Some of the first games that I ever played were desktop point and clickers, a genre that has waned in popularity ever since the introduction of console video games. From classic MS-DOS titles like The Treehouse and The Backyard to the gorgeous and cartoony Putt-Putt series, the point and click genre really ignited my passion for video games. The genre has given us a long list of gorgeous and enduring classics, such as the beautiful and poignant Grim Fandango to the swashbuckling adventure of the Monkey Island series.
The spirit of the point and clickers is being kept alive by indie developers through brilliant games such as Fran Bow, The Last Door and new detective adventure, Thimbleweed Park, which you should all definitely check out. Blockbuster games developer Telltale also utilises several elements from the classic point and click genre to craft its winding adventure tales, but as many will tell you, the original is always the best. Here are a few of the best classic point and click adventure games, and why you should check them out.
Often considered the pinnacle of the genre, 1990’s The Secret of Monkey Island was so well loved that it spawn several sequels, including a remaster for consoles and PC in 2009, and a Telltale adventure series in the same year. Featuring a cast of loveable and well-written characters, an island hopping adventure story and charming graphics, the original game is a brilliant and lovingly made adventure game. Not only is the story completely engrossing, it’s paired with a sharp wit that’s scarcely been seen in video games since.
Following the story of Guybrush Threepwood, a young man who aims to become a fearsome pirate, players are faced with a variety of challenges as they travel through a variety of beautiful islands, defeating ghost pirates and cannibals along the way. The game would probably be considered challenging by today’s standards, with a variety of obtuse puzzles waiting to catch unthinking players out. Despite the difficulty, the game never becomes frustrating, with a balanced level of challenge, and a plethora of unique ways to complete the puzzles presented. If you’re looking for a gorgeous, swashbuckling adventure, The Secret of Monkey Island has charm in spades, and it’s a brilliant and highly enjoyable point and click title.
LucasArts had a near-stranglehold grip on the point and click genre over the eighties and nineties, with The Secret of Monkey Island and the Maniac Mansion series still considered the absolute best in the genre. Maniac Mansion, released in 1987 was a game changer for computer game narratives, presenting a wholly original story coupled with gorgeously rendered graphics that pushed the boundaries for the time. It was also the first point and click game to include cutscenes, and to utilise the verb command interface that was later adapted into several other point and click titles, allowing for easier interaction with the game. Player choice was a key feature of Maniac Mansion, as players were able to choose which characters to take on their adventure, each of which possesses different skills. A variety of possible endings also means that the game is almost endlessly replayable. Taking your chosen characters through a mansion inhabited by a mad scientist, his wife, and two disembodied tentacles, the player must make their way through the mansion in order to rescue the girlfriend of protagonist Dave Miller. The mansion’s inhabitants are hostile, and Dave and his friends must use their every wit to escape the mansion with their lives.
Day of the Tentacle, the sequel to Maniac Mansion, was just as brilliant, featuring a range of new characters as they attempted to stop the malicious Purple Tentacle from taking over the world. Featuring the same sharp humour that characterised Maniac Mansion and The Secret of Monkey Island, the game’s was an hilarious romp through American history, and featured a cast of historical figures such as Benjamin Franklin and the founding fathers as friends Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne attempt to return to the present and right their timeline. Day of the Tentacle was remastered for current gen consoles in 2016, retaining the unique cartoon style art of the original, but updating and adding more details to the already brilliant original.
The original Myst is as confusing as it is beautiful. Taking the role of an unnamed character known only as ‘The Stranger’, you find yourself stranded on a mysterious island after reading from a strange book titled ‘Myst’. As you traverse the plains of the island, you begin to find a variety of clues and puzzles that guide you and slowly, you piece together the hidden story of the island and its inhabitants. As you walk, you discover more books, revealing more of the story of Sirrus and Achenar, two brothers with curious links to the history of the island. The books come to life, interacting with the Stranger and each of them begging to be freed. Player choice is a key consideration in the game, as you can choose to help either or neither of the brothers, leading to several different key endings.
The gameplay is straightforward and simple, with a powerful story and a full realised and highly immersive world. Since its release, Myst has made waves in the genre, acting as a blueprint for many other titles and inspiring games such as Dear Esther and a host of other so-called ‘walking simulators’. Since being introduced, several versions of Myst have been released, adding in deeper graphics, a 3D aspect, and eventually, with realMyst: Masterpiece Edition, a fully rendered 3D open world to explore. The endurance of the title has been key to its success, with every generation receiving some new iteration. Several sequels have also been released, to similar praise.
Continuing LucasArts’ winning streak, Sam & Max Hit the Road was another unique point and click title from a studio that had the formula down pat. Adapted from Steve Purcell’s comic book series, the game followed titular protagonists Sam and Max, an anthropomorphic dog and rabbit respectively as they received a mysterious call to investigate a nearby carnival. The game is a fun and well-designed romp across the United States as the buddy cop duo go deep into their investigation and unearth a variety of wacky tourist traps and quirky characters. Featuring a frozen bigfoot named Bruno and his tribe of bigfoots (bigfeets?), a mysterious vortex and bungee jumping at Mount Rushmore, the humour of the series shines through in its more ridiculous moments.
