Top 25 Classic Adventure Games

There are many classic adventure games that will live on in gamers’ memories forever. In this list we introduce you to the best and most influential of those adventure games. Although most of these classic adventure games were quite popular in their time, there are a few that were under-appreciated gems. If you ever wanted to familiarize yourself with the best retro games in the traditional adventure genre or you’re just looking for a recommendation for an old-school adventure, you’ll find what you’re looking for in this list.

Our Adventure Hub:
-Top Ten Best PC Adventure Games
-Top 50 Modern-Day Adventure Games
-Top 25 Handheld Adventure Games
-Top 25 Console Adventure Games
-Top 10 Detective Adventure Games
-Top 30 IF/Text Adventures
-Top 10 Scariest Adventure Games
Best Visual Novels
Best Free/Casual/Online Adventure Games

This list is in no particular order.

Grim Fandango

Although I said there’s no order to the list, I still put the best classic game at the top to get things started. There are many creators of new worlds and cultures in books, tv, film, and games. Usually these visionaries take some pre-established premises and throw in some new twists to make things original. It is rare to find someone with enough imagination to make a world that relies on a completely new set of rules and fundamentals. Tim Schafer, possibly the greatest mind in adventure games, threw the rule book out of the window and imagined a world that had everything new from the ground up with Grim Fandango. When you enter the world of Grim Fandango, you are entering somewhere you’ve never been before. And you will be intrigued, enchanted, cracked up, and unwilling to leave the Land of the Dead. Both the characters and the world setting make for a rich lively world full of inventive ideas, whether you’re working as a travel agent to pay off your debt, walking along the bottom of the sea, escaping from The Edge of the World, or reciting poetry at a night club.

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Day of the Tentacle

Here is another Tim Schafer gem that deserves every bit of the praise it regularly receives from adventure fans. In the sequel to Maniac Mansion, the tone of the game has become much more cartoony, humorous, and wacky. The main character, Bernard, and his friends, utilize time-travel in order to stop the nefarious Purple Tentacle from becoming the ruler of the world in the future. What’s cool about the puzzles in the game are that they all make clever (and funny) use of the time travel mechanics. So, if you speak to the person designing the American flag in the past, you’ll see that the flag looks different in the future. The puzzles, the visual style, and the humorous elements in the game combined for an adventure game that is fondly remembered as a classic.

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The Last Express

You may have played some of Jordan Mechner’s games before. He made a little series called Prince of Persia. But another classic adventure game that most people don’t realize came from Mechner is The Last Express. There are a few distinguishing characteristics that The Last Express is known for (besides for the 800-page long script.) The first one is the visual style. Mechner used rotoscoping in the development of the graphics. He had actors dress up and move around as all 30 characters in the game and he recorded this on film. Then 40,000 still frames were chosen to represent the different scenes and movements of characters in the game. A computer traced black and white outlines from those frames and then artists colored them in. This frame-by-frame visual style makes the game look very unique. Another cool element in the game is the use of real-time. The entire game uses real time, accelerated by a factor of six. The player can rewind or fast-forward at any point in time during the game. So, essentially, the gamer is given a three-day sequence of time and told to manipulate it at will in order to complete the game. How can you just be given three days to accomplish a game? Much like Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, all of the NPCs live according to their own lives and agendas and can be found doing various things throughout the three days. In order to solve puzzles, speak to characters, and possibly change their actions, you have to keep track of their schedules during those three days.

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I remember being enthralled with the world of Myst as a teenager. It doesn’t hold up so well anymore but at the time, its graphics and immersion were something that hadn’t been experienced before. Myst saw hundreds of clones try and replicate the same success. Until today, whenever an adventure game features the main character exploring a lonely, uninhabited world, full with beautiful scenery, relaxing atmosphere, and tons of environmental puzzles to solve, it is described as being Myst-like. Myst also spanned an entire series of sequels. There won’t be any more games in the series anytime soon but you can play at least five sequels that already exist. My favorite was Riven, the direct sequel to Myst.

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Gabriel Knight series

Jane Jensen is one of my favorite game developers and her abilities in writing and storytelling always shine through. Right now we’re going to look at the series as a whole all three games: Sins of the Fathers, The Beast Within, and Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned. Gabriel Knight is a struggling horror novelist who discovers that his destiny is to become a Shadow Hunter. The games stray from the lighter fare of Sierra and LucasArts adventure games, and instead focus on the occult, voodoo murders, werewolf attacks, and vampire conspiracies. The series has gone from pixelated sprites, to FMV scenes, to 3D models. Despite the graphical changes with the technological advancements, the core writing and storyline were always top of the line.

