With the Monkey Island adventure game franchise set to return in 2022, it’s officially time to celebrate the vast history of point & click video games and take stock of everything iconic in the genre. While point & click games were a product of their era – and guided by limited technology – the genre is now more popular than ever, thanks to a modern, nostalgia-driven revival. It means that while there’s certainly classics to enthuse about, there’s also just as many modern titles holding the genre torch.
If the news of Return to Monkey Island has sparked something deep inside you, now’s the time to dive back into the point & click genre, and remember exactly why these games are so engaging, funny, and entertaining.
These are the best point & click video games to get you started on your nostalgia-filled quest, and prepare you for Monkey Island madness.
Unavowed is a modern point & click adventure heavily inspired by the urban fantasy genre, as well as hits like The Secret of Monkey Island. In it, you play as a character who’s been possessed by a demon and later forced to reckon with the chaos they’ve left in their wake. As you go on a pilgrimage to discover exactly what led to this possession, you meet a cast of warlocks and magical creatures, all of whom exist in a strange pseudo reality that aligns closely with the real world.
The writing in Unavowed is spectacular, as its point & click puzzles. While some are obtuse (as is often the case with the genre), they’re typically based on logic, and extremely rewarding for players to work through, one magical locale at a time. The balance between difficulty and cleverness is hard to get right, but Unavowed strikes the perfect tone, making for a satisfying and brilliant adventure. That’s not to mention the game’s art, which is gorgeous throughout. Wadjet Eye Games is doing great things with the genre, and Unavowed is no exception.
NORCO, from Geography of Robots, features a hyper-local and biographical ‘southern gothic’ narrative that confronts issues of racism, gentrification and urban development head on via a magical realist adventure story. Everyone you meet in NORCO has a story worth hearing – and while the game disguises its social commentary in surrealism and absurdism, it also has a stark message for players. It’s fantastical and disturbing, and absolutely brilliant.
Here’s GamesHub writer Nicholas Kennedy on the game:
‘NORCO knows when and how to puncture its darkest moments and depictions with some of the most incisive and word-perfect jokes, relieving it from simply being a slog of desperation. In one moment, a character in a bar can be plied for more information about the whereabouts of your brother, provided you do something to quench his thirst. By the time the conversation is over, your contact is three pints deep, hoeing into some ridiculous ‘loaded fries’ on your dime.’
By dipping into the point & click genre, NORCO tells an incredibly impactful, beautiful modern tale.
Beneath A Steel Sky
Beneath a Steel Sky is one of the icons of the classic point & click genre, and helped it rise to new narrative heights. In this dystopian cyberpunk adventure, you play as a man named Robert Foster who is cast into a wasteland known as The Gap, which is essentially a future Australian outback. Here, he learns skills from a group of Indigenous Australians, and is later captured by violent goons from an ‘advanced’ city where a dark secret is growing at its core.
Not only is Beneath a Steel Sky one of very few classic games to be inspired by Australia, it’s also frequently called one of the best video game narratives of all time, with slick humour and a twisting story that keeps you well-hooked throughout Foster’s adventure. As a sci-fi story, it also comes with a grim and prescient warning, of a future too reliant on technology. It’s a tale that still feels relevant today.
The game itself has held up very well in modern times, thanks to some gorgeously grimy pixel art, and a sense of clever humour that keeps the action sharp and funny, even when its story is particularly grim.
Thimbleweed Park is as close to a Monkey Island follow-up as you’ll find in modern gaming. Developed by Ron Gilbert and Gary Winnick (both formerly of LucasArts, with Gilbert heading up Return to Monkey Island), this game combines the sensibilities of The X-Files and Twin Peaks with a wacky, ghost and clown-filled adventure through a haunted hotel, an abandoned circus, and all manner of creepy ‘small town’ weirdness. The basic premise is that detectives Angela and Alberto (stand-ins for Scully and Mulder) arrive in Thimbleweed Park to investigate a simple murder. The further they investigate the case, the more apparent the weirdness of the town becomes.
The suspects are as wacky as they come: a foul-mouthed circus clown cursed to wear makeup forever, the deceased owner of a pillow factory, and a young computer programmer set to inherit a major fortune. As in Monkey Island, the quest for the truth is long and filled with silly antics, supernatural occurrences, and plenty of slapstick humour. Heck, Ron Gilbert himself appears in the game, which should tell you just how wild the action gets.
Thimbleweed Park is a loving homage, and one that successfully plays with tropes of the point & click genre to carve out something new and extremely delightful.
Toonstruck feels like a unicorn of a game. It’s what you’d get if you smash together Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and Humongous Entertainment edutainment games – a flashy, brightly-coloured smorgasbord of a video game filled with zany personality, cartoon aesthetics and completely absurd humour. The strange meta-narrative, which sees Christopher Lloyd’s live action Drew Blanc transported into the world of his own cartoon creations as it’s overtaken by a sinister force known as Count Nefarious (played by veteran actor Tim Curry), is grand, ridiculous and very sharp.
