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The Gateway Guide to LucasArts Adventure Games

Don't know where to start with LucasArts' legacy? Check out our point-and-click crash course.

Guide by Bob Mackey, .

Broad genre classifications have essentially become meaningless, but if you're of a certain age, the term "adventure game" conjures up a very specific concept. For a brief period of time, these mouse-driven, narrative-focused experiences were commonplace in the world of gaming—then the late '90s happened.

Of course, the secret shame of point-and-click adventures is that most of them weren't very good. In most cases, adventure games took a downright adversarial stance towards players, tricking them with a constant string of "gotcha" moments they couldn't possibly predict. And that's why LucasArts' offerings stand out so far above their competitors: from 1990's The Secret of Monkey Island onward, their games operated under a mission statement that sought to correct the many mistakes of this popular genre.

If you're completely new to this style of game, and wondering where to go after the highly anticipated Grim Fandango Remastered, we've got you covered. Read on, and always remember: LucasArts' 1-800-STAR-WARS hint line was probably disconnected decades ago.

Where to Buy LucasArts Adventures

Until fairly recently, the owners of LucasArts' legacy weren't keen on sharing it with the rest of the world, meaning you had to explore the darkest corners of the Internet or pay top-dollar on eBay just to find a copy. While the console space still has a long way to go in terms of making these games available, the PC (unsurprisingly) is still the best place to play LucasArts adventure games. Steam has Loom, both Monkey Island Special Editions, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, The Dig, and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis, while Good Old Games has a few of the aforementioned offerings along with Sam & Max Hit the Road. Conspicuously absent from this list? Maniac Mansion, Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders, Day of the Tentacle (coming soon in remake form), Full Throttle, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Escape from Monkey Island—though you probably won't regret skipping that last one. And if you still have some of your old CD-ROMs sitting around, the SCUMMVM emulator is a safe and easy way to replay these classics on a modern machine.

Which Game(s) Should I Start With?

This isn't an easy question to answer, mostly because tastes vary and some brains may struggle with certain puzzles more than others. But the following three games should give you a taste of what LucasArts adventures are all about.

The Secret of Monkey Island: Special Edition

Monkey Island is essentially the game that began LucasArts' decade-long winning streak—no offense to Maniac Mansion, of course—so it's a great place to start. While the developer would go on to perfect their craft, the first Monkey Island remains a perfectly manageable adventure game that gives players just enough freedom to avoid frustration: If you're banging your head against one puzzle, you always can take a break from it and concentrate your efforts elsewhere on Melee Island. And, if you're new to the genre, the Special Edition's built-in hint system can ease you through a few of the more obtuse puzzles. (Plus you can completely switch to the old graphics if the altered designs aren't your thing.)

Day of the Tentacle

It's a little awkward to recommend a game that's essentially unavailable, but, to be fair, this situation will soon change. And while Day of the Tentacle is Tim Schafer's first turn in the director's chair (along with LucasArts peer Dave Grossman), it certainly doesn't feel like a debut effort. This Maniac Mansion sequel retains the three-character system and a few cast members from the original, but that's it: Knowledge of the series' origins isn't at all necessary to enjoy Day of the Tentacle. This time-hopping adventure makes for a great place to start because unfinished puzzles rarely stop your progress completely: Seeing as you control characters stationed in the present, past, and future, you can always jump to and explore one of these other eras if you're stumped. And the way the time travel mechanic plays into the puzzles themselves makes for some of the most logically absurd solutions in an adventure game.

Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis

Fair warning: Fate of Atlantis is a little tricker than your standard LucasArts adventure game, but it provides many different approaches for players to take—kind of atypical for the genre. The "Team" path pulls in Indy's pal Sophia Hapgood for support, the "Wits" path provides some especially complex puzzles, and the "Fists" path allows Indy to brute force his way into or out of situations—though the keyboard-based combat leaves something to be desired. Whatever you go with, you're in for a great Indiana Jones adventure that'll make you forget Kingdom of the Crystal Skull ever happened. I assume this is the goal we're all working towards as a society.

How do I Play These Games?

If you're not used to the genre, some of its finer points may at first elude you. For those completely new to old-school adventure games, these general hints should serve you well.

Steal Everything

Unlike our modern games, LucasArts adventures have no morality system, meaning that if something can be taken, it should be taken. Essentially, grab everything that isn't nailed down, and if it is, find something to remove the nails with. Always remember that all adventure game protagonists are secretly unrepentant kleptomaniacs, and they should act as such.

Experiment with Your Options

With their efforts, LucasArts stamped out the number one problem with adventure games: death. The genre was always known for the many creative ways it killed players, forcing them to resort to an old save or restart the game completely. Thankfully, outside of a few isolated and completely obvious instances, death is impossible in LucasArts adventure games, so you never have to worry about snarky dialogue choices causing NPCs to murder you. Even better, you won't be able to eliminate essential items until they're needed, so there's no way to paint yourself into a fail state corner. Push, pull, poke, taste, use, and read every item you come into contact with, and always remember the ones in your inventory can interact with each other as well.

