Top 10 Adventure Games
31 July 2010

This one's a dedication to Chett Walters, born this very day. I'll never forget all the time we spent zoning out to video games in our childhood, discovering the wonders of Snatcher and Loom for the first time.

The adventure genre is huge. For the sake of simplicity, let's divide it between action-adventures and old-school adventures. For the latter, I'm talking about games that rely heavily on text. Yeah, if you don't like reading, then don't even bother trying to play any titles in this list. Adventure games include several sub-genres. You'll often hear "definitions" like: point-and-click adventure, text adventure, digital novel/comic book—even sound novel. Don't get too hung up on the differences between these sub-genres. Basically, adventure games focus on telling a story (like RPGs), but an important difference is that combat plays a very small role. Instead, the emphasis is on puzzle solving and exploration. Rather than fast reflexes, you're going to have to rely on your attention to detail and problem solving.

The adventure genre had faded into obscurity since LucasArts and Sierra peaked. Thankfully, with Steam, console game download services, and even—dare I say it?—emualtion, adventure games have seen a bit of a resurgence lately. Chunsoft hasn't changed a bit, having created the Japanese Wii exclusive 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de, which received a perfect 40/40 review score from Famitsu—only the ninth game since the magazine's inception in 1986 to do so! Even in the US of A, we've seen rereleases of The Secret of Monkey Island on the Wii, Xbox 360, and PS3 over the last year. Rumors of the adventure genre's demise have been greatly exaggerated.
Developer: Konami
Publisher: Konami
Released: 1994, 1993 (PC Engine CD)
Though this famous Hideo Kojima game appeared earlier on Japanese computer platforms and the PC Engine CD, only on the Sega CD can you find an official English version. Alas, it's also the most expensive Sega CD game, fetching around $100 on eBay—for good reason. This cyberpunk tale is heavily inspired by Blade Runner, yet the script and plot stand on their own, demonstrating Kojima's brilliance. There are even shooting segments compatible with Konami's Justifier light gun, but it's the dynamic and interesting characters that really suck you in.
Maniac Mansion
Platform: NES
Developer: Realtime Associates (ported the LucasArts original)
Publisher: Jaleco
Released: 1990
Here's the first LucasArts title, and it scores so high because it does do much (playability) with so little (hardware power). Interestingly, it's also the first game to utilize the SCUMM engine, and your characters can actually die. Do not confuse this with the vastly inferior Japanese port that was developed by Jaleco; it features overly cutesy graphics and a much more limited and uninspired musical score. Some of the puzzles don't even make sense anymore! Let's talk gameplay. With one main character (Dave) and your choice of two others from a group of six, each with his/her own skills and characteristics, you have quite a bit of replay value, which is good because once you figure it out, it can be completed pretty fast. A brilliant and famous entry in the genre.
Platform: TG-CD
Developer: Realtime Associates
Publisher: NEC (US), Victor Interactive Software (Japan)
Released: 1992
Believe it or not, this is an interpretation Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake ballet. It's also the only title on this list that eschews the standard inventory system. Instead, you need to learn spells based on musical notes and cast them to solve puzzles. Naturally, the musical score consists of movements from Tchaikowsky's ballet. Not only does Loom look and sound brilliant, delivering an enveloping experience, it represents an early argument that video games can be Art.
Secret of Monkey Island
Platform: Sega CD
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: JVC, Victor Interactive (Japan)
Released: 1992
This is one of the best-known and beloved series in adventure gaming. Great characters, humor, and attention to detail carry the day, even if the Sega CD medium let's you down with long load times. Another bother is having to keep track of passwords rather than save your progress via RAM. The story opens with Guybrush Threepwood and his desire to become a pirate—such fun and elegant storytelling. You're also in for a treat in terms of humor, which is clever and well-written throughout. A feat in writing and storytelling.
Platform: Super Famicom
Developer: Chunsoft
Publisher: Chunsoft
Released: 1992, 1997 (via Nintendo Power)
