There’s something missing in today’s video gaming scene that has really irked me for some time now. It’s not the absence of extreme violence or mind-numbing graphics; no it’s something far more important than that. It’s the omittance of the high quality adventure games that used to dominate the PC market. Even the company that basically paved the way for Adventure Gaming, Sierra On-Line, has deviated from their adventure gaming ways and have now allocated their resources towards the action-oriented crowds. Perhaps it was the departure of the Williams’ or the absence of the great Al Lowe, but the entire adventure gaming genre has seen a steep decline in recent years.
Back in what I like the call the ‘heyday of gaming’ (the late 80’s to the mid 90’s) there were two names that you could associate with quality adventure games, Sierra On-Line and Lucas Arts. Both of these companies were largely responsible for the huge influx of adventure games on the market at the time. By introducing gamers to characters that were loveable and storylines that were both engulfing and immersive, they succeeded in bringing to life some of the most beautiful tales of our time.
It wasn’t the fancy graphics or the bells and whistles that hooked me to these titles, in fact these games featured some of the most primitive graphics of their times. I fell in love with these games because of the grand adventures and stories that they allowed me to partake in. The writing abilities of talents such as Tim Schafer and Roberta Williams had the power to make me laugh one minute and drive me to tears in the next.
With the recent decline of adventure games I decided that I would pay homage to the games and series that have meant the most to me over the years. I’ve dedicated a large part of my life to the playing of adventure games that I actually own every single Sierra On-Line Adventure game ever made, including the Collector’s Packs that came out well after the discontinuation of the various series’. You may disagree with me on some of my selections but it’s warranted. Adventure games all touch us in different ways, I wouldn’t expect you to feel the same way about Leisure Suit Larry as I do. That’s the beauty of these games, although we’re all confined to a set and pre-determined path, how the images are determined is ultimately in the eyes of the beholder. Adventure games have this uncanny ability to transcend time, never losing their luster or appeal.
So come with me, as I list my 5 personal favorite adventure games of all time. Number Five - Grim Fandango
Classic Line: “My Scythe, I like to keep it where my heart used to be.”
Lucas Arts’ Grim Fandango was one of the last true adventure games that arrived on the market. While other games had their stories grounded in some semblance of reality, Tim Schafer, along with the guys at Lucas Arts, decided to set this game in the land of the undead. Featuring a distinctly Mexican flair, this was one of the most stylized games of our time.
Like many other adventure games, I don’t quite remember all the bits and pieces of the game but I sure as hell know my protagonist from front to back. You assumed the role of Manny Calavera, an agent for the Department of the Dead. Basically, your role was that of the Grim Reaper/travel salesman. Your job required you to travel to the human world and bring the dead to the underworld. When they arrived in your offices of the DoD, you’d try to do your best to sell them travel packages to the afterlife. After Manny manages to botch yet another sale, he begins to suspect that something is awry in the hallways of the DoD. Eventually he’ll journey on a quest to discover the cause of his failure.
I loved this game so much because it told an amazingly deep story while managing to remain humorous throughout it’s duration. Lines such as, “My Scythe, I like to keep it where my heart used to be,” still manage to illicit a chuckle out of me after all these years. There are many more jokes sprinkled throughout the rest of the game, most of them coming from your larger than life sidekick, Glottis.
The other day I was plodding through my game collection and came across my copy of the game. I decided to check it out and see if my love for the game had lasted all these years. What was supposed to start out as a 10-minute test session boiled down to a 3-hour addiction. I had to literally pull myself away from the screen in order to keep myself from playing through the duration of the title. 4 years after its initial release (I know, time flies huh?) this game still manages to remain fresh and entertaining. After I finish up a few of my next reviews, I’m planning on giving this one another thorough viewing.Number Four - Police Quest
Classic Line: “knock over bikes”
When I use the phrase ‘Police Quest’ please let the record state that I am referring to installments 1-4 and not the later, action/strategy/interactive movie themed entries to the series. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, I can talk about the series that first introduced me to the adventure genre.
