Today, let’s consider the adventure game. Dead as a doornail. Sure, there’s a thriving community of people admiring games like The Longest Journey. But if you’re thinking this is a vibrant category, you’re in denial.
So, what happened? At one point, adventure games were the biggest, most important PC genre. They had the best technology, they got the most press, and they were becoming the most “cinematic.” (And some, like Day of the Tentacle, should be on any reputable “top games evar!!!1!” lists.)
But as soon as DOOM dropped, it was over. In a couple of years, every other genre surpassed the adventure in technology, most games adopted some form of rudimentary storytelling, and almost all genres started to introduce more and more puzzle-like elements. In other words, all of your adventure itches could be scratched elsewhere.
In response, adventure games went more hardcore. Their puzzles got more and more annoying as designers felt a compulsion to extend play time by making the narrative more elaborate and in-your-face, and/or the fans were demanding that puzzles became harder and harder. When a vocal minority starts to design your games, you’re on the slow road to oblivion. (See: Flight sims, wargames.)
There was always a bigger, more fundamental problem with adventure games: Their puzzles are a series of brick walls. If you can’t figure something out, you can’t advance in the game. If you hit a similar barrier in most action or strategy games—a boss you can’t defeat, some seemingly insurmountable wave of soldiers, a level that defeats all your normal tactics, etc.—you at least feel like you can keep playing, get better, and move forward. Not so in an adventure, at least in the pre-GameFaqs days.
So, with the gameplay stagnating, the technology falling behind, and the audience moving on to other genres, adventure games died. But they’re coming back thanks to casual games.
There’s this incredibly weird category of casual games that are literally pixel hunts. Dubbed “Seek and Find,” or “Search and Find,” or “Hidden Object” games, you’re supposed to find objects on a static screen. They all have some elaborate setting and storyline filled with text and characters that you can easily avoid (or choose to get immersed in). They’re barely games—there are typically time limits, and most don’t let you just randomly click all over the screen without some penalty—but they’re oddly compelling.
But a casual game like Azada takes that basic “Seek and Find” formula, adds in some additional bridging puzzles, and you end up with a game with a series of static screens filled with items to discover. You put these items in your inventory and combine them in order to open up additional areas. And some areas require that you solve puzzles to advance. And it’s all wrapped up in a storyline, further driving your desire to “finish” the game.
In other words, it’s an old-school adventure game.
So, while it’s true that genres get killed off, they can also return again as other, newer genres evolve from the wreckage. And in a weird sort of irony, they often end up back where they started.
(And to tie this into the previous post, the core mechanic of adventures—finding and using to stuff to solve things to progress through a story—is retained.)