The 1992 point-and-click classic The Dagger of Amon Ra was a high point of the genre's 16-bit era: an intriguing and offbeat adventure with distinctive colorful pixel art and Sierra On-Line co-founder Roberta Williams overseeing the project. For the Campo Santo Review, Duncan Fyfe takes a deep look at a game "steeped in the aesthetics of the 1920s" and a major influence on the forthcoming Into the Valley of the Gods.
Like Laura Bow's first adventure, the game progresses in an approximation of real time: Suspects move around the museum according to their own schedules, in pursuit of their own hidden agendas. It's the player's job to keep track of everything. Unsurprisingly it's a difficult game, concluding in a notorious denouement where the player is required to prove that they have solved each of the murders, as well as a host of related crimes. The game doesn't help the player with this at all. But the complexity of the task is leavened by the vibe, which can't be beat: Wandering a museum alone at night, uncovering secret passageways and puzzles, accosting a haughty countess with accusations of murder, and eavesdropping on illicit dalliances between cops and flappers.
There were a number of titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s that took a stab at the "Clue" microgenre — the murder mystery populated by NPCs following their own schedules, with a culprit that must be deduced rather than simply uncovered via an unfolding series of puzzles and plotlines. The era's technical limitations made modeling and presenting these sealed-off yet dynamic social systems difficult, but The Dagger of Amon Ra was one of the best thanks to its great art, well-defined characters and approachable gameplay.
Compare to Mike Singleton's Grimblood. This was far more spectacular in its ambitions, providing the player with a story generated by random murderers and open-ended interactions. But it was virtually incomprehensible to anyone who didn't understand the minutiae of its internal logic–and it was laden with then-cutting-edge digitized art and speech that completely overwhelms its period setting. Here's a video of it in action:
Selected Stories from the Days of Laura Bow [Campo Santo Review]