Some games are not all about action and explosions. They are more considered and slower-paced, focusing on character development, world building and – above all – telling a good story. I guess that is why retro point & click games are so special, even though they are relics from a bygone era of gaming.
From solving in-game puzzles to uncovering the keys to a mystery, point-and-click games take different forms but they center around some pretty salient features. For one thing, they are not like visual novels in that they are totally passive experiences. P&C do have consequences and weight to your actions.
Heck, some of them you can lose before you even start (such as through discarding a critical item or passing it up altogether).
Guides would later alleviate a lot of the trial-and-error nature of these games, but the stories they tell and the experiences they offer live on even now.
You guys know I am a huge fan of these types of games and that made this list a pretty tough call. Even so, I decided early on to limit everything to one game per series (that is why you will not see Day of the Tentacle).
Oh, and also No Grim Fandango, sorry. Do not get me wrong, It is by far my favorite Graphic Adventure ever, but the original version was not P&C (it had tank controls). A modder made a classic point & click interface in 2014, and a remastered version came out in 2015 but again, I am only considering original versions on this list.
Okay, the introduction is over, below are the top 10 retro point & click games:
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10. Under a Killing Moon (developed by Access Software, published by Access Software for NA and U.S. Gold for Europe; 1994)
This 1994 Access Software title rocks a noir theme with a point-and-click interface and equally period appropriate hero in the form of a down on his luck detective. You play as Tex Murphy, a detective living in New San Francisco, in a world struggling in the aftermath of the nuclear fallout from World War III. Though the city has begun life anew, Old San Francisco still remains a part of the urban landscape and it is home to ne’er do wells, as well as criminal gangs and intrigues.
Taking place in a world bifurcated by those who are resistant to the impacts of the radioactive fallout and those who are not – known as mutants in the game’s parlance – makes the world of Under a Killing Moon both familiar and alien in what can only be called a thoroughly cinematic execution of this genre.
9. Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood (developed and published by Sierra On-Line; 1991)
The second of two installments in the Conquests series, The Legend of Robin Hood takes the story with which most of us are familiar, and adds a few twists and turns here and there to make it more adult and interesting. For example, Maid Marian is both a paragon of Christian virginal purity as well as a pagan wood priestess.
How’s that for a secret? The game is divided up into days which can be likened to chapters in a book, and star the titular Robin Hood and his gang of thieves, as they make their way through a largely linear plot that suffers from the downfall of many games in this genre, at this time. You can make the game unbeatable in the beginning without even knowing it.
Involving great puzzles and mini games peppered throughout, The Legend of Robin Hood is a fun game that encourages exploration, trial and error, and, most of all, playing it again and again.
8. The Longest Journey (developed by Funcom, published by Empire Interactive and Tri Synergy; 1999)
The magical world of Arcadia and the industrial world of Stark are divided not only by their dispositions but also by a barrier that separates them from one another. That is until April Ryan comes around. A “Shifter” that can move between the two worlds, April basically has to bring some kind of balance to the force in a yin-yang style weighted scale of this universe that needs to be readjusted.
What makes The Longest Journey so cool is that each world is not only presented as being vastly different from one another but also the puzzles and gameplay modes are changed as well. You will not find magical elements in Stark and you will not find technological elements in Arcadia, for example.
One aspect that modern gamers will really enjoy about The Longest Journey (and one of its most modern features) is that the game is jam-packed with lore, that is there to add depth to the game’s world.
7. Maniac Mansion (developed and published by Lucasfilm Games; 1987)
Dave and his friends are trapped in a mansion full of weirdos and traps. Though that might sound like the premise of many a college party movie gone awry, it is actually just one segment of the complex narrative that is Maniac Mansion, a point-and-click game that has more ports than New York City, and a cult following that would rival even the Earthbound fandom.
A quirky, offbeat game that simultaneously evokes the feeling of a sitcom and horror comedy movie, MM is one of the first of the many games on the early PC that implemented the mechanics we are well acquainted with by now. That means that it is a mixture of text-based inputs (from the text adventure days) and point-and-click environmental interaction.
Of any game on this list, Maniac Mansion is the most immediately recognizable to wide swaths of the general gaming audience and is one that is well deserving of a remake. After your first play through, I know you will agree.
6. Beneath a Steel Sky (developed by Revolution Software, published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment; 1994)
Ok, even for a cyberpunk story, Beneath a Steel Sky is a few shades below totally bonkers. And that is a good thing, because the narrative is what carries the day here as the point-and-click adventure serves as a launch pad for each and every segment of that harrowing tale.
Welcome to Australia after the collapse of the world’s ecological systems. There are two factions – Unions and Corporations – with the former championing some kind of total surrender of individual rights and liberties, and the latter somehow championing them. As said above, it is a little bit out there.
One interesting feature in BASS that is not something you often see in early point-and-click games is the presence of a complex dialogue tree that, not only sheds more light on the game’s world, but also gives you a myriad of options to arrive at the same conclusion.
Also, you can make often deadly choices that result in protagonist Robert Foster’s death, which adds an element of chance and daring to many of the game’s puzzles.
5. Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders (developed and published by Lucasfilm Games; 1988)
Have you ever played a Lucasfilm game? If not, let Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders be your first game. Again, we have got a bonkers story to tell you here. Aliens have arrived and have taken over the telecommunications companies around the world with the goal of lowering everyone’s intelligence – thus paving the way for a smooth invasion – using a low frequency hum.