Police Quest is very strange because it’s one of the few adventure games where I can actually remember the whole entire game from the beginning to the end. Maybe it’s because it was the very first adventure game I ever played, or the fact that I’ve played through the entire game well over 20 times, but it’s by far one of the most memorable games that the gaming world has ever seen.
Written by Jim Walls, a retired police officer, the game had an eerily authentic feel to it. In fact, the entire series exuded this ‘real life, hmm this could actually be happening, oh damn what the hell do I do now’ sort of feeling. The events and occurrences in this game unfolded in such a memorable way that they have forever etched themselves in the back of my mind.
This game was unique because it allowed me to fulfill my childhood dreams of becoming a police officer. Sure those days are long gone, but who here hasn’t dreamt about being a police officer at one point or another in their lives? My perception of what it was like to be a real life police officer was pieced together from episodes of COPS and Real Stories of the Highway Patrol. I had only a small notion of what it was truly like to be one of the men and women behind the badge. This game really expressed just how difficult and nerve racking the job field truly was. Number Three - The Curse of Monkey Island
Classic Line: “It’s bootytastic!”
Lucas Arts’ greatest and most ferocious pirate hero, Guybrush Threepwood, manages to swashbuckle his way onto my all time favorites list. Requiring a sharp wit and a keen sense of humor, this series was one of my favorites due to its sheer comedic genius. Though there were four entries into the series, I feel that the pinnacle is without a doubt, the third entry, The Curse of Monkey Island
If you’ve ever played a Monkey Island game it’s not hard to see why it’s so easy to fall in love with it. The jokes are among the best that the genre has to offer and the storylines have always been top notch. This game has a distinctly cartoon-like graphic design that really differentiates itself from the others in the flock. I really enjoyed the over the top graphics and looney looking characters.
There aren’t many adventure games out there that can tell a great story and manage to remain amusing. Many of LucasArts’ adventures had this uncanny ability to do both and with great results. This is a great adventure that I recommend to anyone who loves adventure games, or just gamers in general. Even though the game takes place in the pirating days, there are tons of pop culture references to illicit chuckles from today’s gaming crowd. Number Two - King's Quest
How could I make a top five adventure games list and leave out the game that virtually gave birth to the genre. I still remember going to my local library when I was about 5 or 6 and seeing some kids playing it on one of those old Apple II computers. I was so amazed by the bright and vivid graphics; the 16 colors (hey it was a lot back then all right?) on the screen really jumped out and caught my attention. I knew I just had to play it so I asked for it that Christmas and played it on my old 386.
I was treated to perhaps one of the most beautifully told stories of our time. Everything in the land of Daventry had this truly fantasy and grandeur appeal to it, perfect for the fantasy-minded Tolkien reading individual. Though the game hasn’t aged very well, the tale still manages to be one of the best that I have ever had the opportunity to partake in.
Although there were seven true entries in the series, my favorite had to be the 6th. Although the fifth installment came on CD-rom and 3 ½ inch disks, King’s Quest 6 was the first one to come solely on a CD-rom. Subtitled Heir Today, Gone Tomorrow the title was not only a clever play on words, but also a great inkling of just what the storyline had in store for the gamer. Sure some of the puzzles in the game were absurd and insanely difficult, but the epic tale that unfolded was well worth the trouble.
If you’ve ever wanted to know what the adventure genre is about, I suggest you try and hunt this title down. Adventure gaming is about eye-popping graphics or ear shattering sound, it’s about a storyline that grips you and sends your emotions through a blender. This is adventure gaming at its very core and we have the Williams’ to thank for it. Make no mistake about it; Roberta Williams has this ability to tell a story that somehow finds its way not only into your minds, but also your hearts. I admit it, I openly wept a few times throughout my experiences with the King’s Quest series. The first time I played through the games, and the moment that I realized that series was no more. Greatest Adventure Game of All Time - Leisure Suit Larry 7
Classic Line: “Look at those stacks! Look at THOSE stacks!”
