The best point-and-click adventure games
While many modern adventure games offer controller support or keyboard controls for navigating 3D worlds, the classics were all point-and-click games, relying on the trusty old mouse and (usually) an array of commands like "Open" and "Look." There are the best old and new point-and-click adventures.
Many of the best stories are a fusion of things that you can’t imagine working until you see it happening—and then can’t imagine anything else. The Day of the Dead. Aztec mythology. Glengarry Glen Ross. Film noir. It’s the setting for suave yet ground-down travel agent Manny Calavera to go on a four year journey of the soul in the name of love and redemption. (While Grim Fandango originally used 3D "tank controls" instead of a point-and-click movement system, the remaster offers support for both. Spiritually, we felt like it belonged here.)
Quote: “Nobody knows what’s gonna happen at the end of the line, so you might as well enjoy the trip.”
Day of the Tentacle
What is an adventure game? It’s a question many people have a different answer for, but it’s usually based on a love of story, of comedy, of puzzles, of character, of writing, of stepping into a different world for a while and seeing something new. Day of the Tentacle doesn’t have too much in the way of story, but no other game has quite encapsulated everything else so well. It’s the ultimate puzzlebox: three characters in past, present and future worlds working together on headscratchers such as putting a bottle of wine from the future into a time capsule in the past so that hundreds of years later it becomes vinegar and can then be sent back. Thus is the evil Purple Tentacle slowly defeated, even as you walk round the future he’s conquered.
It all just flows, the vivid cartoon graphics making the setting feel far larger than simply one house, and a huge cast of crazy and recurring characters across the three time periods ensuring there’s always something new to be discovered or a new joke to find. It lacks the depth of stuff to point and click on that Sam & Max Hit The Road offered, but what it has is always worth seeing.
Many adventure games hang on at least in part because of their reputation , and so can feel a bit outdated when played today. But Day of the Tentacle is an adventure that’s never been bettered—the high benchmark for the genre since 1993 and still just as enjoyable today. Based on its success, we got games like Grim Fandango and Psychonauts, and unlike many games, it’s all wrapped up by the end with no need for a sequel. Its legacy lives on, and that’s what matters.
Quote: "What possible harm could one insane, mutant tentacle do?"
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis
As far as most adventure gamers are concerned, the fourth Indiana Jones film came out in 1992. And then there were no more. Fate of Atlantis not only gave Indy an adventure worth a thousand crystal skulls, but offered players three distinct ways to experience it—with wits, fists, or accompanied by Sophia Hapgood, psychic turned treasure hunter. The adventure went all over the world, all beautifully painted in Lucasarts’ classic style, and what it lacked in big cinematic set-pieces, it more than made up in 2D action. Fate of Atlantis casts Indy as the thinker's action hero.
Quote: "We're not dating Jones; this is not a date! If it was a date, I would've stood you up!"
Released: 1999 | Developer: Perfect Entertainment
The third Discworld game finally shed its predecessors’ fixation with being as much Python as Pratchett. An inspired take on Ankh-Morpork full of HP Lovecraft parodies, noir monologues and detectiving in a world of trolls, vampires and werewolves, it worked beautifully, and even had some dialogue and other input from the man himself.
Quote: “I’ve had some bad days since I started work as a private investigator. But I’ve never woken up dead before.”
Christopher Lloyd, as Drew Blanc, explores a saccharine land of kiddy cartoons that takes a hard right into BDSM cows, evil clowns popping bunny balloons in the eye, and Tim Curry being... well, Tim Curry. Just pity the translators. Much of the game is about finding matching pairs of words to build a machine: SUGAR and SPICE for instance, and they weren’t allowed to change any.
Quote: “I have one mother of a deadline hanging over my head... and apparently a lifetime of therapy to look forward to.”
King's Quest VI
Released: 1992 | Developer: Sierra Online | Buy it: GOG
While a legendary series, most of the King’s Quest games are better left as nostalgic memories. This is the exception, not simply latching onto classic stories like some kind of fondness vampire, but mixing them together into the Land of the Green Isles—a place that became more than the sum of its parts, with imagination around every corner, beautiful scenery, and by far the series’ best writing, which isn’t too surprising given that it was Gabriel Knight creator Jane Jensen at the typewriter.
Quote: “Girl in the toooooooooooower, I’m reaaaaaaaching out, please teeeeeeelll me what to doooooo!”