Take Notes on Active Puzzles

If you see a puzzle without a solution, WRITE IT DOWN—or file it away in your brain if you have a reliable memory. Let's say you run into a character who needs help starting their car; later in the game, you may run into an item or items to help make this possible. Take note of any lingering puzzles you have yet to solve, and keep them in mind as you meet new characters and explore new environments.

Don't Feel Bad about Looking Up Hints

While LucasArts games are renowned for their fairness, it's important to remember they were designed during a very different era of entertainment, when people would gladly (well, not always) sit with a single game for weeks or months as they slowly tried every possible option. Seeing as a simple Internet connection is all you need to bring several lifetimes of entertainment into your home, we're understandably a little more selective with how we spend our time in the 21st century. That said, if an adventure game has you stumped to the point of anger, don't let your stubbornness ruin the experience. And, if you'd like a nudge in the right direction rather than an outright solution, the Universal Hint System page is perfect for solving puzzles with dignity. And if you're still stuck, just remember: rubber chickens with pulleys in the middle have some surprising uses.

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Comments 18

  • Avatar for mannycalavera #1 mannycalavera 2 years ago
    I started with Escape From Monkey Island, a game that my dad (knowing nothing about video games) had read about in the back of a PC catalog and recommended to me. Having completed that, I got The Curse of Monkey Island, which came with the original two Monkey Island games within. The graphics of the old games and the lack of voice acting were extremely off-putting to me but I had a friend who used to bullshit a fair bit and claimed he had played a Monkey Island game in which LeChuck sang "the head bone's connected to the neck bone..." and I played these games purely to find out if there was any truth in what he was saying. Good god those games were amazing despite lack of graphics/voice acting and I probably prefer them to the other two games. I also prefer the original versions of Monkey Island 1/2 over the special editions that came out. The next game I played was the magnum opus that is Grim Fandango - the most profound game experience I've had (was 13 at the time). Since played Sam and Max Hit the Road, Day of the Tentacle and Full Throttle. These were also amazing games. While I'm here I want to recommend Woodruff and the Schnibble of Azimuth, not a Lucasarts game but another great point and click adventure in the same vein
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  • Avatar for whitestreak #2 whitestreak 2 years ago
    I never got past the cabin on the difficult version of LeChuck's Revenge, and even now I could only do DOTT with hints. Monkey Island I, though, I know by heart, and I could probably answer every swordmaster insult without looking it up.

    Every word you say to me is stupid.
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  • Avatar for ShadowTheSecond #3 ShadowTheSecond 2 years ago
    The Dig Is much better than some people act like, in my opinion. Nice music and voice talent too.

    Fate of Atlantis is probably my favorite LucasArts entry though.
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  • Avatar for hal9k #4 hal9k 2 years ago
    @ShadowTheSecond I also enjoyed The Dig, it was the first adventure game I ever finished (I had played Maniac Mansion on NES, but didn't beat it until years later). It's nice to see so much appreciation for these classics - Grim Fandango and Fate of Atlantis are two that I still haven't experienced, so I'm looking forward to those.

    Full Throttle really surprised me with how much I enjoyed it - I thought I'd have to be into motorcycles and that culture to appreciate it. Turns out, that doesn't matter, and Full Throttle has the most refined version of the SCUMM interface that I've played. That game and Tentacle are just like playing through quality 90's cartoons, and the voice work is excellent - anything the Purple Tentacle says in that voice makes me laugh.

    To be fair, the "gotcha" moments in adventure games often came from Sierra. Those works still have their charms, but fairness and approachability are not among them. My favorite moment is from King's Quest 5, when you step in ankle-deep water, and the current drags you out to sea to drown. My girlfriend and I still quote that annoying owl's "Noooooo Graham! Doooooon't!"Edited January 2015 by hal9k
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  • Avatar for VotesForCows #5 VotesForCows 2 years ago
    Great recommendations. I'd personally go for Fate of Atlantis - it really feels like a classic Indy adventure, and the voice actors do a great job.

    I have fond memories of playing all of these (and more) with my brother, taking turns at the controls until we brute-forced solutions to the insane puzzles. Good times!
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  • Avatar for paraclete-pizza #6 paraclete-pizza 2 years ago
    @mannycalavera Right on, there. MI 1 & 2 were masterpieces. Curse was a disappointing fangame that involved none of the original creators, had none of the original's humor, and had a completely inappropriate DeviantArt fanart cartoony style applied. I actually preferred the much-maligned EMI to it, in may respects, perhaps due to low expectations.

