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Point-and-clunky: bad adventure elements

Although we all love video games in this corner of the blogging community, there are certain things about them which rub us up the wrong way. Even our favourite genres can contain elements we’re not fond of: formulaic boss battles, AI companions who get in the way or miserly save points for example.

Most Later Levels’ visitors will already be aware of just how much I adore point-and-clicks. In the 30 years I’ve been playing video games, they’re the type I return to most frequently and I’m always on the lookout for new releases. But this doesn’t mean I’m blind to their flaws – and I’m not just talking about pixel-hunting or long conversation trees here either. The following are some of the elements I could do without, regardless of my undying love for the adventure genre.

Sudden deaths

I’ll always remember playing Déjà Vu and why I never finished this title. Take a right turn instead of a left when outside of the police station and you’ll receive the message: “Splat… It seems that you have just fallen into a deep construction pit. You should watch where you are going… next time!” Sudden deaths like this in adventure games are one of my biggest peeves because they interrupt the flow of the story and, unforgivably, can result in the player having to start again from the beginning if they haven’t got a save.

Going 3D

Look back at most classic adventure series and you’ll notice a trend: at some point during their lives, the developers took the terrible decision to go from 2D to 3D and ruined them. Perhaps the one which fared worst was Simon the Sorcerer 3D, and I remember hating the new visual style and tank controls so much that I didn’t even finish it at the time of release. There’s a reason why point-and-clicks are called point-and-clicks; using a controller to play is just wrong.

Action sequences

Action sequences in adventures are one thing that fans of the genre never want to see. There’s nothing worse than being ripped from your cosy world of colourful characters and interesting puzzles, then being shoved into a scene which requires you to invoke a different type of gameplay. The Longest Journey series is one of my favourites but I couldn’t stand the fighting sequences in the second release Dreamfall – they just feel so clunky and uncoordinated, and totally out of place with the rest of the game.

Arcade sequences

Hot on the heals of action sequences are another type of annoying break from the expected point-and-click gameplay: arcade minigames. That horrible section in The Feeble Files, where you must complete several of them to win enough tokens so you can then play a stupid grabber game, was the reason I never finished it. In fact, so many others had a similar experience that developer Adventure Soft had to release a save file that started just after this section.

Frustrating protagonists

Adventure games are usually narrative-heavy so they can be a chore to get through if you’re stuck with a protagonist you just can’t gel with. It’s even worse when there are two frustrating protagonists, and George and Nico from the Broken Sword series are a duo who irritate me. This is clearly an unhealthy relationship: she ‘innocently’ arranges for him and her ex-boyfriend to work together, and he leaves Paris without telling her. What kind of people do that to each another?

Character-switching

Speaking of playing games with more than one protagonist: I know many gamers enjoy the added insight that switching between characters provides but I really dislike the mechanic, because I feel it breaks my immersion in the story. The Little Acre uses it to the point where it becomes excessive for such a short game. I counted 19 switches just over 90 minutes of gameplay – it’s wrong to make players have to change protagonist to simply walk from one side of the screen to another.

Mazes

Whenever I’m playing a point-and-click and come across a maze, I can’t help but roll my eyes. This type of puzzle smacks of poor design and lazy programming: just shove your players into a labyrinth and that will keep them occupied for an hour. The one I hated the most was that from The 7th Guest, not because it was overly long or complicate but because it was just so boring. All the corridors looked the same, nothing happened between their walls and the voice that greeted you at dead-ends was grating.

Dead-ends

That last paragraph leads me on nicely to another type of dead-end in point-and-clicks. Putting your players in an unwinnable state because they didn’t pick up a certain item or complete a certain task earlier in the game, then giving them no indication of this for hours, is completely unforgivable. Take the cat-and-mouse puzzle from King’s Quest V: Absence Makes the Heart Go Yonder! as an example. Fail to save the rodent during what looks like a random background event and you won’t be able to escape from a situation later in the title.