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Get the Gabriel Knight Series at Amazon


Syberia / Syberia 2

Kate Walker is an American Walker who has flown to France to finalize a buyout of a toy store. This simple premise leads her into a land  of steampunk locales such as trains operating on springs, clockwork, and windup mechanisms. This fictional environment also has an “art nouveau” visual style. Kate’s mission will lead her to obscure towns and places across Central and Eastern Europe. Her journeys change her, causing her to question the direction of her life and the deteriorating relationship with her fiance. Adventure fans loved the world and characters of Syberia were eventually rewarded with an equally great sequel.
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Not many gamers know of this hidden gem but it’s a real shame. Imagine an animator of a successful TV cartoon, suffering from from artist’s block, who gets sucked into the hand-drawn world of his own cartoon creations. He’ll meet his own invented characters and discovers that an evil overlord is transforming and mutating the land and its inhabitants into sinister, twisted version of themselves. In order to return to real life he will have to be the benevolent creator to his creations and aid them in the fight against the villain. What makes this premise work so well is twofold. First is the graphic style. The main character, Drew Blanc, is rendered with FMV animation on top of scanned artwork of his cartoon world and characters. This makes it feel like this is the colliding of two different worlds. And second is the humor and voicework which work so well. You will laugh out loud from this game. Trust me.

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Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Before I played it I didn’t know what all the fuss was about. How could an Indiana Jones game that was a point-and-click adventure rather than an action/platforming game possibly be that good? And then I finally got around to playing it. My verdict: this should have been the plot for the most recent Indiana Jones movie. Seriously, it’s epic, haunting, thrilling, clever, and witty. The game is excellent the whole way through, but just wait until you get to Atlantis itself. I won’t say any more. This is definitely the best Indie Jones game ever made.

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The Neverhood

I’ll admit it. I was impressed with the graphics, characters, and settings of The Neverhood but I didn’t actually enjoy the game itself. Yes, I’d gave it awards for creativity and sheer imagination, but not for the puzzles and gameplay. So, why did I include it in this list? Because, apparently, most of the nostalgic gaming world would disagree with me vehemently.  Actually, they would agree that the game was slow-paced and wouldn’t survive in this day and age. But, they would argue that the art, sound track, charm, storyline, themes of surrealism make it worth the ride. I’ll leave it up to you to decide.

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The Dig

What happens when you take Steven Spielberg, Orson Scott Card (Ender’s Game), and Brian Moriarty (Loom, Zork) and put them in a room together to make the storyline and dialogue for a game? You get The Dig. In a way, The Dig is a lot less accessible than most adventure games. You have to be somewhat of a science fiction hipster to appreciate its exceptional qualities. The game’s tone is similar to Myst in the way that the atmosphere was more important to the developers than providing constant stimulation. The atmosphere is gripping and suspenseful, the world is imaginative, and the puzzles are plentiful and intelligent. If you can appreciate the sci-fi premise of wandering around a foreign alien planet while solving puzzles to survive, you will likely be putting The Dig at the top of your best adventure games list.

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In Sanitarium we begin our journey as a patient of horrid asylum full of mutilated people. We don’t remember anything apart from the fact that we barely survived a car crash. But things start to become really weird when the statue of angel comes to live and we get transported to a provincial town where the only inhabitants are deformed children. The conversations that you have with them are among the most insane and disturbing lines that you can ever encounter. As we progress, the scenes become gradually more weird, scary, twisted, though-provoking and purely saddening. I almost shed a genuine tear here and there. One thing is certain – this game won’t leave you indifferent. Actually I feel more inclined not to call this just an adventure game, but rather a deeply psychological experience. That journey is without a doubt worth taking, as long as you’re not afraid of really nightmarish sights. I can mention here also good, but difficult puzzles, atmospheric soundtrack and gracefully ageing graphics, but there’s no point in dwelling on such trivialities in this case. Sanitarium is a true gem and should, no, must be played by any self-respecting adult gamer. Don’t hesitate, just buy it.

