Keeping Point-and-Click Adventures Alive

bendan.jpg As alluded to last week with the release of Amanita's hand-drawn opus Machinarium, the era of the point and click adventure -- which reached its pinnacle throughout the 90s thanks to genre-defining works by LucasArts, Sierra and Cyan -- seemed all but forever over in the decade following, as PC prowess pushed first- and third-person to the fore. But a new wave of adventures has recently arisen, ushered in by the re-introduction of more cursor-y consoles and handhelds (think: the literal pointing and touching of both the Wii and the iPhone), the proliferation of digital distribution channels (lowering the barrier away from gun-shy publishers unwilling to invest heavily in 'nostalgia'), and a dedicated core that's never let the classics die (via grey market ports of Lucas's SCUMM engine to basically every piece of hardware with a display device). And so, a brief introduction to those new adventurers, and a quick guide to re-playing the classics in new ways. Ben There, Dan That / Time Gentlemen, Please [Zombie Cow, PC] Apart from Amanita (covered exhaustively last week), the top team keeping the spirit of click alive is the UK's Zombie Cow -- founded by Dan Marshall and aided by a small crew of consultants, most notably co-writer and -designer Ben Ward. The pair are, as you might have guessed, the stars of Zombie Cow's first adventure outing, Ben There, Dan That, a game that manages to infuse the best of indie spirit (lean, economical, and highly stylized art and design) with the best of what LucasArts taught us made these journeys so great: razor-sharp wit and dialogue, self-aware and -referencing (and, here, Lucas-classics referencing as well) at every turn, never afraid to break the fourth wall and let the player in on the jokes. The duo have followed in that same tradition with the recently released Time Gentlemen, Please a sequel that can be demo'd and purchased either from Zombie Cow itself or via Valve's Steam (BT,DT remains a free download). Both come highly, highly recommended, and serve as a nice tide-over while you await the studio's third chronicle: Revenge of the Balloon-Headed Mexican.
windo16x9.jpg Windosill [Vectorpark, web/PC/Mac] At the opposite end of the spectrum is Patrick Smith's Windosill, a game written up at greater length in the past at Offworld. Part of his Vectorpark series of gorgeously hyper-surreal click-toys, Windosill is as far from a character-driven narrative adventure as you can come. Instead, Smith pulls you into his somehow at once super-flat and mind-bogglingly physical and living worlds that writhe and bounce and squish at every prod. Each screen presents a new diorama to be explored, and while you'll get a good taste via its demo version, do move on to the full, paid version to see the screen I've been squirming for months to not spoil online (when you've reached a room with three residents, you'll know you're there). Play online at windosill.com -- where you can also get the PC/Mac downloadables -- or find it at Steam. hostmaster.jpg Host Master and the Conquest of Humor [Double Fine, web] And, even as a one-off joke, a special shout-out to Host Master, a throwback from Brutal Legend creators Double Fine which sees studio head Tim Schafer -- himself one of the genre's top artists with his past work creating Day of the Tentacle and Grim Fandango -- prepping for his GDC 2009 awards show role in classic form, which, if nothing else, proves that he's still 'got it'. The Best of the Rest: If you haven't had your fill with the above, your next best ports of call are the continuing episodic efforts of Telltale Games, who remain the highest profile studio keeping the form alive: their Sam&Max and Monkey Island revivals are essential plays, alongside their work with Wallace & Gromit and Strongbad, and they're one of the few that have managed to infiltrate the Wii with downloadable ports. LucasArts has also re-dedicated itself to the form with their Special Edition remake of the original Monkey Island coming to Xbox Live Arcade, PC, and the iPhone, and their offering of Loom, The Dig, and Indiana Jones adventures on Steam. The iPhone has also seen shrunk-down but no less playable versions of Cyan's Myst and Revolution Software's cyber-fantasy Beneath a Steel Sky (still free on PC via Good Old Games). And finally, for more indie offerings, see Silver Wish's Axel and Pixel, just brought to Xbox 360 via 2K Play, rabbinical adventure The Shivah and fellow Wadjet Eye works Puzzle Bots (and the original Nanobots) from Montreal's Erin Robinson. There's likely several handfuls more great indies that I've left off above: leave any additions overlooked via the comments below!