Looking for some awesome Adventure Game Studio titles with which to while away your time? Lewis Denby rounds up a bunch of the best, whether you’re after something silly, serious, or not even an adventure game at all.
Where to start with a roundup of the best AGS games? This delightful little toolkit has been put to great use for 15 years now, spawning several decent releases a month, and despite trying my best to keep on top of them all I barely manage to play a fraction.
This, therefore, is by no means intended as a comprehensive list of every great game to have been made in Adventure Game Studios. But it’s a roundup of some of my favourites, and some that stick in my mind the most. If you’re looking to check out what AGS is capable of, then these are all fantastic starting points. More than anything, though, they’re just utterly lovely games. Here we go, then.
PLAY SOMETHING SILLY
We’ll get off to a light-hearted start. The AGS community is fond of its silliness, with in-jokes abound. But there’s plenty to enjoy whether you’re entrenched in the community or not. The utterly unpronounceable ^_^ is a recent favourite of mine. Created by prolific AGSer Ben Chandler, it’s the story of a were-rabbit trying to morph back to his original form. Chandler has a wonderful technique for cramming loads of content onto into a small play area, yet managing to never make it feel cluttered. This is also a game in which it’s a perfectly fine puzzle-solving technique to go around headbutting things, which is always a good sign in my book.
Equally weird is Snakes of Avalon, a game Brendan recently covered in his lovely column about punk games. It’s a story of drunkenness, and of murder, which revels in its darkly comedic style. It also sports a wonderful art style - chalky backgrounds inhabited by chunky cartoon characters - and some properly decent writing.
If you’re looking for a bit of parody in your AGS games, then the Adventure-colon titles are a very strong bet. Adventure: The Inside Job was the first, but it’s Adventure: All in the Game that made me chuckle the most as it strode its way through a delightful history of the genre. Including a range of famous names and faces, and bouncing back and forth between different classic point-and-clicks, it’s not afraid to throw in a hefty dash of piss-taking - but the take-home feeling is one of complete adoration for the genre, warts and all.
Of course, the one most people around these parts are likely to know best is Ben There, Dan That, aka The Game Dan Marshall And His Mate Made Before They Got Famous. The predecessor to the equally wonderful Time Gentlemen, Please! (which I’ll get to later), it delights in being ridiculous and offensive. As is an admirable aim, of course.
PLAY SOMETHING SERIOUS
If you’re feeling a bit emo, you might want to step away from the jokes and into - well - the complete opposite. Eternally Us, another Ben Chandler game, this time produced by Infinite Grace Games. It is a touching tale of friendship that begins in a park but quickly heads into the darkest recesses of a young lady’s mind. Incredibly stylish and utterly gorgeous, its successes are equally in its storytelling and puzzles, both of which are understated and effective despite the heavy themes.
The Technobabylon series is well worth a look, too, even though it’s not finished. Three games in, developer James Dearden says he’s working away on future parts but isn’t quite happy with them yet. What’s already here is a wonderful episodic adventure, though: a sci-fi drama that transforms plenty of genre stalwarts into something that still feels fresh. It’s dark and melancholy, with slow-burning character building that really strikes a chord, and some great writing to pull it all together.
Then there’s the John DeFoe series by Ben ‘Yahtzee’ Croshaw, better known as The Guy Who Does The Hyper-Critical Rambly Animated Reviews on The Escapist. The best is probably the third one, Trilby’s Notes, but it’d be sensible to play from the beginning - and 5 Days a Stranger is still a mightily strong start. It’s a smart series that combines retro and modern adventure styles, with a story that allows each game to feel self-contained but connected. The second game’s set 500 years after the first, so the themes jump from classic horror to uneasy sci-fi, and the third and fourth titles tie the two together into an exciting conclusion.
If you’re looking for a quick fix of short-form adventuring, though, I’d heartily recommend Egress, despite a slightly dodgy opening puzzle that most people are likely to solve via mindless clicking instead of logic, thanks to some nonexistent signposting. A suspenseful sci-fi mystery, it’s got some beautiful artwork and toys with some unnerving ideas, and the conclusion (if you can call it that) is delectably weird.
PLAY SOMETHING EPIC
Short-form not your thing? Looking to spend hours on end with your next AGS fix? The largely amateur nature of the community means full-length games are few and far between - especially ones of a high quality - but they do exist. A Second Face: The Eye of Geltz is Watching Us is conceptually brilliant: a planet that never spins, meaning one half of its populace always faces the sun, the other always drenched in darkness. It’s a game about the divisions between these two cultures, taking the form of a proudly old-school adventure with full voice acting and animated cutscenes. It’s somewhat turgid at times, not always nailing the pacing, but still an impressive piece of work.
