porn. Maniac Mansion’s sequel is a cleverly disguised educational game about how Ben Franklin really discovered electricity and the real-life dangers of pollution and fascism. A post-modern politically charged allegory ahead of is time.
Eternal Darkness – With its Lovecraft inspired eon-spanning quest and some of the best meta freak-out moments I’ve ever seen, Eternal Darkness is one of the most innovative and imaginative examples of the horror adventure. finding yourself walking upside down on the ceiling is disorienting, but thinking your game has glitched on you or you’re sitting on the TV remote when you’re really not? That’s just brilliant.
Full Throttle – When I think of Full Throttle I think of two things: asphalt, and trouble. Featuring, “menacing, well-dressed villains, five o’clock shadows, nose-piercing confrontations, high-speed acrobatics, uncomfortable silences, and uncompromising positions,” Tim Schafer’s first solo effort as director has become an adventure gaming classic for good reason.
Grim Fandango – I’m a little biased here, as Grim Fandango is among my favorite games of all time. Combining Mexican folklore and mythology, film noir, hot rods, romance, and toilet-humor, Grim Fandango is a truly one-of-a-kind game. Special mention should go out to its wonderful cast of characters, stunning aesthetic, and brilliant musical score. At once a parody of film-noir and a loving tribute to it, Grim Fandango fills any noir buff with a sense of giddy glee.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Oft considered to be the pinnacle ot the text-based adventure. Stays true to the spirit of the game more than the movie ever did, and lets face it, we always wanted to find a use for “that thing your aunt gave you which you don’t know what it is.”
Ico – May well be the most romantic game ever made that isn’t a dating sim. I’m quite frankly a bit surprised the “hold hands” button hasn’t found ts way into more games these days. Just imagine how much more moving Gears of War would have been had Marcus been leading Dom around by the hand during their struggles with the Locusts. All kidding aside, Ico is a fantastic mix of puzzle solving and silent melodrama. Escaping a castle has never felt so lonely, sad, or beautiful.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis – “I’m selling these fine leather jackets!” Why wasn’t Indy 4 this good? Seriously. Fate of Atlantis had an excellent plot, worthy of the original trilogy, and Atlantis itself was lovingly crafted and suitably haunting, creepy statues and mutated bones and all. Eerie stuff!
Killer 7 – You unlock secret passages by slitting your wrists. Kids, don’t try this at home! Up there with REZ and Okami as one of the most artistic games ever made. The puzzles and design weren’t the best, but the real puzzle was trying to make heads or tails out of its labyrinthine narrative. Good luck!
The Legend of Zelda series – I cheated here because I didn’t want it to take up a third of this list. No other series has combined such an exquisite combination of exploration, puzzle solving, and combat. There’s a reason these games are so highly regarded, and let me tell ya, it’s not due to Link’s fashionable green cap.
Maniac Mansion – Gerbil in the microwave FTW! Ah, the glorious days before the ESRB when one could get away with that sort of thing in an otherwise “kids” game.
Myst – A game so innovative it’s become the scapegoat for the death of an entire genre. I can’t think of any other game where figuring out what the goal of the game even is is perhaps the game’s biggest puzzle. A beautifully haunting, quiet world created an immersive environment without even the comforts of full movement. Minimalist game design at its finest.
Neverhood – Gumby, on acid, with puzzles. Those who love puzzles and find themselves seeking something a bit odd would do well to check out this claymation adventure.
Okami – Still the prettiest game under the sun, in my mind. Resembling Zelda in structure, Okami innovates with an incredibly unique and flat-out gorgeous art style, a unique control scheme, and a more surprising, touching narrative than you might imagine. A true classic in every sense of the word.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Despite being little more than a text adventure with a hilariously daft sense of courtroom etiquette and the funniest names this side of a Coen Bros movie, Phoenix Wright actually tells a compelling story (or string of compelling stories, rather). The Rube Goldberg-like murder plans are universally brilliant and never cease to keep you guessing. The dialogue is hilarious too, which is a good thing as that’s pretty much all the game is.
