It would an understatement to say that I was less than impressed with Syberia 3. A few years ago, this would have been a far bigger issue, simply because that single game would have represented a significant percentage of adventure games released that year. Fortunately, we are now experiencing something of a resurgence of the genre.
Telltale Games has been keeping the fires stoked, but its approach the genre is a departure from the more traditional point and click games some prefer to play. Fortunately, those games are making a comeback, helped in part by the rise of crowd-funding, and the increased accessibility to indie games – or more accurately, the ability of indie developers to reach niche audiences.
The real breakthrough was Broken Age. It may not have been the Holy Grail of old-school adventure gaming many were hoping for, but I think it fair to say it is largely responsible for the revival of the genre. Its Kickstarter campaign proved that there was interest, and its success even lead to some iconic games and game creators re-entering the scene. Obsidian's Chris Jones, Space Quest creators Scott Murphy and Mark Crowe, and genre superstar Ron Gilbert have all made welcome returns, with new titles either recently released or just on the horizon.
With all that in mind, I wanted to highlight my top 10 adventure games from the last couple of years. One note: the list does not include any Telltale Games titles, as I see them as more casual sub-genre with far less of the puzzle solving I consider to be vital to the adventure game experience.
Grim Fandango (2015)
One of the most beloved adventure games of all time made a welcome return in 2015. While the update did not do as much as I would have liked, and certainly less than later LucasArts remasters did, the strength of the original game makes this a must-buy for genre fans. Manny Calavera’s journey through the Underworld is funny, intelligent, and as enjoyable now as it was almost 20 years ago. A new point and click control scheme coupled with improved visuals and a gorgeous remastered soundtrack make this an essential purchase. Read my full review here.]
Stasis (2015) and Cayne (2017)
Isometric sci-fi nightmare Stasis came out of nowhere. Off the back of a successful Kickstarter campaign, first-time developer Christopher Bischoff managed to do something industry veterans often fail at, and that is injecting a personality into their game world. The near derelict Groomlake Research Ship is terrifying and dripping with atmosphere. Stasis and its 2017 prequel are not only gut-wrenchingly horrific, but have an emotional depth many horror games would kill for. Stasis is not only one of the best horror games I have ever played, it's one of the best adventure games of the all-time. [Read my full review here.]
Publisher Wadjet Eye Games has been keeping the adventure game torch lit for years now, and its library has several very enjoyable traditional point and clickers. Technobabylon by Technocrat Games is an example of Wadjet's very best, a retro-inspired pixel art cyberpunk adventure that provides some of the best storytelling in the genre. Couple this with some exceptional puzzle design and a healthy amount of detective work, and you have the perfect storm of sci-fi adventuring. It feels very much like the cousin of the iconic Beneath a Steel Sky, and I can’t recommend it enough.
The Book of Unwritten Tales 2 (2015)
Tropes can be a problem in gaming. Often, they betray lazy narrative design, or a lack of imagination. Neither accusation can be levelled at The Book of Unwritten Tales 2. A pitch-perfect skewering of every fantasy trope under the sun, Unwritten Tales is a comedic gem that holds strong to the traditional point and click roots of the genre. A beautiful, charming, and laugh-out-loud pop-culture parody, it should bring a smile to the face of any genre fan. [Read my full review here.]
Anna’s Quest (2015)
When it comes to modern adventure gaming, there is perhaps no more important developer than Daedelic Entertainment. If Wadjet Eye is the torchbearer, Daedelic is the lighthouse, its beam cutting through a murk of first-person shooters and open-world collect-'em-alls. Anna’s Quest is family friendly, but darker than expected adventure puzzler that builds a slightly surreal, fairytale-inspired world around a telekinetic protagonist. Its gorgeous hand-drawn art is superb, and while some puzzles fizzle, there is a lot of magic in this Saturday morning cartoon meets Twilight Zone head-scratcher.
Wadjet Eye’s second entry is the post-apocalyptic Shardlight. As with most of Wadjet’s releases, it's a very traditional puzzle-laden point and click adventure with a retro pixel art aesthetic. One of the more difficult games in this list, it is guilty of a few of the genre’s more irritating sins: obtuse puzzle design. While not true of every puzzle in this dystopian grime-athon, there are quite a few that will tax even the most dedicated adventure puzzle-solver. The story is decent, well told and professionally acted. Genre fans will find a lot to like here.
Day of the Tentacle (2016)
What can be said about Day of the Tentacle? Tim Schaffer’s sequel to Ron Gilbert’s Maniac Mansion is spectacular. It's laugh-out-loud hilarious, with Tim’s signature off-kilter humour filling every space. The remaster is gorgeous, while keeping true to the original art design, its crisp cartoony graphics exactly what I was hoping for. This is one of the best examples of how a remaster should be executed. Long-time fans can relive their adventure with no risk of childhood memories being tarnished, and new comers are welcomed with a bright colourful cartoon world that contains a multitude of brain-melting, time-travelling, multi-character, common sense-defying, forehead-slapping yet strangely logical puzzles that are sure to frustrate and delight.
Full Throttle (2017)
The third LucasArts remaster on this list is easily on par with the two previous entries. It is the shortest game on this list, but in many ways is perhaps my favourite. While I prefer vanilla Grim Fandango over the OG Full Throttle, the remaster of Full Throttle is exceptional, and objectively superior to the not-quite fandango facelift given to Manny and co. Featuring an exceptional soundtrack and a hilarious script expertly acted by the superb Roy Conrad (RIP) and always on-point Mark Hamill, this near-future biker adventure is pure Tim Schaffer. More sarcastic and biting than his other games, it is no less funny for it. There are some minor issues with the more action-oriented parts of the game, but the puzzle-solving and storytelling aspects are second to none. Oh, and the opening track by The Gone Jackals has never kicked as much ass as it does in the exceptional remaster. [Read my full review here.]
Easily the most bizarre game in the list, Paradigm is an example of how one man’s passion can create something rather special. 'Surreal' does not begin to describe this game. It is also one of the funniest games I have ever played. While it plays it safe in terms of core design, the same cannot be said about its setting or characters. With its candy-vomiting sloth super-villains to its beat-boxing plants, Paradigm never lets up on the consistent delivery of "WTF?" moments. But the real strength here is the story of a hideously deformed mutant looking to fulfil his destiny and find his place in the world. With smart puzzles and beautiful hand-drawn art, this bizzaro head-trip to 1980’s styled Eastern Europe is one game that should not be missed.
Thimbleweed Park (2017)
Ron Gilbert is back! The godfather of the genre has returned in spectacular fashion with Thimbleweed Park, a spiritual successor to the iconic Maniac Mansion. This multi-protagonist X-Files meets Twin Peaks adventure is why I love this genre. It’s strange, and much darker in places than I was expecting, but it is perhaps the best designed and constructed game in this list. The puzzles are all exceptional, and the shifting points of view as you control the various characters in Thimbleweed Park give further insight into something far more interesting than the murder-mystery that kicks off the opening act.
What did Chris miss? Let us know in the comments below.