    Likewise the special editions of the games, especially MI1, are kind of a disgrace. To take the stellar art direction of Steve Purcell and replace it with cheaply done, hideous digitally-colored cartoon art (an artist friend with no familiarity with the series took one look and described it as "the cover of a dollar-store coloring book"), is a major downgrade, even if the resolution is higher, and jokes designed to be read often don't fare as well with audio imposed upon them after the fact. They also dumped the groundbreaking iMuse system in favor of pre-recorded music. Blech.
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  • Avatar for Kadrom #7 Kadrom 2 years ago
    I only played Fate of Atlantis growing up--I cut my teeth on Sierra adventure games for the most part, which has made me a hardened, dark and brooding individual.
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  • Avatar for kidgorilla #8 kidgorilla 2 years ago
    I just moved to a house, and after unpacking some (but not all) of my gaming stuff, I stumbled upon my original copy of Grim Fandango, which I completely forgot that I had. It won't stop me from buying the remaster next week, but imagine the shock and awe of rediscovering it. Houses, man.
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  • Avatar for brianalbers08 #9 brianalbers08 2 years ago
    They're all good, but I would vote for Fate of Atlantis as a first pick.
    I remember playing that game and thinking at the time that they could have just made it the fourth Indy movie. The writing was that good.
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  • Avatar for StevieWhite #10 StevieWhite 2 years ago
    No love for Zak McKraken?
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  • @paraclete-pizza I disagree with the statements about Curse because if it weren't for that game we wouldn't have Murray the skull, one of the funniest characters in the series.

    I've liked all of the Monkey Island games including the Telltale ones. Some are definitely better than others though. I also played the Special Editions and while I agree about the first one, I thought they did a terrific job with 2's artwork. The only thing I liked about the art in the first Special Edition was LeChuck's design. He looked terrific.
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  • Avatar for calaveras #12 calaveras 2 years ago
    I first played Day of the Tentacle at the age of 11, when one of my fifth-grade classmates brought it into school. The cartoon graphics and humor drew me in, and I was instantly hooked. From there, I proceeded to Sam & Max, The Dig, Dark Forces, Full Throttle, and on and on. I hadn't been that devoted to a game company since Capcom on the NES. LucasArts games helped get me through middle school, and I always love booting them up. Thanks, ScummVM. And great article, Bob.
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  • Avatar for calaveras #13 calaveras 2 years ago
    @Kadrom Ahh, Sierra -- the evil cousin of LucasArts. If it weren't for all of the deaths, I probably would have explored more of King's Quest and such. Space Quest V is one of my all-time favs, though.
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  • Avatar for unoclay #14 unoclay 2 years ago
    I respect your decision to omit Maniac Mansion from the must-play list in favor of the Tentacle....but the completionist in my soul winces to think of playing the duo out of order. Conceptual continuity, man! ;']

    Great piece.
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  • Avatar for link6616 #15 link6616 2 years ago
    It makes me cringe to see a lucasarts adventure game list without Loom. It is a little atypical but it is easily my favorite of the classic adventure game genre.
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  • Avatar for bobservo #16 bobservo 2 years ago
    @unoclay Thanks, and while I love Maniac Mansion, it's a bit easy to work your way to an unwinnable state in that game. Maybe not the best for beginners!
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  • Avatar for Toparaman #17 Toparaman 2 years ago
    Just make sure you don't end up losing patience and looking up the solution to every puzzle without even giving a good effort first. Otherwise the gameplay is ruined, which is a shame, because it's really satisfying to solve puzzles with as little help as necessary.

    As a kid I would get frustrated as soon as I had to look up a solution for the first time in a game, and would barely even try to solve subsequent puzzles on my own. As an adult I now realize that getting stuck and needing help is not a reason to stop trying. Now I enjoy adventure games even more than I did back then.

    Having an integrated hints system that doles out clues based on how much time a player is spending without making progress is definitely something that these old adventure games needed, because kids tend to lack self-control.

    @paraclete-pizza Yeah, I really dislike the art style of the special editions as well. It's a shame that they didn't reach out to Steve Purcell to do the artwork; I'm sure he would've been interested.

    I love Curse's animation, music, writing, and voice acting, so I don't care that it isn't really true to the spirit of the first two games. Hell, it has arguably aged the best out of all the games in the series.

    I haven't even played the Telltale games, because damn, Telltale games are ugly. They're no replacement for LucasArts circa 1990-1998, that's for sure. What an amazing catalog: almost no sequels, and not a single bad game in the lot.

    (Sorry for the long comment. LucasArts adventure games are just that special to me. Do whatever you have to do to play these games, people. And try to obtain the manuals for the games as well; they're usually pretty funny.)Edited 2 times. Last edited January 2015 by Toparaman
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  • Avatar for Bigtrunk #18 Bigtrunk A year ago
    The sony has been signing up for playstation 4 since the birth of the service, something that has become a tradition in the world of console games: Want to play online? You will need to pay for it. Fortunately, there is a compensation to the melhores jogos ps4 program where you win every month four games for playstation 4 since the birth of the service, something that has become Want to play online? You will need to pay for it. Fortunately, there is a compensation to the melhores jogos de playstation 4 program where you win every month four games for playstation 4. The sony has been signing since the birth of the service, something that has become a tradition in the world of console games: Want to play online? You will need to pay for it. Fortunately, there is a compensation to the melhores jogos para ps4 program where you win every month four games for playstation 4.Edited October 2017 by Bigtrunk
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