Geared more towards the adult audience, Al Lowe’s Leisure Suit Larry series offers the greatest adventure game experience, ever. Sierra’s series invites gamers to follow the tale of a rapidly balding 40-something loser as he sets out to lose his virginity. While equally as crude as the other Sierra games at the time, the series began with a 16 color palate and amazing ear-shattering PC speaker sound! In fact, the series was around so long that the theme song eventually crept it's way into the backs of people's heads. While it was written in about 20 minutes, it turned out to be one of the most entertaining and catchy tunes ever written. Of course like most other things in life, the series evolved and eventually featured beautiful 16-bit graphics and full-featured speech.
I had a hard time deciding which Larry game I would feature here, but in the end Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail
got the nod. The series’ swan song went out with a bang, featuring more laughs, more puzzles and best of all, more hardcore nudity! In fact, Al Lowe was kind enough to place Easter Eggs that would allow you to see all of the game’s ladies in all of their naked glory. For a kid who was 14 when the game came out, this was more than a blessing from heaven.
It wasn’t just the nudity that attracted me to this series though; it was the sheer comedic genius of Al Lowe that really kept me coming back. While Roberta Williams had the uncanny ability to leave me in awe with her writing talents, Al Lowe had the ability to make me giggle uncontrollably like a Japanese schoolgirl. The stories were so fascinating that I just had to keep on playing because I wanted to see the next way that poor Larry was going to be humiliated. The laughs kept on coming and even after having played through the game well over 10 times, I still find myself chuckling at the game’s many jokes.
You may be wondering why I chose this as my all-time favorite adventure game and to be honest, I’m not even sure why I chose it. I just know that there was something about this series that has attracted me and has since refused to let me go. This series really emphasized what adventure gaming was all about, introducing a loveable character, building them up over time and allowing the gaming audience to relate with them. I began to sympathize with him and feel for him every single time he was humiliated or tormented. Never have I seen a character so fully developed and refined, he’s really grown on me over the years. It’s driven me to purchase anything and everything that bore the Leisure Suit Larry Moniker. Hell, I even own copies of the Laffer Utilities and Larry’s Casino, now that’s dedication!
This game was quite innovative for its time. It even came packaged with a little scratch n sniff insert that contained the scents of the game's various events and locations. You don't just SEE the fart, you SMELL the fart! Talk about immersive! There was also an awesome feature that changed your background wallpaper every time you happened to score with one of the game's ladies. The images, done in the style of the classic Playboy mags, were actually pretty classy while managing to remain sexy at the same time. If you were highly advanced at the time, you could scan a picture of yourself and place it in one small part of the game. Furthermore, there was an included script that allowed you to assume the role of the poolside waiter in one of the title's more funnier comedic exchanges.
Sadly, like the rest of Sierra’s amazing adventure franchises, this series met its end just as Al Lowe began production on the 8th installment. While there are many talks of Sierra planning on reverting back to their old roots, the resurrection of the series is highly unlikely. I’m sure that Al Lowe would be more than happy to make a Larry 8 but he doesn’t own the rights to the franchise or the Larry name. I’m keeping my fingers crossed but I’ve been doing so since 1997, they’re starting to get tired.
Leisure Suit Larry is my favorite adventure gaming series of all time and I invite you to hunt these titles down. I’ve been told that Sierra has stopped production on the Ultimate Pleasure Pack, a compilation of all things Larry Related, but I’m certain that copies of it still remain. If you’re yearning for the glory days, or you just want a taste of what adventure gaming was really about, then I highly encourage you to seek this one out. If you're not too busy, I suggest you hunt down a copy of Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist
, another classic Al Lowe title. Besides, I'm sure Al could use the extra bucks. If you want to learn more about everyone's favorite balding Jazz man head on over to Al Lowe's Humor Site