Adventure Games for Kids Computer Game Hints Computer Game Cheats Computer Game Walkthroughs

Lora's Reviews: Fun Adventure Games For Busy People

Welcome to Adventure Game Reviews, the new spinoff of my Computer Game Reviews site specifically covering adventure games. "All right," I can hear some of you asking, "so what makes a computer game an adventure game, as opposed to some other kind of game?" What, you think I have time to write a dissertation on this? (-:

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Computer games aren't exactly a well-defined art form, and there's a lot of overlap between genres, but adventure games in general strive to offer distilled puzzle-solving and plot-unfolding with no elements of chance or strategy involved. (Unfortunately, most also tend to lack elements of player choice or control, but this is a design flaw born of laziness, not a meaningful trait; adventure games that have made exceptions to that tendency, like The Longest Journey and Grim Fandango, are among the best on the market.) Unlike computer role-playing games, adventure games do not emphasize tactical combat or the gradual development of a character or team of characters as major gameplay components. Though a CRPG, stategy wargame, or action adventure game can sometimes get away with dooming you to failure if you lose a challenge, prepare badly, or even just have a run of bad luck, a well-written adventure game does not. In some ways that makes them the purest form of computer game, constantly engaging your brain without wasting your time. It also makes it comparatively uninteresting to play adventure games through more than once, even years later. More so than computer games of any other genre, adventure games are completely ruined if you already know the puzzle solutions (it's surprising how many Infocom solutions my brain has apparently stored away forever,) so do yourself a big favor and don't look at a traditional walkthrough for one of these games! If you're stuck on a puzzle, I have "low-spoiler" walkthroughs available for some of them (see below), or else I recommend the Ultimate Hint System pages, which are uniquely set up to reveal only one hint at a time.

If you're new to this site, I am a computer RPG/adventure game aficianado who has found my gaming time cut drastically short over the past few years by the arrival of my two children. Consequently, I find myself losing patience with a game more and more often these days. I just don't have hours to waste trying every item in my inventory on a mysterious statue anymore, nor is the tedium of that really what I buy games for. Basically, I like plot, I like character development, and I like interactivity and role-playing, to the extent that an adventure game can deliver such things; I like puzzles with satisfying rather than random or contrived solutions, and I like a rich gameworld full of interesting discoveries to be made. I don't like repetitive and unrewarding tasks like inventory management or walking back and forth across large empty screens, I don't like having to make a daybook about which NPCs are in which building at 2 PM on a weekday, and I don't like mapping out frustrating 3D mazes by hand. I'm indifferent to fancy graphics, and realtime play is a huge pain in the ass anymore.

There really are not any PC adventure games out there targeting that particular mix of desires at this point in time, but there are several that come wonderfully close. So here, for my game-playing friends and anyone else who might be interested, is my personal greatest hits list of the best adventure games I've played, complete with game reviews, hints, how to get around any bugs and inconveniences, and, in some cases, low-spoiler walkthrough guides. I've found that a good compendium of subtle hints and tips can really turn a game that's partially what I'm looking for into a fun experience, but most walkthroughs out there ruin the experience by giving away unwanted plot and puzzle spoilers. My own walkthroughs are written around that problem, letting you know whether you've missed any nifty details or fun things to do in any of the game areas without revealing what happens when you try them. The review pages are completely spoiler-free, so if you haven't played a game yet at all, start with these.

Computer Adventure Games for Busy People

Anything with a rating of 5 or higher is worth playing, anything with a rating of 7 or more is worth a special trip to the software store. (-: You can find my general gaming philosophy and review criteria at the Backseat Game Designer, if you're curious. Happy gaming!

The Longest Journey (Release Date: 2000)
The Longest Journey is the best graphical adventure game I've ever played, an absorbing fantasy epic featuring little action but plenty of interesting characters, a rich plot, a highly evocative game world, and more interactivity than most adventure games provide.

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Sanitarium (Release Date: 1999)
This horror adventure follows the surreal travels of a man who may be amnesiac, may be insane, may be dreaming, or may be the victim of a deadly medical conspiracy... or perhaps more than one of the above. A puzzle-based game in the tradition of Zork, Sanitarium boasts sumptuous graphics and an eerie plot whose twists and turns really do all make sense in the end.

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Grim Fandango (Release Date: 1998)
Grim Fandango is one of the most original graphic adventure games ever made, featuring a good plot brimming with creative puzzles and a funky film-noir/magical realism atmosphere. (The stylized skeletons are straight out of Mexican folk tradition.) Though the gameplay suffers from several frustrating interface flaws, none of them are insurmountable; and this offbeat, clever game is well worth the trouble.

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The Black Mirror (Release Date: 2003)
This third-person horror-adventure game scared the crap out of me in several places, which is probably the best compliment I could pay to a murder mystery. Black Mirror does suffer from slow gameplay in places, and it's difficult to identify with the main character, over whom you have little influence. Despite these flaws, though, the engrossing storyline, impressive graphics, and wonderfully menacing ambience put this on my list of games not to miss.