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Buy Sanitarium from Amazon


I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream

If you thought Sanitarium was freaky and disturbing, it doesn’t reach the terrifying psychological twistedness of I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. Just listen to this set-up: I Have No Mouth is based on the Hugo-winning short story by Harlan Ellison and in it an insane global supercomputer has completely wiped humanity off the face of the earth, save five people who it has preserved in order to torture them for eternity. He brings them down into the middle of the Earth and constructs elaborate ways to torture them. They have already lived for 109 years and they just want to die, but the supercomputer won’t let them. In the game, the supercomputer picks on one fatal character flaw that each of the five characters have. The computer will construct an elaborate “test” for each of them that will feed upon their weaknesses, and cause them to have to make ethical and moral choices that emotionally disturb them. You must play through all five characters’ scenarios and encounter the different dilemmas the supercomputer has awaiting you. These will deal with issues such as rape, insanity, paranoia, genocide, and experimental surgery on living organisms. It’s not for the feint of heart. The story is of a maturity that you don’t get to see often in video games and the audio and visuals complement the disturbing nature of the game entirely. In fact, the supercomputer “God” is voiced by Harlan Ellison himself, the author of the original short story. There are many memorable supercomputers in sci-fi films (2001: A Space Odyssey, Skynet, The Matrix) and even sci-film video games (System Shock 2, Portal) but it’s quite possible that none of them top AM, the supercomputer from I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream.

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Broken Sword 1 & 2

In each Broken Sword, George Stobbart has to solve some paranormal mystery that threatens the safety of the world, whether it be the Templar Order or sinister Mayan god. In order to do it he must travel all around the globe, collect certain items and fight the bad guys. Fortunately, he is not alone on this quest. His faithful sidekick (and later a girlfriend) Nico is always there for him. The plot of those games are really enjoyable and they could easily pose as lost scenarios for Indiana Jones movies. Actually, George has a lot of boyish charm and witty remarks just like Indy. Maybe that is the reason why Broken Swords are so popular among gamers. That and great, well-balanced puzzles as well. The music and graphics are good, but if you don’t like retro style (how couldn’t you?), you can play the remastered version of both games.

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It’s odd that I’ve never seen anyone feel quite the same way as me about Loom. For me, Grim Fandango is the number one adventure game, Secret of Monkey Island is number two, and Loom is number three. I’ve seen people feel the same way about my number one and two but not about number three. Above all, I love imaginative worlds to become immersed in the games I play. And the complex and creative fantasy world of Loom reeled me in and never wanted to let me go. The world is made up of many guilds. There are blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, shepherds, soldiers, glass-welders, etc. None of the guilds may marry into another guild. Throughout the game you will visit all sorts of environments, including those of all the other guilds. You’ll travel to a dragon’s lair, a get caught in a raging tornado, visit a city made up entirely of green sparkling glass, escape the land of the dead, get locked up in a cell inside a fortress made of iron, and travel through a paradoxical dimension that doesn’t exist in time and space. The other reason I loved it was because of its very non-traditional gameplay. You won’t be using the traditional point and click commands, rather you will be playing musical notes to cast magical spells. You’ll constantly be learning new “songs” to cast spells and as your spell list grows, you’ll have to figure out which spell to use at which time to solve puzzles.

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Full Throttle

It seems we have a lot of Tim Schafer on this list. And there’s more coming. Full Throttle may not be as good as the original two Schafer games on this list. And that’s mostly due to its brevity. But even so, while it lasts, Full Throttle does a great job at serving up a dystopian, post-apocalyptic world where you are the tough-as-nails leader of a biker gang, framed for a murder you didn’t commit. At first glance Full Throttle may seem like a game that’s always about being funny. While it is full of humor and clever wit, and the dialogue is so entertaining that you might just try out every branch in a conversation, the overall tone of Full Throttle is serious, gritty, and will make you feel like you’re all alone in this desolate wasteland. You may be upset at how short it is, but it’s still worth it to check out for its visual design, storyline and plot-twists, excellent voice-overs, logical puzzles, and a world brimming with atmosphere.

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This list is still a work in progress. To be continued this week…. These are the games we’re still writing up:

Realms of the Haunting
Leisure Suit Larry
Space Quest 4 and 6
King’s Quest 6
The Last Journey
Planescape Torment
The Journeyman Project
Tex Murphy
Sam and Max
Quest for Glory

Head back to our list of Ten Best PC Adventure Games.

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