A surreal exploration game filled with quizzical vignettes, Samorost 3 is something to dive into without asking for too much explanation. Andy's review offers an illuminating picture:
"I'm standing in front of a giant moth. It would tower over me if it weren't unconscious, but it is, and so I tweak one of its antennae, just to see what will happen. It quivers, like a guitar string. I twang another, and then another. Eventually, they start to resonate, deeply and musically. As the vibrations fade away, I put my magic horn to my lips and play back the tune. My brief concerto awakens the moth, and boy, it is lit. A pair of luminous, spectral ‘ghost moths,’ one pink and one blue, emerge from its proboscis, entwined in a musical dance. With patience and a notepad, I'm able to replicate their musical interchange as well, and that's when things get really weird: Lights flash, music plays, and what I can only describe as a carousel of patio lanterns begins to spin under the lip of a giant fungus. I dance a triumphant jig; a blue-pink swirly thing is added to my inventory. I have accomplished... something. I have no idea what."
Decades later, some of the same people that helped start the adventure game genre put out a game that works as a streamlined homage to dated design without sacrificing identity. Ron Gilbert, David Fox, and friends made Thimbleweed Park old-school item hunting accessible by compartmentalizing each of the five playable characters’ introductions in their own closed-off puzzle scenarios. They teach you how to think like a wacky cartoon character before letting you loose in the strange old town, where an industrious pillow factory once stood and the few remaining locals prattle on about government conspiracy and dangerous gossip. The puzzles get convoluted and the humor a bit too fourth-wall, but in a classic adventure game about classic adventure games, we’d expect nothing less.
Quote: “I’ll never get to finish that delicious sandwich.”
Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars
For a while in the ’90s, you couldn’t move for mentions of and conspiracies about the Knights Templar. But Broken Sword was among the first, working the order into a modern-day holiday for American tourist George Stobbart and French photojournalist Nico Collard as they travelled the world to uncover both the historical events and the new organisation abusing the Knight’s legacy. Beautiful and evocative in every frame, slow and measured like a victorious racing turtle, and bizarrely, far better without all the extra Director’s Cut stuff we got later—though that's what's on sale.
Quote: "The city holds many memories for me, of music, of cafes, of love, and of death."
Callahan's Crosstime Saloon
Released: 1997 | Developer Legend Entertainment
Josh Mandel’s conversion of Spider Robinson’s books is one of the great adventuring underdogs of all time; damn near every pixel is a pun. The second half somewhat runs out of steam, but the first few scenarios are as much a joy to play as it is to hang out with the regulars.
Quote: “Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased. Thus do we refute entropy.”
The Blackwell Legacy
The series about a shy medium and her ghost partner trying to save lost souls in New York unquestionably started out a bit janky, but it quickly turned into an exceptionally heartfelt and successful sequence of adventures. Grounded in a rare sense of sympathy, written with an eye for minimalism, and showing constant improvements, it’s a game that started out being inspired by the classics but soon proved itself worthy of sitting alongside them.
Quote: “The hours might be terrible, but look at all the interesting people you meet!”
Another Lucas classic, where music is magic and the world is very blue indeed. Why this never got a sequel is a mystery: it was confident and yet never flashy, short but sweet, simple but touching. In many ways, a game decades before its time—a story that can be finished in one sitting, perfect for a quick evening’s download from GOG.
Quote: “I’m Bobbin Threadbare. Are you my mother?”
The Longest Journey
Adventures don’t come much more epic than this, the game with the title that isn’t kidding... even if it is at least somewhat dragged out by the dialogue. A game of two fascinating worlds, ours in the future, and a fantasy land also technically in the future, but not quite as full of Blade Runner elements. It’s an amazing trip through the weird, the sinister, and some of the sweariest people this side of Joe Pesci stubbing his toe.
Quote: “Dear Diary, note next time anybody says the word 'destiny'... run like hell!"
The Last Express
On the eve of World War I, the Orient Express makes its final journey across Europe, carrying with it a microcosm of the world powers, a mysterious egg, and one Robert Cath, stuck in a deadly situation he doesn’t even understand. The result is an outstandingly atmospheric adventure, that uses language and meticulous detail to build a mood, and a real-time clock that never stops ticking. Slow, claustrophobic, but always captivating, it’s a ride still worth taking as long as you don’t mind a sometimes slow pace.
Quote: “You should take care... when choosing a name.”
One of the first mainstream adventures to pin its flag in mature storytelling, with a dark atmosphere borrowing from graphic novels and a depth of research and maturity that still stands out. It’s slow paced and its attempts at horror are quaint by modern standards, but its place amongst the classics is unquestionable. The FMV sequel, The Beast Within, is also excellent.
Quote: “What can you tell me about voodoo?”
The Secret of Monkey Island
The sequel is arguably both the better and funnier game, but there’s a raw innocence to the first that keeps it especially fresh. The childlike joy of a world where a young man can come out of nowhere, declare “I want to be a pirate!” and soon be sailing off in search of distant lands, the hand of the beautiful governor, and the most tantalising yet clearly nonexistent secret in gaming.