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Syberia (Release Date: 2002)
This French adventure game feels sort of like a cross between playing Myst and watching an Ingmar Bergman movie. The story is moving, the gameworld is absorbing, the scenery is beautiful, and the plethora of original mechanical contraptions convey an odd sense of industrial wistfulness. Syberia's plot is rigidly linear and the puzzles require little brainpower, but the delicately haunting mood makes it fun to play just the same.

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Syberia II (Release Date: 2004)
This isn't a sequel so much as it is the second half of a single game, and so it shares nearly all the strengths, weaknesses, and beauties of the original. If you've already played the first Syberia and enjoyed the experience, then by all means get Syberia II; it's just as good, and has a slightly improved interface. If you haven't played the original Syberia yet, though, you really should play that one first.

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Myst (Release Date: 1993)
I am one of those annoying naysayers who never felt Myst deserved its reputation as the greatest puzzle-adventure game of all time--I solved more of its puzzles through trial and error than by any exercise of intellect. The innovative premise and absorbing mood of this classic game are justly acclaimed, however, and despite the obvious datedness of the interface and graphics, Myst's gameworld still feels more immersive than most games on the market today.

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Exile (Release Date: 2002)
The third in the "Myst" series of puzzle-adventure games, Exile features an interesting storyline, good puzzles, and fantastic 3D graphics (still screenshots do not do them justice), but the plot has little to do with the player and the gameworld rarely evokes the same sense of wonder as the original.

Full Exile Review Hints Buy The Myst Trilogy (Amazon affiliate link)

Dark Fall (Release Date: 2003)
I have to take my hat off to any game that can manage to make itself this scary without any blood or gore whatsoever. The spooky ambience and level of suspense in Dark Fall are truly impressive. If only the puzzles in this game had been less simplistic, it could have been another Myst. As it is, this is almost more of an interactive novella than a puzzle game; but just the same, it's fun to play.

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The Curse of Monkey Island (Release Date: 1997)
This cartoon adventure game features a smooth point and click interface, good voice acting, and lots of humor; unfortunately the puzzles are a little simplistic for an adult gamer, and the plot is very cliched. If you're fond of puns, repartee, and one-liners about piracy and pop culture, this game makes a quick but enjoyable romp. It's lightweight, but it's lightweight fun.

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And Then There Were None (Release Date: 2005)
Based on the classic Agatha Christie mystery novel and play, this is a fun point-and-click adventure hampered somewhat by a time-wasting interface and a dearth of interesting puzzles. Even if you've read the book or seen the play, it still won't spoil the game; the identity of the murderer has been changed (something the mystery's plot was written to easily accomodate.)

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Nancy Drew Series (Release Date: 2000-2010)
This modern adventure game franchise is up to 21 games by now, and except for the awkward first game, the quality is very consistent. The Nancy Drew games are aimed at the young teen audience, but their interesting plots, evocative settings, and well-written dialogue make them fun for adult players as well; downsides include their repetitive, simplistic gameplay and very small scope (only four NPCs and 10-15 rooms to explore per game--it takes only 6-10 hours for an adult player to complete each one.)

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Return to Mysterious Island (Release Date: 2004)
This is a fun little adventure game lacking in depth and breadth (it takes only six hours to complete and ends very abruptly), but notable for offering flexible and creative problem-solving with multiple possible solutions to most obstacles.

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Keepsake (Release Date: 2006)
If you enjoy puzzles and have a lot of patience, this can be a great game-- the quality and variety of puzzles is outstanding, and the plot is interesting enough to keep you involved. Unfortunately Keepsake also has just about the slowest and most passive gameplay I've ever encountered before, and animations and lines of dialogue are unskippable, so there's no respite from it. If you can get past that, this game is a keeper.

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Nibiru (Release Date: 2005)
Nibiru is the re-release of a 1999 graphic adventure game from Europe, and though the updated graphics and interface are state-of-the-art, the mediocre writing and rudimentary gameplay make it feel somewhat dated and clunky despite itself. Still, this supernatural thriller does get your adrenaline rushing in places, and there are some memorably intriguing puzzles in here making it an overall pleasant playing experience.

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Schizm (Release Date: 2001)
One of the better Mystlike games, Schizm compensates for its formulaic gameplay and irritating interface with an engaging science-fiction storyline, a bevy of challenging puzzles, and the Zak McKracken-style ability to switch back and forth between protagonists. The graphics on the DVD release are also quite beautiful.

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Journey to the Center of the Earth (Release Date: 2003)
This imaginative third-person adventure game suffers from interface woes and glitchy puzzles, but offers a clever bifurcating plot that allows you to choose from different endings depending on your perception of the heroine's priorities. Plus dinosaurs. Who can say no to dinosaurs?

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Myst IV: Revelation (Release Date: 2004)
The fourth in the "Myst" series of puzzle-adventure games, Revelation features beautiful graphics, clever puzzles, and a convenient interface; unfortunately, none of this compensates for the fact that this is primarily a stale retread of previous Myst games.

