I used to hate point-and-click adventure games.
Maybe it was that I just didn’t have the patience to play them and that I was a console kid, but point-and-click adventure games simply seemed like relics of the past to me. While I had friends who would talk to me about the wonders of the Monkey Island series or how great Grim Fandango was, I always equated them with those text-based adventures like Hugo III: Jungle of Doom! and its ilk. That meant, to my mind, that they would most likely be immensely frustrating and I would just stick with my platformers, thank you very much.
My first real foray into point-and-click adventures started out poorly. Have you heard of Deponia? I really, really hope you haven’t. It was the art style that drew me toward Deponia in the first place, and when I saw that people had favorably compared the game to Monkey Island, I thought I would check it out.
Right from the beginning, Deponia was despicable. You’re abusive to your ex-girlfriend and the princess who you need to save is named “Goal.” There are transphobic jokes where a character who is obviously meant to be a man dressed in women’s clothing flits between a grotesque falsetto and a low baritone. Every single line had the character’s voice crack as if the game was nudging me in the ribs to say, “Hey, let’s laugh at this person who’s different!” You also get to drug your ex-girlfriend and ogle her while she’s in the shower.
I could go on and on about how terrible the Deponia series is as a whole, but I think John Walker from Rock, Paper, Shotgun pretty much nailed it.
I was ready to give up on these adventure games completely. I tried Monkey Island and while it was cute enough, it didn’t quite grab me like I wanted it to. I tried The Cave (which isn’t really point-and-click, but probably should have been) and Anna, the latter of which was a lamentable mess of obtuse, keyboard-breaking puzzles. It looked like these type of adventure games just weren’t going to be my thing. Long live the platformer, said I, and picked up Whispering Willows on a whim.
It was as if the sky opened up above me and a single beam of light shined down upon my head. I cared about the characters, I was involved in the mystery, and I wanted to see how everything would play out. From there, I learned about The Cat Lady and its tortuously heavy atmosphere, but interesting dynamic between its two female leads. Maybe, I thought, just maybe I could give adventure games one more chance.
When adventure games are done right, they have clever puzzles that allow you to reveal more of an engaging story. There might not be an adrenaline surge that you would get from mowing down legions full of splicers or from running through a collapsing building while being chased by an arrogant jerk, but there’s something very satisfying about being clever enough to finish the game.
The problem is that they’re too often let down by their own mechanics. When the player has to revert to solving the puzzles in your game by rubbing whatever they have in their inventory against every object they can find, there’s probably a design flaw in there somewhere. The best point-and-click adventure games are the ones where you’re able to abandon purely pointing and clicking. Allowing for different kinds of movement or more interaction with the environment helps to bring these games to life.
So, are adventure games dead? Definitely not. Their traditional model might be breathing its last few labored breaths, but I honestly think it’s probably good to let them pass on. Yes, it’s sad, but keep in mind that if games like The Walking Dead and Life Is Strange had been conceptualized five years earlier than they were, they might have been point-and-click adventures. Valiant Hearts: The Great War and Whispering Willows just might have been platformers, too.
By mixing mechanics while keeping their focus fixed on telling engaging stories, many of the games I’ve mentioned have been gems in their own ways. Yes, there are always going to be games like Deponia which will have you cringing with every line of dialogue, or like Anna where the puzzles are nearly impossible, but for every one of those games, there’s one that’s brimming with personality and charm.