Portal – Here’s a game that needs no introduction. Had Valve just stopped at the premise of solving simple spacial puzzles, they’d already have had a hit. But not content to fulfill the role of merely a puzzle game, Portal had to become the poster child of narrative in gaming. It doesn’t hurt that it’s one of the funniest games ever written, with an end-credits song that has become so popular, it is now DLC in Rock Band. A triumph, indeed.
Professor Layton & The Curious Village – Among the most charming games of the last few years, Professor Layton meshed a large collection of fantastic puzzles with a brilliant art style and a surprisingly engaging narrative to great success. Curiouser and curiouser.
Psychonauts – In Tim Schafer’s own words, “Summer camp. Old legends. Conspiracy theories. Trauma. Regret. Inferiority complexes. Guilt. Fathers. Mothers. First crushes. Decay. Insanity. Mutation. Disco.” Psychonauts has more imagination than a dozen other games put together. Based conceptually on Sigmund Freud’s “The Interpretation of Dreams,” Pyschonauts’ “levels inside character’s heads” conceit may sound quite heady, but don’t be surprised if you spend too much time laughing to dig into it too much. Though if you do, there’s a lot to find. Just remember to avoid Milla’s nursery at all costs if you don’t want to cry.
Riven: The Sequel to Myst – Myst plus! Took everything that was great about the original and expanded upon it. Larger, more varied environments, harder puzzles, better pacing, etc… Riven was arguably the greatest game of its subgenre ever made.
Sam & Max Hit the Road – Steve Purcell’s comic characters have made a recent resurgence with their Telltale Games collection, and while good in their own right; everyone’s favorite Dog and “hyperkinetic rabbity thing” buddy-cop duo’s greatest adventure lies back in the past. The glorious 2D past.
The Secret of Monkey Island – A hero emerges. And his name is Threepwood. Guybrush Threepwood. What IS the secret of Monkey Island, you ask? Well, see, it’s actually… Hey look, a three-headed monkey!
The Secret of Monkey Island 2 – Maybe the strangest ending ever to a game that otherwise made sense. Is it all a big joke? Or are we supposed to take it at face value? No one knows. But what I do know is that this game contains some of the most fiendishly difficult puzzles the medium has ever seen and one truly hilarious joke after another.
Shadow of the Colossus – Possibly the most epic game ever created. It’s not that it’s big, or long, but the David vs. Goliath nature of the tale of one adolescent boy overcoming larger and larger obstacles in a desolate land in order to resurrect the woman he loves in a truly moving tale. It’s also a puzzle game, though it may not look like it at the outset. Those with a bit of patience will find themselves well rewarded.
Silent Hill 2 – Joe’s pick for most romantic game evah! Creepy, atmospheric, and more than a little disturbing, Silent Hill 2 tells a fantastic standalone tale that newcomers to the series can fully appreciate. A rich, multilayered narrative lies at the still-beating telltale heart of this game, and you’d all do best to discover it.
Snatcher – Featuring Metal Gear as R2-D2, this early Kojima production puts you in the shoes of the unfortunately named Gillian Seed, a government agent in charge of hunting down renegade androids. Though it may have more than a few similarities to a certain Ridley Scott/ Harrison Ford collaboration, Snatcher wins bonus points for its funny dialogue and graphic rendering of a decapitated corpse.
Tomb Raider: Anniversary – Before Lara became James bond with boobs, she was Indiana Jones (with boobs). Focusing far more on puzzles and platforming than gunplay, Tomb Raider: Anniversary is the best iteration of the series yet, and the one to fulfill the promise of exploring haunted, desolate tombs the most. Quiet, haunting, beautiful, and challenging, TR: A (TNA?) should be played by anyone with even a passing interest in tomb raiding.
Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure – Zack and Wiki are terrible characters. It hurts my eyes just to look at them. Their story is stupid, the Wii motion-controls are finicky, and if they actually existed, I bet they’d smell. Their game also houses some of the most brilliant puzzles in gaming in the last decade. Particularly the bits in the haunted house. Not quite the next Monkey Island, but a huge step in the right direction. Shame it didn’t sell at all.