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Secret Files: Tunguska (Release Date: 2006)
A formulaic graphic adventure game about an international conspiracy, featuring a smooth interface and nice graphics but not much in the way of originality.

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Physicus (Release Date: 1999)
An otherwise unmemorable Myst clone with a twist: Physicus is intended for kids age 10-15, and it teaches real-world physics through a series of science-fiction puzzles. Originally written by a German science teacher, Physicus is unlikely to hold an adult gamer's attention for long, but it's much more engaging than other educational software I've seen for this age bracket, talks down to kids far less, and comes with a top-notch interactive physics encyclopedia that makes a useful study aid long after the game has been solved.

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Riven (Release Date: 1997)
Second in the 'Myst' series of puzzle adventure games, Riven does have pretty graphics and features original, challenging puzzles, but it is hampered by a boring plot and painfully slow gameplay. This game is only for serious puzzle enthusiasts with plenty of patience; most gamers will be more interested in the other Myst titles than in Riven (though they all come bundled together these days anyway).

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Chemicus (Release Date: 2002)
This sequel to Physicus is a boilerplate first-person graphic adventure with an educational twist: all the puzzles are based on real-world chemical experiments. With little plot and dull gameplay, Chemicus is unlikely to hold an adult gamer's attention for long, but my kids turned out to be really interested in creating explosions and throwing things into virtual vats of acid. This game could make a real find for kids and younger teens who enjoy science fairs and/or graphic adventures.

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The Sinking Island (Release Date: 2008)
Written by the same game designer who brought us the Syberia games, The Sinking Island is another beautifully illustrated game with an interesting plot, but unfortunately it is hard to enjoy it because of the boring, repetitive gameplay. If you are happy just watching a memorable story unfold, this one is worthwhile, but if you like to take a more active role playing a computer game, you are likely to be disappointed.

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Mystery of the Mummy (Release Date: 2002)
This standard 3D puzzle adventure game ended up evoking Scooby-Doo more than Sherlock Holmes; the hero wanders around a genuinely creepy old mansion randomly bumping into secret doors, pocketing household objects, solving puzzles, and wondering whether the mummies are really undead monsters or just pretending to be. It's fun, and many of the puzzles are clever, but Sherlock Holmes it ain't... and the game is further marred by tedious inventory puzzles, irritating timed sequences, and a lack of input into the mystery plot the game is supposed to be about.

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The Omega Stone (Release Date: 2003)
Vastly superior to its terrible predecessor Riddle of the Sphinx, Omega Stone suffers from improbable puzzles, a dull plot, and far too much pixel-hunting, but its interface is much improved and it makes a decently fun play-through if you enjoy Mystlike games and are good at suspension of disbelief.

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Escape From Monkey Island (Release Date: 2000)
The dumb inventory puzzles and rehashed cliche of a plot would have been forgiveable if this cartoon adventure had offered the same kind of low-maintenance and enjoyable gameplay its goofy predecessor, Curse of Monkey Island, did; instead, LucasArts decided to substitute the subtle, difficult-to-control interface from their artsy magic-realism title Grim Fandango. The end result is unfortunately as mediocre as you might expect from that description.

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Timescape: Journey to Pompeii (Release Date: 2000)
Set in an attractive virtual reconstruction of the ancient Roman city of Pompeii, this game is very short (it took me four hours to solve) and offers only a handful of puzzles to solve, but it does give you a very good sense for what an ancient Roman city must have looked like.

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Phantasmagoria (Release Date: 1995)
This horror feature was one of the earliest movie-style graphic adventure games, and also one of the first computer games to earn a "mature" rating. Unfortunately, the plot is too cliched and the pace too slow to be effective as horror, and the game often attempts to compensate by stooping to visual gross-outs. If you're looking for a really good horror game, try The Black Mirror or Sanitarium instead.

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A Quiet Weekend In Capri (Release Date: 2004)
This Mystlike game features beautiful photography and a creative premise--a graphic adventure set in an alternate-reality version of a real-life Italian island, and a twist of fate that causes you to switch places with a boy from the alternate universe. Unfortunately, the game design and production are so garishly amateurish that the game never really gets off the ground.

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7th Guest (Release Date: 1993)
This pioneering 3D puzzle adventure game has not withstood the test of time. Although the puzzles are still plentiful and fun, they have nothing to do with the environment you're exploring, so they feel extremely artificial. The ghost story is thin and inconsistent, and the ending is just plain idiotic. The whole game gives you the general feeling of wandering around a house watching random games and puzzles pop up at you for no apparent reason. The more recent puzzle adventures inspired by 7th Guest are generally better than the original.

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Riddle of the Sphinx (Release Date: 2000)
Somehow Riddle of the Sphinx manages to combine the worst of the 80's-era "graphic" adventures (the ones that were really text adventures with badly drawn pictures appended) with the worst of the 90's-era Myst clones. It's so low-budget it might be campy fun if it were less pretentious and had a less aggravating interface, but it isn't, and it doesn't.

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