Moon logic

The worst thing about the releases from Daedalic Entertainment could easily be protagonists you want to punch in the face so they shut up, but their use of moon-logic edges out in front. This is a type of logical deduction which could only have originated in the mind of an alien. Just look at The Whispered World: having Cedric use a sock to catch a mouse, then use the creature to reach a pair of pantaloons hanging from a rock then use these to tie around the muzzle of a beast doesn’t make any sense at all.

Pointless backtracking

I don’t mind a bit of backtracking in point-and-clicks when it’s done well and is effectively incorporated into the storyline or a puzzle, but there are some releases where there there’s just far too much pointless walking. Keepsake is one of them. At one point I found myself moving through 19 screens to return to an item that the protagonist didn’t want to pick up earlier in the game, even though it was obvious it would be needed later, to then run through these same screens again immediately to make my way back.

Despite their flaws, I can’t see myself ever not loving adventures. They have the ability to entwine the narrative within the gameplay so both drive each other forward and tell some of the best stories I’ve ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Some people may believe the genre has had it’s day but I don’t agree: it has evolved into new forms, incorporating elements from other types of video games and changing its appearance slightly to appeal to a whole new generation of gamers.

What’s your favourite genre, and what are some of the things you dislike about it?

Kim View All

Video game lover, Later Levels blogger and SpecialEffect volunteer. Big fan of wannabe pirates and fine leather jackets.

14 thoughts on “Point-and-clunky: bad adventure elements Leave a comment

  1. You hit the nail on the head with the moon logic, many games are guilty of that one! Games in the 90s that pulled that nonsense were next to unbeatable before everyone had the internet 😄

    My favourite genre is RPG, but it is guilty of many atrocities, in my opinion the worst being escort quests, bosses that are immune to every status effect you or your equipment has at its disposal, or the game forcing a quest-specific piece of gear on you that is inferior to your current gear (Borderlands series, I’m looking at you!)

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    • Oh yes, escort missions… I started replaying Fable again a couple of weeks ago, and was reminded of just how much I hated those quests where you have to escort the Traders. You leave them for one minute to clear some wasps and they start getting attacked by a random bandit. Grrrr…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I would like this to be an insightful comment about how some of these mechanics do have their uses or at least point some stuff out that you might have missed.

    Alas, you said it all and were right about it 🙂

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    • The thing is though, if all these elements were removed, it wouldn’t be the adventure genre that we love!

      Except action sequences. They need to be completely banned from point-and-clicks. Forever. 😆

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      • I’m not too sure. A lot of those are just objective bad design. An objective better game would be…well, objectively better 🙂

        Yes, I’d rather have a game with a bit of backtracking, if I get a focused narrative. Adventures Games should not sacrifice their strong points to iron out some annoyances, but if they can do it without losing other qualities, I’d say go for it.

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        • Have you ever considered making an adventure game yourself? With your knowledge of the genre, it could be something pretty cool… 🙂

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          • I have not. How would one even start making an Adventure Game? Given that I have not the slightest experience in making video games…

            But I already see it before me…A guy named Dogbroom Pencesteel is washed up on the shores of Ranged Island(TM). His only dream – becoming a knight! First, he visits the local tavern, where the Frivolous Four Knights give him his initiation rites. During these, he falls in love with the princess…’ jester. But the evil dragon McFluck kidnaps her and brings her to his cave on the mysterious Donkey Island! I’m thinking about making two games before I might sell of the rights to the IP, only to become interested in it again 3 games later…

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  3. Guessing you’re not a Sierra fan, then? 😉 One of my favourite adventure game franchises, Space Quest, embraces a lot of those – particularly sudden deaths and arcade games (the latter of which I find annoying too). So yeah, It also annoys me when puzzles aren’t thought through from every angle – so for example, I’ll come across something related to an as yet undiscovered puzzle solution that makes absolutely no sense but acts like it does! That’s not very ‘dynamic’, and just frustrating.

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    • Aah I don’t mind Sierra too much ha ha! I just think that certain games are of their time, if that makes sense. I can look back on some of the clunkier elements with fondness but if a modern game was released and it contained them, I’d be far more critical. It’s amazing how tolerant and persistent we all were back then when we didn’t have access to the internet or walkthroughs. 😆

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