Pointing, But Also Clicking

With both The Wolf Among Us completed and The Walking Dead: Season 2 coming to a close fairly soon, gamers who are new to the point-and-click adventure may be a little lost as to what they should play next. Sure, you could wait for Telltale’s Tales from the Borderlands (which looks great) or Game of Thrones game (which I can’t see being bad,) but what do we do in the meantime? If you’ve never played a point-and-click before, it’s a great time to jump in.

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…And by a great time to jump in I mean that up until two years ago, the genre was pretty much dead and Telltale was more or less single-handedly keeping it alive. Since the release of The Walking Dead, however, the genre is back in full-force. Telltale’s newer games shy from the genre’s puzzle-based roots in order to make a gameplay experience more focused on choices and characters, which is great, but if you’re looking for more of that, these games will not be for you.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for games that tell a good story, challenge your puzzle-solving skills, and (for the most part) make you laugh, point-and-click adventures are for you (as a bonus, these games don’t have quick time events.)

The Secret of Monkey Island

Let’s start with the basics. The Secret of Monkey Island is a great gateway to the golden age of point-and-click adventures, and if you don’t like it at all, the genre probably isn’t for you. Pretty much anything you could find to love about a great point-and-click is here: great characters; a beautiful visual style (especially considering the limitations of the time); puzzles that will challenge you (without feeling cheap when you eventually solve them); and some of the funniest writing I’ve ever seen in a video game.

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In The Secret of Monkey Island, you play as Guybrush Threepwood, a would-be pirate who arrives on Mêlée Island only to find out that piracy has stopped because of the ghost pirate LeChuck.

LeChuck is in love with the island’s governor, Elaine Marley, and kidnaps her, which prompts Threepwood to get a crew together and sail to Monkey Island to rescue her. If that sounds familiar, it’s because the first Pirates of the Caribbean movie was totally (sort of) based on this game.

“Wait!” you might say. “I remember that Pirates of the Caribbean had sword fights and other action type stuff! How could a point-and-click adventure have action type stuff, when the genre was pretty much built around computers of the era not being able to handle things like that?” Well, hypothetical reader, Monkey Island gets around the technical limitations inherent to early 90’s videogaming by introducing insult sword fighting. Since, the game claims, all pirates are roughly equal in terms of sword fighting, a well-timed insult can catch someone off-guard and allow the other party to gain an advantage. In practice, it might be my favorite fighting system in a video game. Since nothing I can say can really do it justice, take a look:

These sword fights are a great example of the way The Secret of Monkey Island’s sense of humor creeps into just about every facet of the game. The pirates you talk to at the beginning of the game, for example, will be happy to explain the SCUMM system that Ron Gilbert wrote for The Secret of Monkey Island to you. At one point, a troll guarding a bridge won’t let you pass until you give him “something really insignificant” that he can use to distract people from his real treasure. Readers who are familiar with literary tropes (or A Pup Named Scooby Doo) will recognize this as a red herring.

In short, The Secret of Monkey Island is a great way to test the water on old school point-and-click adventures, and one of the best examples of the genre. It’s on Steam, and if you buy that version, you also get a visual update and voice recording that Telltale added as part of the “special edition.” I prefer to play the original, but you can’t go wrong, since it’s still The Secret of Monkey Island.

Alright, so for the purposes of this article, you’ve now played The Secret of Monkey Island. I assume you liked it and want more. If you really want more  Monkey Island, great. Lucasarts made three sequels, all of which are pretty good, though not as great as the original, and Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island continues the story quite well. But if you want something a little different, I’ve got recommendations for you too, depending on what your problems with Monkey Island were.

I liked Monkey Island, but I wish there were some RPG elements.

OR

I liked Monkey Island, but I didn’t care for the pirate setting.

If you fit into this category, then Sierra’s Quest for Glory series is probably going to be the kind of game you’re looking for. Spanning five games and nine years, the Quest for Glory games explore the mythology of different western civilizations, with each game set in a different region. The Hero quests his way across German, African, Eastern European, Middle Eastern, and Greek myths and fairy tales throughout the series. Much like The Secret of Monkey Island, Quest For Glory has a very tongue-in-cheek approach to, well, everything. Since they are a series of Sierra Online adventure games, death comes often and sometimes brutally. On the plus side, the game will totally make fun of you for dying like an idiot, and it’s hilarious.

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Where Quest For Glory differs mechanically from its contemporaries is through its stat system and combat. In the Quest For Glory games, your character has a stat sheet that resembles a Dungeons and Dragons character sheet. You “level up” by performing an action repeatedly, much like in Skyrim. This leads to some action movie-like training montages while you climb a rope 20 times so that you can climb a cliff to reach a tree that you need for a puzzle, but those don’t happen often enough to be detrimental (I only remember having to grind three times in my last playthrough of the series.) In Quest For Glory, you fight with weapons instead of words. It’s not entirely memorable, and combat is fairly infrequent, but there’s a little minigame where you watch for gaps in your opponent’s defense and stab him. Combat is barely relevant though, so even if you hate it, try to stick with the game anyway.