Quote: “You fight like a dairy farmer!” “How appropriate, you fight like a cow!”
Sam & Max Hit the Road
Released: 1993 | Developer: LucasArts | Buy it: GOG
One of LucasArts’ weaker offerings in terms of puzzles and story, Sam & Max makes up for all of it and more with its sheer enthusiasm and a mountain of minigames, throwaway gags and craziness capable of casting a shadow over much of the southern hemisphere. It’s a cartoon trip around the tackiest tourist traps ever seen, with the psychopathic Freelance Police on the hunt for a missing Bigfoot taken by a country-and-western star. It’s that kind of game.
Quote: “That was a pleasantly understated credits sequence.” “I enjoyed the cheesy retro ambience.”
Creator Tim Schafer introduced this by saying that where Day of the Tentacle’s star, Bernard, would get through a door with a sandwich by buttering the floor and using a cocktail stick to push out the key, Ben from Full Throttle... would kick down the door. It’s a physical, hard-punching adventure with an atmosphere to die for, and a short runtime that at the time disappointed, but in retrospect allows exactly the right focus.
Quote: “When I’m on the road, I’m indestructible. No one can stop me. But they try.”
Leisure Suit Larry Love for Sail
Released: 1996 | Developer: Sierra Online | Buy it: GOG
Yes, really. Really. Seriously. Ignore the series’ honestly (mostly) undeserved reputation—if you’re looking for a genuinely funny, refreshingly sex-positive and lovingly made comedy that’s not afraid to be a naughty, look no further. Yes, the ladies are pneumatic and the joke often... a happy nudist called Drew Baringmore, anyone? But that’s all part of the gag in a game packed with attention to detail, jokes that have nothing to do with sex, and a million chances for creator Al Lowe to humiliate his most famous creation.
Quote: “I can’t believe I’m trying to get a totally naked woman INTO her clothes!”
Quest for Glory IV
Released: 1993 | Developer: Sierra Online | Buy it: GOG
If you’ve never played a Quest For Glory... begin with the first, obviously. When you get to Quest for Glory IV, you’ll be ready to enjoy a truly wonderful mix of adventure and RPG with more heart than you’d expect from the frosty welcome. It has one of the most nuanced videogame villains ever, and Fighters, Wizards, Thieves and Paladins can all save the day in their own way. It’s the chance for heroism that all heroes crave.
Quote: “In a bitter battle you were better than the Badders. (You kicked some butt too.)”
Tex Murphy: The Pandora Directive
2043’s answer to Sam Spade is up to his neck in government conspiracies and alien encounters, and finally coming into his own as one of the great adventure game characters. Co-designer and star Chris Jones steals the show as Tex, whose adventure combines dodgy FMV with immersive 3D. A mix of puzzles, comedy and drama that still stands up well. Give or take some of the acting.
Quote: “Danger’s like jello. There’s always room for a little more.”
Easily one of the best cyberpunk games ever made. It’s not just that Technobabylon has the technology. It has the warmth and humanity that so often goes missing when the neon lights shine on rainy streets and robots join us in our daily lives. Absolutely astounding pixel art and fantastic writing tells a story that knows when to rely on fancy tricks and when to keep things simple and relatable. Jumping between characters means not only a chance to see this wonderfully rendered world from multiple angles, but to enjoy it from every level—from the drug-dens of VR obsessed gamers, to the steel towers of cops genuinely trying to do their best in tough situations. Best played late at night, with the rain rattling against your window, before it has a chance to come true.
Quote: “Man, couldn’t he just have killed the guy WITHOUT messing up my work?”
Murder. Mystery. Pixels. Kathy Rain—no relation to Heavy Rain—hasn’t exactly been a success so far, but it’s one of the best classic adventures of 2016, so I'm going to throw it a well deserved bone here. Gorgeous scenery and atmospheric detail guide you by the hand into a compelling and dramatic mystery that won’t stretch your brain too much, but won’t outstay its welcome either. If you’ve ever enjoyed a game in the Gabriel Knight lineage, check it out.
Quote: “Every time I wake up, I am genuinely surprised that I’m not in jail.”
Nelly Cootalot: Spoonbeaks Ahoy!
Modern adventures don’t get more cheerfully throw-back than Nelly Cootalot. Her heart is in the 90s. Her game is one of the most cheerful, harmless, happily small-scale adventures around, and a rare modern case of simply being able to sit down and be charmed by a tale that has no interest in grit, darkness or any edge that can’t be used for a puzzle. Also it has Tom Baker in it. The whole thing is a Kickstarted sequel to a free adventure from ages ago, made with love. And Unity, of course.
Quote: “I haven’t got long. I’m supposed to be haunting a family in New England.”