Personally, though, I prefer Donna: Avenger of Blood, even though it’s not always the friendliest of creatures. You’ll need to persevere with quite a bit of trial-and-error here, especially if you’re not familiar with the more classic adventure interfaces, but beneath such frustrations lies a gritty story that’s properly grown-up, rather than ‘mature’. With its scratchy, photo-manipulated art style, it’s also got a unique identity flowing through its moody veins. The game took an entire decade to make, but it’s a huge and epic thing that’s quite the achievement for its amateur developer.
PLAY SOMETHING THAT ISN’T AN ADVENTURE GAME
Despite its non-professional target audience, AGS is a remarkably flexible program to work with - and if you’ve got the coding know-how, you can hack it to bits to create a range of different genres (pretty much the only requirement is that any 3D would have to be pre-rendered and converted to sprite-based animation). Point-and-clicks are still by far the most popular titles within the community, but the likes of Cart Life demonstrate what can be done with some fantastic vision and a great deal of effort. It’s a business and life simulator, essentially. As you embark on setting up a new retail enterprise, you’ve also to manage the minutiae of your day-to-day life. To begin with it’s bafflingly complex, but as you study the tutorial and experiment with the game’s systems, its world begins to slot into place.
Platformers are a popular genre for the more ambitious AGS crowd, although few manage to be anything more than impressive feats of code-wrestling. Concurrence, while riffing tremendously on the likes of Another World, goes beyond that to provide some solid, practice-makes-perfect precision-platforming and halfway-decent combat. The game’s sudden conclusion hinted at a bigger game that (to my knowledge) never arrived, but this one’s still worth playing.
Plus, if you want even more out of Yahtzee’s John DeFoe series, he made a spin-off arcade stealth game in AGS. Using a version of the engine he coded for a previous platforming endeavour, Trilby: The Art of Theft is a side-scrolling sneak-’em-up with an engaging story running quietly in the background. People have even made intricate strategy games. I’ve not played James Dearden’s Operation: Forklift, but the idea of a politically-charged turn-based strategy built in AGS is an exciting one, and it’s a game I fully intend to get around to checking out sooner rather than later.
PAY FOR AN AGS GAME
The best things in life are free, obviously, but the second-best thing is paying a small fee for somethig awesome. Like Gemini Rue, for example. It’s a sci-fi thriller with two interlocking stories, a game that puts narrative ahead of puzzle-solving, and an art style that looks gorgeous despite its low resolution. There’s combat, too, and while it’s not wildly brilliant, it’s a truckload better than most adventures’ attempts at it.
If sci-fi’s not your bag, how about the paranormal? The Blackwell series, from Dave Gilbert’s Wadjet Eye Games, an increasingly brilliant pseudo-noir story about a friendly ghost. (Okay, that might be simplifying things a bit.) With some art from Ben Chandler, it’s a modestly pretty series, but most important is that the storytelling remains strong throughout, and the puzzles - while often unremarkable - rarely stray into facepalm territory. That might sound like damning with faint praise, but try to name me five other contemporary adventures of which you could say that. Yeah. Exactly.
And then there’s the other AGS game from Size Five Games, then Zombie Cow. Time Gentlemen, Please! is one of the funniest adventure games I’ve ever played. No, it’s one of the funniest games I’ve ever played. Utterly, absurdly ridiculous, this is a game that thought featuring Hitler riding a giant stomping mech would be a good idea. Which it was, of course - a fabulous idea that went some way to contributing to TGP’s ability to turn offensive humour into a beautiful art, never falling into the trap of putting the joke on anyway, but always laughing with you unless you have a problem with things being a little bit rude. The game has puzzles, presumably, but I can’t remember them. Maybe I didn’t see them through the tears.
So, that should be enough for you to feast on, yes? There’s plenty more I haven’t included - in fact, just now I’ve recalled the marvellous Yeti - but you can’t go wrong with any of the above. If you’re looking for more, the AGS database lists pretty much everything the community has ever done, with handy ratings and search filtering. But have I missed anything? Is there something remarkable I haven’t played? I’m always on the lookout for more awesome work produced in Adventure Game Studio, so you should totally tell me what I’ve missed out on.