A word of caution if you’re going to take the leap and play Quest for Glory: It’s really hard. Not only will you die often, but it’s possible to enter a state in which you can’t progress any further because you missed a key item before passing a point of no return. Save often, and keep all your saves, not just a running one. It’s definitely worth the frustration, even if you have to play with a walkthrough open to make sure you don’t miss anything. Quest for Glory is $4.99 on GOG (Also, you should pick up the fan-made remake of Quest For Glory 2, as it was originally a text-based game and didn’t get the point-and-click remake that the first one did.)

Runner-Ups: Any of Sierra’s series (King’s Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest) depending on what setting you’re in the mood for. They’re all a little more serious than Quest For Glory, but still lighthearted and funny.

I liked Monkey Island but wish the story was funnier and didn’t have any serious stuff

First off, if Monkey Island wasn’t funny enough for you, I’m kind of impressed and a little concerned. Second, you should play Sam and Max Hit the Road. Dispatching with all of that action and dramatic stakes nonsense, Sam and Max is pretty much entirely comedic. The main characters are a pair of “freelance police,” (not to mention a dog and a rabbit) who take a road trip across America on the trail of an escaped carnival Bigfoot. They visit tourist traps, find more Bigfoots, and become honorary Bigfoots themselves, among other things. I don’t want to give too much away, because it’s a great game, and you should experience it for yourself. However, one of the puzzles towards the end of the game requires you to find a vegetable shaped like John Muir, which might be my favorite quest item in video game history.

While it is mostly brilliant, Sam and Max Hit the Road can become tricky if you’re not in the right mindset for it. If you aren’t thinking like Sam and Max (who are both insane) the solutions to puzzles are a little mind-boggling. There’s no shame in needing a walkthrough here either. Additionally, there are a few incredibly bad mini-games, but none of them are are long enough to be more than a minor inconvenience.

The biggest problem with Sam and Max Hit the Road is that finding it is a nightmare. Disney has the rights after acquiring Lucasarts, and they haven’t done anything to allow the game to be digitally distributed. There was a re-release for Windows in 2002, and if you can grab a copy on Ebay, it’s a great idea. Otherwise, it’ll run in SCUMMVM, an emulator for old PC games that used SCUMM. If you can’t find it, or don’t want to hunt it down, Telltale’s Sam and Max games are all worthy successors, but none of them quite capture the magic of Sam and Max Hit the Road.

Runner Up: Maniac Mansion 2: Day of the Tentacle. Don’t play Maniac Mansion, it’s one of Lucasarts’s earlier efforts and doesn’t hold up very well. The sequel is great, and absolutely insane. You play three characters in the same house at different periods in time. Puzzles get solved across all three timelines. Some of the voice acting can be grating, but Thomas Jefferson more than makes up for it.

I want something more serious than Monkey Island.

OR

I want a good game that has characters I already know, like The Wolf Among Us.

I have a confession to make. I haven’t personally played either of the games I’m about to recommend, but it’s pretty commonly held that if you want something on the serious side from your point-and-click adventures, you should check out Full Throttle or the Gabriel Knight games. In Full Throttle, you play as the head of a biker gang in a dystopian future. You get framed for murder, have to clear your name, and can die, which is not a common occurrence in Lucasarts games. In Gabriel Knight, you play as a struggling mystery novelist who gets sucked into being a paranormal investigator. Both have full voice-acting, and both have Mark Hamill. Play Full Throttle if you want something more akin to an action movie and Gabriel Knight if you want something like a horror movie. I’d feel weird not mentioning them because of their reputations, but I can’t speak to their quality. You can download Full Throttle for free and legally on My Abandonware, and all of the Gabriel Knight games are available on GOG for $2.99.

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I have played Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, however, and if you’re looking for a licensed title that’s also really damn good, you pretty much have to play it. It has everything you’d want in an Indy game: (see what I did there?) Nazis, treasure, Indiana Jones, a great female lead, punching Nazis, archeology, and a distinct lack of aliens.  The puzzles are tight, the story is good, and the way the game splits into three gives it a ton of replay value.

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You’re given a choice between playing in Team, Wits, or Fists mode early on, and what you choose determines how the game will play out. In Team, Indy and his partner Sophia work together throughout (this is probably the best mode.) In Wits, the difficulty and frequency of puzzles is dialed up to 11, and in Fists, puzzles are turned down and action is turned up. If you buy the re-release on Steam, the whole thing has voice-acting, which is just a nice bonus. However, Indy is NOT voiced by Harrison Ford, and that can be a let down to just about everyone.

Runners-up: Most of the games Telltale put out before The Walking Dead. Skip Jurassic Park, though. It’s alright (and only alright) from a story perspective, but the gameplay is a mess. The puzzles are no fun, and there are way too many quick time events for me to recommend in good conscience. On the other hand, Back to the Future and Wallace and Gromit’s Grand Adventures are probably the best, but Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People isn’t far off.

I really think that the best part of a game is its quick time events. Why don’t these games have quick time events?

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Runner up: Jurassic Park.

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