Kicking off in 1986, Lucasarts presided over an era (running until around the year 2000) in which they were the adventure game Kings, releasing a string of titles that remain all-time classics even decades later.
This post originally appeared January 2016.
Like movies and comics, games almost force you to constantly look in the foreground, at the characters and moving parts whizzing past your face.
Their games were made famous for their innovative use of a graphic interface based on mouse clicks (previous adventure games, including those from competitor Sierra, relied on cumbersome text input), but have endured in people’s hearts thanks to timeless pixel art and—rare for video games — a genuine sense of humour.
It was a time of perfect storms, where some of the best technology (the SCUMM engine and iMuse adaptive music system) was married to some of video gaming’s smartest (and funniest) designers, from Ron Gilbert to Tim Schafer to Sean Clark.
In June of 2011, then-LucasArts president Paul Meegan spoke publicly about his plans for turning the company around. 'In recent years, LucasArts hasn't always done a good job of making games,' he said. 'We should be making games that define our medium, that are competitive with the best of our industry, but we're not. That has to change.'
The studio, now no more, released its last new adventure game in 2000. In the 16 years since we’ve seen re-releases, remasters and new games based on Lucasarts titles from third party developers, but for the purposes of a ranking like this, I’m going to keep things simple by only including adventure games released under the banner of Lucasarts (or, when it came to earlier games before the name change, Lucasfilm).
14. Escape From Monkey Island
13. Zak McKracken
12. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade
10. The Curse of Monkey Island
9. Maniac Mansion
8. The Dig
7. Grim Fandango
6. The Secret Of Monkey Island
5. Sam & Max Hit The Road
4. Full Throttle
3. Day Of The Tentacle
2. Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge
1. Indiana Jones & The Fate Of Atlantis
It’s funny, looking up at this list, how little thought I gave to the game when weighing each of these up. I’ve noticed over the years that folks rarely remember the hours of frustration spent with bullshit illogical puzzles, clicking every pixel on a screen to try and force their way through an impasse or enduring busted action sequences that shouldn’t have passed QA.
Yet so many of these games have roadblocks like that! Sam & Max, Full Throttle, Indiana Jones, all riddled with awful arcade sections. And Monkey Island’s puzzles were designed by the only humans who thought their solutions made sense.
What we remember about each game then, and what tends to dominate discussions about them, are their worlds and their stories. It’s like Lucasarts invented all these bizarre locations and memorable locations and just... needed something to propel them. And adventure games, with their slow pace and penchant for loads of dialogue, were the perfect fit.
If you’re after some kind of insight into my approach here, know that I’m not that big a fan of Labyrinth (the only game on this which had any kind of serious text interface), and could never stand Zak McKracken’s brand of humour or Monkey Island 4's complete absence of it.
Indeed, take a look at the top half of this list and you can see a pattern emerging, a “golden age” for Lucasarts that kicks off with the first Monkey Island and runs through to Grim Fandango, in which pretty much everything the company released was just solid gold and the games released before (or after) just couldn’t hit the same heights.
It wasn’t pleasant pitting many of my fondest childhood memories against each other, but there’s solace in the fact that like some other rankings I’ve tried over the years, just because a game comes last (or close to it) doesn’t always mean it’s bad. It just means that the stuff above it is even better.