Despite Toonstruck containing such a ripper concept, and feeling ripe with franchise potential, it was considered a commercial failure and was quietly shelved in the late 1990s. That shouldn’t diminish just how excellent this point & click tale really is. Lloyd is great as the hapless Blanc, and while the game has aged poorly in terms of its graphics, it remains delightful to see the actor wandering the game’s colourful and classic world. Toonstruck is a fantastic game, and it deserves more credit as a pioneer in the point & click genre.
The Darkside Detective
The Darkside Detective and The Darkside Detective: A Fumble in the Dark are two of the best examples of how to do modern point & click adventures right. With a reverence for the past, both games pay homage to the classics in ways that make them feel entirely new. The humour and narrative are incredibly tight, with laugh-out-loud jokes and dialogue elevated by clever double-entendres and wordplay. And on top of being well written, both games are also beautifully pixelated, and feature a cast of loveable characters.
As in Thimbleweed Park, there’s a touch of Twin Peaks about The Darkside Detective – although arguably, these games make their connection to pop culture much clearer. You play as Detective McQueen (a stand-in for Twin Peaks‘ Dale Cooper) as he attempts to corral his cop partner Patrick Dooley (a likely stand-in for Twin Peaks‘ goofy Andy Brennan) and solve a number of supernatural cases. One involves wrestling werewolves. Another involves a ghostly subway station. Every individual case is a blast, and puzzles maintain the perfect balance of difficulty throughout, making each one a pure and satisfying delight, whether you’re calming the citizens of an aged care home, or a purging a power plant of gremlins. Every puzzle and narrative beat is an absolute joy.
With bony hands I hold my partner. On soulless feet we cross the floor. The music stops as if to answer an empty knocking at the door. It seems his skin was sweet as mango when last I held him to my breast. But now, we dance this grim fandango and will for years until we rest.
Olivia Ofrenda’s poem in the coda of LucasArts’ Grim Fandango is a moment that still stands out in this classic point & click adventure, but it’s just one of many vignettes that makes this story so evocative, heart-wrenching and wonderful. As grim reaper Manny Calavera, players are sent on an otherworldly odyssey in this game, on a quest to save a single soul from damnation.
At times, this quest is gloomy and grim, but Calavera is a suave protagonist, and helps keep the action fresh and funny with sharp quips and charm. This also helps to ease the blow when puzzles get tough – there are certainly moments in Grim Fandango when a guide comes in handy. Despite the level of challenge in this game, its multi-year love story from original Monkey Island designer Tim Schafer is one for the ages.
Tales of Monkey Island
The Secret of Monkey Island and Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge are both incredible, classic point & click games – and it’s a real delight they’re getting a true ‘canon’ sequel in the form of Return to Monkey Island. That said, you shouldn’t overlook Telltale’s Tales of Monkey Island. This adventure spun the point & click genre in new ways, with a focus on narrative adventure over puzzling – but with hilarious writing, great interpretations of the Monkey Island cast and an expressive, cartoonish art style, it successfully carved out its own identity.
It’s extremely silly at times, but that’s what makes it so fun – with slapstick antics pushed up to 11, it’s one of the most over-the-top Monkey Island games out there. Fans of the classic games may be disappointed by the vast changes made here, but if you’re looking for a looser interpretation with a light sense of ridiculousness about it, Tales of Monkey Island is still a great and weird little spin-off gem. It greatly aided the rise of Telltale, which went on to create other fantastic adventures using big-name licenses like The Wolf Among Us and Back to the Future: The Game.
Yes, that’s right – it’s another LucasArts game. If you’re talking about point & click adventure games, you certainly can’t get away with avoiding the company that popularised (and defined) them in the 1990s.
Full Throttle is another excellent LucasArts adventure from the mind of Tim Schafer, one that focuses on a future where biker gangs rule the roads. You play as Ben, a wily biker caught between the ‘bigwigs’ of the motorcycle industry and the turf wars happening on his home streets. With murder and subterfuge interrupting the peace of his Polecats club, it’s up to Ben to clear the names of his mates.
The action of Full Throttle is extremely cinematic, to the point where it’s a real surprise it hasn’t made it to TV over the last few decades. With family drama, plenty of back-stabbing and a gorgeous, open road soundtrack, it’s an epic filled with intrigue, and one that remains both impressive and emotional. The game’s puzzles aren’t as complex as its fellow classics, but this doesn’t take away from the high-octane action of this rip-roaring journey.
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space – Remastered
Sam & Max: Beyond Time and Space, originally known as Sam & Max: Season Two, is technically the second in a line of Telltale series adventures which follow on from the classic LucasArts franchise of the same name. But you’re more than welcome to skip the first game and focus on the second if you’re down for some absolutely bonkers weirdness.
As with Tales of Monkey Island, this narrative-based adventure combines the point-and-click gameplay style of the original Sam & Max with more dialogue-heavy gameplay. What results is a tongue-in-cheek journey that begins with an evil goldfish, and ends with a trip to literal hell. That should give you an idea about the range this game has.
In between wacky adventures, the titular Sam and Max are thrown into zombie factories, vampire-infested nightclubs and the Bermuda Triangle in Beyond Time and Space. It’s all in a day’s work for this anthropomorphic pair.
If you’re more in the mood for a traditional point & click game, you can also check out Sam & Max’s previous antics in the excellent LucasArts game Sam & Max Hit the Road, which is considered one of the best point & click games of all time.