Adventure is a critical aspect of nearly any video game. This article pays homage to the genre itself, as well as the journeys that games take us on.
Video games have an almost magical element to them. They can whisk us away to far off lands, lead us through a thrilling story, and turn a controller or keyboard into the weapon that will save the world.
This element of adventure is found in almost every title, whether the game falls into the adventure genre or not. Racing titles take us on the journey of becoming a pro racer, first-person shooters are supported by narrative, and MMOs give us the ability to create the story of a character’s life.
Where did this lust for adventure come from? What makes them so appealing, and which titles are “must plays” in the genre itself?
A Trip Through Time
As with nearly any genre, adventure got its start in the highly developmental era of the 1970’s. During the time of text-based gameplay, Colossal Cave Adventure emerged as a way for gamers to experience the thrill of uncovering treasure while avoiding danger around every corner.
In the game, the player explores a massive cave (go figure) as they avoid perilous pits and hunt for gold. The goal is to acquire every piece of treasure and exit the cave alive, resulting in a perfect score of 350 points.
While text-based games have certainly lost their appeal in the modern gaming world, it’s not hard to imagine how this concept became so popular in its time. The challenge it presented kept gamers playing, while vivid descriptions of an unexplored location offered a temporary escape.
Those aspects were enough to make developers imitate the game style for years, pumping out a number of titles and expanding upon the original concept. It wasn’t long before puzzles, and more in-depth plots were developed, not to mention creating interesting characters to act as heroes.
Defining the Genre
While plenty of action-packed side scrollers and even games like Street Fighter revolved around some sort of story, the adventure genre began to separate itself from these titles by eliminating combat challenges. Instead, a strict adventure game would focus on a well-devised narrative while having the player solve intricate puzzles and use their wits to survive.
There have always been crossover or hybrid games involving both action and adventure, take almost any RPG for example, but action-less titles have continued to captivate gamers for decades. While it can be tough to say which aspects constitute a 100% adventure title, here are a few things that typically classify a game in this genre:
- Puzzle solving, possibly interconnected with one another
- Little to no combat
- Does not rely on a skill system
- Opponents are defeated through solving problems
- Gathering and using items
- Dialogue with other players, a narrator, or internally
- Immersive story
Console releases tend to focus mostly on hybrid genres since action mixed with adventure is a sure-fire recipe for success. However, this genre still lives on in the realm of PC and online flash games. Some of today’s best titles can be found on sites like Armor Games and Kongregate.
Take the Cube Escape series by Rusty Lake, for instance. The game requires players to use items and solve puzzles while uncovering pieces of an incredibly dark and looming plot. The series is so popular that it recently created its first purchasable title on Steam.
Online adventure games are highly successful despite remaining mostly free, but companies still produce titles in this genre for both PC and console. Night in the Woods, What Remains of Edith Finch, and the ever-popular Outlast series are excellent examples.
There’s certainly no shortage of PC to Ps4 adventure games, especially with so much diversity in the genre itself. If you’re a fan of flash games, then you’ve definitely played several of these variants before.
You can still find text-based titles around the web, but they mostly remain popular with a small cult following of fans. Well, small compared to the number of fans for other subgenres. You can thank this style for getting things started with games like Zork, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and Colossal Cave Adventure.
As the name suggests, these games rely heavily on graphics to deliver an environment to the player. They can be anything from touch screen to text input styles, and usually view the main character from a first or third person perspective.
Point and Click
These are usually online, free adventure games. The gameplay here is simple, move the cursor around the screen and click your way through the stages. You might click a door to move to the next room, click to pick up an object or click to interact with a puzzle.
Conversation trees are a major theme found in the point and click style, as are item inventory and puzzles. To progress, you’ll have to figure out how an item is used and when to use it. Sierra On-Line and LucasArts adventure titles are almost exclusively point and click.
Escape the Room
Similar to the point and click subgenre, escape the room games require the player to use their wit while moving around an area. They are usually shorter and take place inside of a confined area, forcing players to think outside of the box as they utilize the limited resources available to them.
Other styles of this subgenre require players to manipulate a complex object, sort of like a puzzle box. You’ll find most of these titles on websites that utilize Adobe Flash.
This subgenre places a strong emphasis on logic puzzles in the form of toys or mini-games. Completing puzzles advances the story or unlocks more areas to explore, but these games rely less on inventory and more on individual challenges. The Talos Principle, The Witness, and Professor Layton are all excellent titles in this subgenre.
You know you’ve stumbled into this genre when a game favors narration over actual gameplay. Kind of like interactive movies, these games immerse you in their plot as you make decisions on what to say next.
Different responses influence which direction the story will progress, but ultimately lead to the same ending. Think of it like an interactive book, but you get to control what the main character says without changing the story.
Similar to narrative adventure games, these text/graphical hybrids use narrative to drive the story with sprite-based visuals to bring it to life. Largely revolving around anime stylings, you can find them online as well as sold for handheld devices and on apps for Android and IOS.
Relationships are popular themes for these games, but the choices you make usually create a different ending. While they aren’t incredibly popular in the United States, their replayability and artwork make them smash hits in the East.
This subgenre focuses almost exclusively on moving around, hence the name. Players interact with their environment as they uncover the underlying plot. Most titles feature little to no puzzles, having players uncover clues through objects like books or journals instead.
There’s no real way to win or lose one of these games. Rather, the main goal is to explore the story and environment to completion. Examples include Gone Home, Dear Esther, and Firewatch.
This subgenre doesn’t hold a lot of titles and mostly gave way to graphical adventure games. Dragon’s Lair is the perfect example of an interactive movie, which is seen being played in the first episode of Stranger Things season two.
As you might imagine, these genres tend to blend seamlessly with one other. With so many similar qualities from subgenre to subgenre, developers can easily draw from multiple to create a unique hybrid game.
Other hybrids, like action-adventure, are the incredibly popular games most of us play today. The Elder Scrolls, The Legend of Zelda, and God of War all fall into this category, as do most major name titles. Even GTA V can be considered an action-adventure game.
These titles might not have come to fruition, however, had it not been for those early text-based adventure games sparking the public’s interest in the ability to explore new lands and face new dangers from the comfort of their homes.
Combining the action element allows gamers the chance to be a hero or villain, roam dangerous worlds, and experience stories in an interactive way. Whatever their appeal might be, it’s clear that gamers can’t get enough of this incredible subgenre.
Your Journey Begins
While you’ve probably played a number of newer titles featured in this article, there were probably a few you haven’t heard of before. Every gamer is up for a new adventure, so give those games a try and experience what made them so popular! Who knows, you might just find a new title that holds its own with your all-time favorites.