Yes, this is the Chunsoft of Dragon Quest fame. Imagine this: you're driving down the road one night. Suddenly, lightning strikes a tree, knocking it down right in front of you, and you smash into it. You and your girlfriend are stuck in a forest in the middle of nowhere. Luckily, you discover an abandoned mansion where you can seek shelter for the night. Chunsoft marketed this game as a "sound novel," even though there's no voice acting. The atmospheric graphics and background sound, though, are quite immersive. Yet it remains a game, because you're faced with text choices that affect the story. Try playing with the lights turned off.
Platform: NES
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: Kemco
Released: 1989
This game actually began on the Mac back in 1987 (i.e. the dark ages, we're talking black & white monitor!). It was the third ICOM MacVenture and also happens to be the best of the trilogy. The story is little more than enter this castle, find the ultimate weapon, and save the world. It's the personality of the setting and the life that the writing breathes into it that sets Shadowgate apart from other games. You'll die a lot as you collect items and attempt to solve puzzles, but the fantastically gruesome death scenes and quite entertaining. I still remember a childhood friend demonstrating them for me on his Mac. Though the graphics and focused on functionality, the music is excellent, even changing when your torch runs low to instill panic.
Famicom Tantei Club Part II
Platform: Super Famicom
Developer: Nintendo R&D1
Publisher: Nintendo
Released: 1998
Translated, what you have here is roughly: Famicom Detective Club II: The Girl who Stands Behind. It was originally released on the Famicom Disk System (FDS) in two separate disks, yet it's a prequel to the original game for the FDS. The remake—as you might expect—raises the bar substantially for graphics and sound, taking advantage of the SNES hardware, and you also no longer need to deal with those dreaded load times. Your objective is to solve two murder cases, one involving a school girl and the other one an older murder nearing the statute of limitations. In addition to the wide range of characters, there are quite a few easter eggs burried as well. Surprise!
Beyond Shadowgate
Platform: TG-CD
Developer: ICOM Simulations
Publisher: TTI
Released: 1993
Strangely, the exclusive sequel to Shadowgate arrived on the TurboGrafx-16 CD, which failed to ever gain a substantial foothold in the U.S. market. Gone is the first person perspective, replaced with a Kings Quest-like third person one, plus the addition of a clunky fighting engine. Though the writing isn't as impressive or tight as the original, the graphics and animation are superb. Of course, the death scenes remain highly amusing, too. Thank you ICOM!
Princess Tomato in the Salad Kingdom
Developer: Hudson Soft
Publisher: Hudson Soft
Released: 1988
How Hudson ever came up with a story that is driven my anthropomorphic fruits and vegetables I dare not even contemplate. Amazingly, the tale of Sir Cucumber attempting to defeat the malevolent Minister Pumpkin is endearing and captivating. This definitely fits the sub-genre of text adventure—look at all those commands! Fourteen of them! As expected, it takes a lot of trial, error, and patience to see this title through to completion. Fortunately, you do have a password system that let's you resume on one of the nine levels. You won't find another adventure game out that that's so verdant, and this makes the atmosphere surprisingly charming. It's no wonder this title has developed a cult following over the years.
Metal Slader Glory
Platform: NES
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: HAL Laboratory
Released: 1991
Before creating Kirby, HAL Laboratory produced this remarkable sci-fi graphic adventure with characters based loosly on the 1984 manga Akutenso Fixallia. In order to incorporate extra sound channels and better graphic capabilities, HAL used the Multi-Memory Controller 5 chip (also used to great effect in Castlevania III). Add to this a four year development process and an eight megabit cartridge—the largest for any Famicom game—and surely you must have a good game. Sadly, this title still lacks an English fan translation, which makes it pretty inaccessible. Nevertheless, the love that went into this title, the effort to push the hardware to the limits, and the emotion in the characters can be appreciated. I'm pretty sure it's a great adventure.
Other Recommendations
3 x 3 Eyes PCE CD NCS Digital Comic 1994
Text Adventure
Text Adventure
Text Adventure
Text Adventure
Galaxy Fraulein Yuna PCE CD Hudson Soft, Red Digital Comic 1992
Ranma 1/2: Toraware no Hanayome PCE CD NCS Digital Comic 1991
Rise of the Dragon Sega CD Sierra Text Adventure 1992