Did I say this story is out there? While the threat might come from outer space, the mechanics of Zak McKracken is very familiar and down to Earth. We have a point-and-click game with puzzles that use both situational and mechanical aspects to help you get through challenges as they crop up in the game.
Even though it is not as important now as it was then, Zak McKracken integrated copy protection mechanics into its core game in novel, interesting ways that both made sure you had paid for your copy and that you were paying attention. Reminiscent of the films idiocracy and a great introduction to Lucasfilms’ amazing adventure PC games, Zak McKracken is a thoroughly modern tale and worthy of a playthrough. It is more than safe to say that I ranked it first on my list of the best Commodore 64 games for a reason.
4. Police Quest 2: The Vengeance (developed and published by Sierra On-Line; 1988)
Sonny Bonds returns in this sequel to the original game where a procedural detective story is combined with a point-and-click and text-parser game that has you unraveling mysteries, encountering betrayals, and living the life of a street-smart cop, as he tries to make a dent in the world. This game heavily relies upon some knowledge of the first game when it comes to the depth of everything and everyone involved, but it is totally enjoyable without that experience.
What makes Police Quest 2 unique is that it uses an old school text parser to help you get through the game. This is reminiscent of the old text-based adventures that used to dominate the PCs. Needless to say, I love text-adventure games as well, and a list is in the works… 😉
3. Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers (developed and published by Sierra On-Line; 1991)
This game involves time travel and space travel – how could you go wrong? If you are Roger Wilco, that is not that hard as things going wrong happen to be part of daily life. What makes Space Quest IV different from the other games that came before it in the series is the use of a point-and-click interface, with contextual actions that open up new pathways in the game.
That is that the cursor will allow you to choose from physical actions such as talk, walk, taste, and so on. Interestingly, Space Quest IV features games within a game such as the Ms. Pac-Man clone Ms. Astro Chicken.
2. Simon the Sorcerer (developed and published by Adventure Soft; 1993)
Simon becomes so impressed with a magic show on his 12th birthday, that he decides to embark upon a personal journey to becoming a magician himself, but not without his choosing to do so, mind you. You see, a mysterious dog named Chippy shows up one day at Simon’s home and, unbeknownst to him or his family, will change Simon’s life forever.
Carrying a book titled “Ye Olde Spellbooke,” Chippy the dog’s curiosity about the book eventually gets Simon’s attention and, as he throws it down in frustration at being unable to read it, accidentally opens a portal to a world of adventure.
The environments in the game are context based, and use the fundamental mechanics that you expect in this genre while, outside of video games, the look and aesthetic references of such works are Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series and a classic Disney cartoon.
Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis (developed and published by LucasArts; 1992)
It is the eve of World War II, and Indie is up to his old tricks as usual. I will not delve too much into the story other than to say that it is quintessential Indiana Jones fare. What I will talk about is the game’s use of the SCUMM roleplaying engine, and the ability to choose one of three paths at the beginning of the game (appropriately named Team, Fists, and Wits respectively).
As you can probably imagine, the Team mode involves working with an in-game partner named Sophia, while the Fists is a more action-oriented variant, and Wits a more puzzle-fixated mode. No matter what you choose, the game is amazing fun, and the story remains as exciting the first time around, as it does the third. If you want a game with immediately recognizable IP and classic point-and-click adventure gameplay, look no further than The Fate of Atlantis.
Sanitarium (developed by DreamForge Entertainment, published by DotEmu; 1998)
You are an amnesiac who is recovering from a car accident with only the name “Max” to go on for a personal history, and an environment teeming with mystery as well as danger. In a game that is part psychological thriller, part HP Lovecraft homage, Sanitarium is all about figuring out where you are and why you are there, while holding on to your sanity as much as possible. What makes Sanitarium really cool is that it constantly has you guessing as to what is real and what is all in your own head.
The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery (developed and published by Sierra On-Line; 1995)
Back before rendered graphics dominated everything, full-motion video was the bee’s knees. Beast Within is the first game in the Gabriel Knight series to make full use of it and to impressive effect. Divided between protagonists Gabriel and Grace, this tale revolves around Bavarian folklore and typical werewolf legends. Named one of the best games on the PC back when it came out in 1996, the Beast Within changes the graphics but not the soul of the series which remains a point-and-click narrative at its heart.
Below is my number one pick: honestly, I lost count of how many hours I spent on this game! Memories abound…
1. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars (developed by Revolution Software, published by Virgin Interactive Entertainment; 1996)
George Stobbart is just your regular American tourist in Paris, who gets caught up in a conspiracy that spans the continent and the Middle East, when a clown sets off a bomb in a public space. Like many point-and-click games, you have to rely upon things you find in the game world, as well as what you can glean from NPCs. You can combine items or give items to NPCs to help advance the story.
Beyond the mechanics and the meat of the game, the graphics themselves were psychedelic and dreamlike – a rarity for a game ostensibly set in the real world. And who could forget the beautiful Nicole? Not me, that’s for sure!
Like some of the best in this genre, you can make the wrong choice and end our hero’s life but, never fear, you start right back at where you left off and are allowed to give it another go.
It’s a wrap for today’s list, but what about you, retro folks? Do you have any favorite point-and-click games that did not make it to this list? What is your favorite P&C gaming memory? Please let me know your opinions and experiences in the comments below.
Till next retro ride!