The graphics of this game represent the pinnacle of LucasArts’ endeavours, with ultra-detailed pixel art painting a loving picture of Sam & Max’s American landscapes. Like most LucasArts adventures, gameplay and puzzles are difficult to parse, but brilliant once you get into the rhythm of the game. The great thing about playing classic point and click games, particularly in the age of the internet, is that if you really get stuck, there’s always a way out. Sam & Max was one of the first games point and click adventure games to feature a fully voiced cast, making full use of this new technology. The music is absolutely charming, too, giving the game a bright and upbeat feeling throughout the entire story. Sam & Max has gone on to become quite a successful franchise, spawning several sequels and marking the pair out as enduring pop culture icons.
Beneath a Steel Sky is a game best described as a cyberpunk dystopian nightmare set in Australia, as players take on the role of Robert Foster, an orphan who is taken in by a group of Indigenous Australians. Set in a vague time when pollution and nuclear fallout has decimated the Earth, the game is reminiscent of the Mad Max series of films, with similar elements of dystopia. ASIO has overtaken power in the country, and the political system is broken. Foster soon becomes embroiled in a conspiracy for power as he discovers that Union City, the second largest city in Australia, is being run by LINC, an all-powerful computer system. The game is one of the more mature titles on the list, and features a deep, immersive story about the struggles of living and the impact of politics on society. Visually, the game is breathtaking, with wonderfully detailed cityscapes and horrifyingly empty wastelands. The game received a remaster in 2009, and included new animated movies, a help system and cleaned up audio. An absolutely stunning game, Beneath a Steel Sky is poignant and intense, a title that absolutely absorbs you in its action, and keeps you hooked for the entire journey.
These games from developer Humongous Entertainment were the childhood favourites of many nineties children, and truthfully it’s hard for me to choose a favourite. The Spy Fox series was a humour sendup of classic James Bond stories, following the titular fox and his accomplices, Monkey Penny and duck scientist, Professor Quack, as they battled the nefarious forces of evil. Spy Fox 2 was the absolute highlight of the series, featuring Spy Fox tacking on Napoleon LeRoach, the evil leader of organization S.M.E.L.L.Y. (the Society for Meaningless Evil, Larceny, Lying and Yelling). Ostensibly a series of kid’s video games, the stories in each of the games in the series are delightfully creative and still endearing today. Putt-Putt Saves the Zoo was another series, as it followed anthropomorphic car Putt-Putt as he attempted to save the lost animals at the zoo in time for opening day. In the course of Putt-Putt’s charming adventures, the adorable purple car managed to save the zoo, travel to the moon, participate in a parade and travel through time.
Freddi Fish, another stalwart of the Humongous Entertainment series, had no less than five main series entries, and saw the fish rescuing a school house from a dangerous creature, saving her grandmother’s kelp seeds and finding the grand conch shell of her village. Pajama Sam, a budding superhero also received several games, and taught children valuable lessons such as not to fear the dark, and that eating vegetables was important. Each game was characterised by a need for creativity and experimentation, as players tackled a variety of challenges that required effective combination and collection of objects found while exploring the many bright, cartoonish worlds of the series. For those wanting to revisit their childhood, every game in the series is now available on Steam for Mac and Windows PC.
Grim Fandango is, quite simply, the greatest point and click adventure game of all time. From the absolutely killer concept to the stellar cast and truly great story, it stands out in the genre as almost perfect in every way. Borrowing aspects from everything including film noir, Aztec culture and detective fiction, Grim Fandango follows grim reaper or ‘travel agent’ Manny Calavera, as he uncovers a conspiracy within the Department of Death and pairs with demon Glottis in order to follow Mercedes Colomar, a victim of the Department of Death, into the Underworld to save her soul. The story of Grim Fandango takes place over several acts, as Manny and Glottis become stranded in the town of Rubacava, start a nightclub, and defeat the villainous Domino. The long journey of the trio takes place over several years, making the final resolution a satisfying a emotional end to a deep and immersive point and click game.
The humour of the game is subtle when it needs to be, and bombastic when it doesn’t – the perfect mix of comedy and timing. The atmosphere is realised by a great jazz score, and illuminated by a variety of gorgeous landscapes across entire towns, cityscapes, jungles and oceans. The level design is near flawless, though the game itself has a steep learning curve characterised by a range of challenging and sometimes illogical puzzles. Many have called for a sequel to Grim Fandango, particularly after the popularity of the 2015 remaster, however, no video game has ended as satisfactorily or as emotionally as Grim Fandango. It’s my only hope that Grim Fandango remains the brilliant and poignant stand-alone title that it was always meant to be.