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Forgotten Quests From the Golden Age of Adventure Games

The lovely vista of a 1994 gem, Beneath A Steel Sky

The 1990s were a good age for adventure, if your idea of adventure is playing video games. Point-and-click adventure games were at their peak, offering new worlds and new mysteries to explore. Companies like Sierra Games and LucasArts were publishing titles that often simply dropped players into a new world and let them test and explore in order to find their way, searching for the correct item or action that would let them progress. Clues were often infuriatingly hard to come by, but when you could finally solve that tricky puzzle, you felt like a real genius.  

And now, adventure games of the ’80s and ’90s are making somewhat of a comeback via modern titles, and remakes of classic versions. Titles like The Secret of Monkey Island and Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis (LucasArts is the undisputed king of the genre), are still hot topics among gamers, but there are many other games that have fallen by the wayside, or been forgotten completely. Well, thanks to the awesome Internet Archive and their vast collection of old software, we can take a look at some of greatest forgotten and unknown gems of the genre.

1. ZORK 1: THE GREAT UNDERGROUND EMPIRE (1980)

(Photo: daniel julià lundgren/Flickr)

Possibly the original adventure game. Gamers of a certain age will recall the Zork series, which eventually expanded to full graphics adventures. However it was this original, text-only quest that set the playful (sometimes goofy) tone of the entire genre, and established the find-item-solve-puzzle formula that would become the hallmark of the genre. All without a single bit of graphics.

2. SHADOWGATE (1987)

This short, grim illustrated adventure leads you through a fantasy castle on a quest to defeat the evil Warlock Lord. Equipped a minimum of information, and static setting shots. A surprisingly spooky adventure. 

3. MANIAC MANSION (1988)

One of the lesser known LucasArts games, this prequel to the much more famous Day of the Tentacle, is often overshadowed by it’s follow-up. Maniac Mansion was many people’s first taste of the genre, offering the chance to lead a cast of archetypical teens through a mad scientist’s house of terror (and laughs).

4. LOOM (1990)

Another LucasArts classic that is sometimes overlooked, Loom used a unique system of musical notes that allowed the player to interact with the world. The world itself was dark and foreboding. Loom was a surprisingly serious game for a story about exploring a world that is strangely obsessed with string. 

5. MARTIAN MEMORANDUM (1990)

This sequel to the much more fondly remembered Under A Killing Moon sees series star Tex Murphy continue doing his weary-gumshoe-in-a-dystopian-future schtick. Murphy’s science fiction investigation is notable for its early, and only somewhat, successful use of digitized actors and dialogue.

6. LURE OF THE TEMPTRESS (1992)

A fantasy classic that deserves to be ranked with some of the funnest games in the genre, Lure of the Temptress lets you play a peasant that has to deal with dragons, sorceresses, and demons using his wits and clever dialogue. It’s a terrific one-off adventure story.   

7. STAR TREK: 25TH ANNIVERSARY (1992)

The Star Trek franchise has seen a lot of video games in its time, but most of them want to focus on controlling a ship or blowing things up. But the 1992 point-and-click game lets you play out a bunch of “episodes,” both fighting from the bridge of the original Enterprise, and solving mysteries on surface of alien worlds.    

8. BLOODNET (1993)

This adventure game drops players into a grim cyberpunk future where they need to battle vampires to save the ‘net. It’s a noir-ish quest through some of the more regrettable trends of the 1990s.   

9. DRAGONSPHERE (1994)

Another fun delve into a familiar, but enjoyable medieval fantasy world. The graphics were considered pretty great when the game came out and they still create an engaging, rich world today. It also features a character named, the Soptus Elipticus, which earns it extra points. 

10. DEATH GATE (1994)

Death Gate was based on a series of novels by fantasy legends Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, and uses almost entirely characters and settings from the books, giving this game a fittingly epic scope and feel.    

11. BENEATH A STEEL SKY (1994)

From the makers of Lure of the Temptress comes one of the masterworks of science fiction adventure gaming. Take a little Blade Runner and a bit of Raymond Chandler, and you’ve got one hell of an adventure through a future gotham.

12. THE FLIGHT OF THE AMAZON QUEEN (1995)

Everyone remembers Indiana Jones and The Fate of Atlantis, but what about this much goofier (and raunchier) knock off? Take the role of Jones-lite hero Joe King as he saves a starlet and a tribe of amazon women from being turned into dinosaurs. The 90s were weird.

13. DISCWORLD (1995)

Based on Terry Pratchett’s series of satirical fantasy novels, the Discworld adventure game manages to hit the correct mix of funny and adventurous that many games in the genre could only try for. The main character Rincewind was also voiced by Monty Python alum, Eric Idle! 

14. FULL THROTTLE (1995)

Another LucasArts one-off, Full Throttle is sometimes forgotten in the breathless discussions of the companies other releases, but it may be one of their best. A sort of Mad-Max-homage, the game takes place in a futuristic desert wasteland where the player takes control of Ben, a burly biker in a world of hover vehicles. The game may remain of LucasArts’ funniest games, and one of the best looking.  

15. I HAVE NO MOUTH AND I MUST SCREAM (1995)

Unlike a number of adventure games, which end up being relatively linear, straight forward, and fairly whimsical, Harlen Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, based on his award-winning short story, is a total downer. The basic outline of the game has to do with a supercomputer named, AM, which is torturing the last five humans alive by creating scenarios that destroy their self-esteem. The player controls the last five humans, and the game is essentially unwinnable. It is one of the most philosophically mean games ever made, but one hell of an adventure.    

16. SANITARIUM (1998)

This creepy adventure allows players to jump into the role of an amnesiac car crash victim who mentally travels to a series of nightmarish worlds ranging from a horrific circus, to a future dystopia overrun by robots. It’s dark and sad quest, but the worlds one gets to explore are unforgettably unique.

While the Internet Archive offers files for all of these games, or their demos, complete versions of many of them can also be found on GOG.com and Steam