Point-and-click adventures once ruled the PC gaming roost, and they captured the imaginations of an entire generation of players by shifting the focus away from action and reflex-based challenges towards narrative, characterisation and creative problem-solving.
These titles took fans from pirate-infested seas in the Caribbean to those sectors of deep space where nobody can hear you clean, until their market share all-but vanished when a new age of 3D gaming dawned.
But thanks to the rise of touchscreen gaming on mobile, point-and-click adventures have enjoyed a resurgence of sorts, and here are the best ones which have sprung up on iOS and Android over the years.
Leisure Suit Larry may be the product of a bygone age but its 2013 remake for mobile devices isn’t as shallow as its subject matter suggests. Larry fans (if they still exist) will be treated to some decent puzzles, the occasional gag that doesn’t tank, and die in all kinds of entertaining ways. While the game’s core themes may not have aged well, Reloaded improves on the original in every possible way.
Like Larry Laffer, Roger Wilco and King Graham, Gabriel Knight is a graduate of the Sierra Online school of point-and-click adventures. His critically-acclaimed first outing, The Sins of the Fathers, received the special edition treatment to mark its 20th anniversary in 2013 and this revamped version found its way to iOS and Android devices.
Players will be thrust into a compelling voodoo murder-mystery set in the heart of New Orleans. The characters are as layered as some of the game’s most challenging puzzles and the enhanced visuals, created from the ground up, are merely the icing on this re-baked cake.
A gritty noir thriller set against a Blade Runner-esque backdrop, Gemini Rue may look like a pixelated classic from yesteryear but it actually debuted in 2011. The retro visuals are a great fit for the game’s themes and tone, and the complex, double-pronged narrative is gripping.
Gemini Rue isn’t just about the head-scratching puzzles, engaging storyline and complex characters, developer Wadjet Eye Games has also weaved shooting segments seamlessly into the mix, giving the game an action-based edge over many of its competitors.
Narrative is often as important as puzzles in adventure games, so creating one that works without dialogue is quite the feat. Machinarium delivers an absorbing, puzzle-centric experience without sacrificing personality along with its robotic protagonists’ vocals.
Machinarium is a change of pace from most of the other games on this list. Taking control of a pint-sized robot named Josef, the object is to simply puzzle your way from one end of the screen to other, but that isn’t to say it’s lacking in challenge, substance or charm.
Discovering a misplaced phone isn’t much of a setup compared to a voodoo mystery or a fight for freedom in a dystopian future, but A Normal Lost Phone delivers narrative bang for your buck in the long run.
As you hack your way through the phone’s apps and read through its messages, a fascinating mystery about the handset owner’s identity begins to unfold, one which forces the players to tackle moral dilemmas and ponder questions about social acceptance along the way.
In some ways, Telltale’s adventure games are a far cry from the point-and-click classics that were once the lifeblood of Sierra and LucasArts. Its episodic Walking Dead series, for instance, emphasises quicktime action over item-based puzzles, though it shares DNA with the genre greats.
Telltale’s The Walking Dead featured on several ‘game of the year’ lists when the first season debuted in 2012, and with good reason. These games are some of the most emotive you’ll ever play. They’re packed with characterisation and the storytelling is masterful. Fans of the comics will appreciate its dedication to recapturing the original art style, but this is a tale all gamers should experience at least once.
If you’re nostalgic for the days of the early LucasArts adventures, with their verb tables and VGA graphics, Thimbleweed Park is just the game for you. From the imagination of The Secret of Monkey Island developer Ron Gilbert comes a surreal murder-mystery that plays out from the perspective of two X-Files-lampooning secret agents, a foul-mouthed clown and various other weird and wonderful characters.
Gilbert captured everything that made Monkey Island a timeless classic in a bottle and cracked it open when he put Thimbleweed Park together.
Mad scientists, portaloos that double as time machines and mutant tentacles with world domination plans: Day of the Tentacle was madcap in the best possible ways.
This is a true LucasArts great; pure point-and-click gold that shows the genre at its best. It’s a sequel to an earlier LucasArts effort, Maniac Mansion, but only in the sense that the iPhone X is a sequel to Alexander Graham Bell’s original telephone.
Day of the Tentacle improved on its predecessor in every way and crams in all of the essential adventure ingredients: memorable characters, creative puzzles, a strong story and a barrelful of humour. The only downside? Android mobile devices were left out in the cold when the remastered edition came out.
2. Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars – Director’s Cut
The Broken Sword series made a name for itself in the ’90s with its blend of real history and dramatic storytelling. Kind like the work of Dan Brown, except, um… good.
George Stobbart’s debut outing is an adventure-gaming milestone, lauded for its plot, graphics, orchestra score and puzzles. None of those things had lost their shine when the director’s cut came along in 2009, and the extended scenes and new artwork from Watchman illustrator Dave Gibbons only enriched the experience.
The latest Pixar movie, Coco, was hailed for introducing viewers to Mexican folklore and exploring how the deceased are revered and celebrated in this culture. Well, LucasArts did that a generation earlier when it released Grim Fandango, as any self-respecting point-and-click fan will tell you.
Grim Fandango is a noir-style mystery set in the Land of the Dead, where its skeleton protagonist Manny Calavera works as a travel agent charged with guiding souls to their eternal rest. The story kicks off when he stumbles upon a conspiracy to cheat a virtuous soul of out the afterlife they deserve.
The game was released in 1998, towards the tail end of the golden age of point-and-click adventures, but it proved that LucasArts was still coming out with fresh ideas for the genre at this point. The use of 3D character models against static backdrops made Grim Fandango an evolutionary title, and it’s chock full of the same magic which made Monkey Island and Day of the Tentacle timeless classics.