In this article, I take a look at some excellent, but little known, adventure games created in the pixel art style. If, like me, you have a nostalgic streak, then you’ll certainly remember adventures like Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle and Fate of Atlantis (all by the “late” Lucasarts), which left their mark in the evolution of adventure games and video games as forms of storytelling.
Back in the days when there were no anti-aliasing tools for pixel art, and 3D models left a lot to the imagination, adventure games were incredibly popular and PC gamers would spend whole nights awake, trying to work out what on earth a can of gas “for chainsaws only” was doing in Zak McKracken (the chainsaw actually featured in another Lucas game: Maniac Mansion), or where the passage under the log in the forest in Monkey Island actually led.
Back then, enthusiasts met in games rooms and through underground circles of novice geeks and budding hackers, because for them gaming wasn’t a kids’ pastime, but a way of socializing and “swapping notes”, and, deep in concentration, they would tap away on their keyboards for hours on end.
It was an era of neon lights, smoky rooms and 8-bit chip music — a period that we now look back on fondly because the Internet, then, was just a little kid in diapers, and bypassing security systems was as easy as stealing his pacifier. Back then, pop culture had a rebellious cyberpunk feel that we miss today, and that we can only attempt to recreate. As a result, what was once the only way of making video games (games that millennials would dismiss as ugly and grainy) has now become something more sophisticated and sought after —a way of making art, because art is freedom and can choose its own form of expression.
And so there emerged a series of video game producers, Widget Eye first and foremost, which created a series of old-fashioned adventures using, precisely, pixel art.
Here I draw your attention to what are, in my view, the five best little-known adventure games created in recent years. They are all reminiscent of the past and all feature characters in the Guybrush Threepwood mold. I have picked out these “obscure” games because the Internet hasn’t done them justice, and they really do deserve to be played.
Developed by Technocrat Games, Technobabylon is packed with cyberpunk elements: policemen with brain grafts, slum dwellers addicted to drugs and virtual spaces, mortal conspiracies, and an omniscient AI with a desire for global domination. Through the lives of three protagonists, there unfolds a plot that is somewhere between a detective story and the effects of acid procured in the most disreputable bar of a vast city. A compelling story that is well worth checking out.
With a style that recalls Beksinski’s works, but also makes you think of metal liquefied by a nuclear explosion, Primordia revolves around a lone android who goes in search of the meaning of existence and that legendary ancient people called mankind. Thanks to the great dialogues between the protagonists and the story’s different possible endings, Primordia manages to draw the gamer into a desolate post-apocalyptic world where curiosity, despair and survival are indissolubly intertwined.
Decimated by a terrible virus and a nuclear war, mankind is on the verge of collapse. A young woman is forced to accept dangerous work to participate in the lottery that might allow her access to the vaccine, available only for the new nobility. Brilliantly acted (in English), Shardlight is an adventure that will leave you loving, and rooting for, its heroine.
4) Strictly speaking, The Way, developed by Puzzling Dream is not an adventure game, but a hybrid genre reminiscent of successes like Flashback (1992) or the masterpiece Another World ( 1991). The level of difficulty would please a player of Dark Souls, and the fact that this is combined with the theme of love that transcends space and time, makes The Way primarily a sci-fi masterpiece, but also a game that is full of enigmas and unknown artifacts. Definitely worth playing.
5) Kathy Rain
With Kathy Rain, Clifftop Games has given us a remarkable game that combines humor, spirited young women and mysteries. In this adventure, which has more than four thousand lines of dialogue, a novel blue-haired Angela Lansbury character with an eyebrow piercing investigates the mysterious death of her grandfather and delves into his disturbing past. A true gem.