1989 was yet another year dominated by Sierra. Out of the eleven games I played for the year, six of them came from Sierra! While LucasArts continued to produce one game a year (and as usual it was a beauty), Sierra was keen to milk as much as they could from the successes of the previous years. That meant sequels for Leisure Suit Larry, Space Quest and Manhunter, yet it was good to see them also attempt to expand their reach by introducing new series that might appeal to different audiences. The Colonel’s Bequest was a refreshing old school murder mystery. Codename: ICEMAN tackled James Bond-like territory with a naval / spy crossover. Yet it was Hero’s Quest that brought with it the biggest success, with its RPG / adventure gameplay and fantasy setting becoming a favourite for many fans (myself included).
1989 was the year the genre began to cross-pollinate
If anything, it was this hybrid nature that was the biggest introduction to the genre in 1989. Apart from Hero’s Quest, which included many typical RPG features such as character class selection, skill stats and combat, other games such as Mean Streets, Codename: ICEMAN and particularly Neuromancer, also blurred the lines between their main genre and others. Not all of this crossbreeding was successful, but it was a sign of how few creative boundaries there were back in this era, when failed experiments didn’t automatically mean bankruptcy. 1989 also marked the first major year where someone stepped up to challenge Sierra and LucasArts, with Access’ Mean Streets announcing a solid new player on the scene. The game received only the sixth highest PISSED rating for the year, but it was the first game since Below the Root to get over 50, and proved it was indeed possible to match it with the big boys. Enough chat though, it’s time to award this year’s TAG (The Adventure Gamer) awards!
Which game will get the Atlantean Medallion this year!?
The Charles Darwin TAG: For the Most Evolutionary Game of 1989
Winner: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade
This was a tough category this year, with quite a few games that really pushed the envelope. I’ve decided not to include Hero’s Quest, despite really wanting to, because its biggest innovations (a true RPG / hybrid, more realism such as night and day, eating and resting) can’t really be considered part of the adventure game evolution. I’ve chosen Indy for one reason really, which is branching dialogue options. Sure, it didn’t do it massively well, but it’s a feature that would be built into pretty much every third person adventure game for the next decade and beyond!
Branching dialogue! A critical moment in adventure gaming evolution.
Mean Streets – for 256 colour VGA graphics, RealSound technology that included snippets of voice, and the first example of video
The Colonel’s Bequest – time based advances, meaning the player solves a mystery as it happens. Had a huge influence on games such as The Last Express.
The Lament Configuration TAG: For the Most Ridiculous Puzzle of 1989
I could have picked just about anything out of this horrible game, but the one that stands out involves a bird. After making my way to Iguacu by helicopter, I was transported to a waterfall where my character dived off a cliff into the water. However, I was only able to do this because earlier on I’d purchased a toucan from a shop owner. I can just picture the poor bird desperately flapping its wings to stop me from gaining too much velocity during my descent! Ridiculous!
Perhaps I used the toucan to break my fall?!
Also worth a mention:
Leisure Suit Larry III – Yeah, I know the game is not meant to be taken seriously, but the climax to the whole thing became more than a little bit stupid really. Trapped in a cage being lowered into boiling liquid with Passionate Patti, there appeared to be no way to escape. Lucky I picked up that magic marker back at the casino hey! That’s right, I simply drew a door on the cage with the marker and opened it, escaping death and entering...well that’s another story for later.
Manhunter 2 – So I’m on a staircase right, and there’s this statue with a gem and the word HEAVEN on it. A previous hint had given me the idea to rub the gem, so I did. The statue’s mouth opened and the letter F just appeared in the air right in front of me. Then an image of an oar appeared where the F had been! This was shortly followed by a P, and then a ruler, all just floating in the air as if held up by an invisible hand! Sure, I eventually figured out that it was all supposed to represent four pinches (f + oar p + inches), but the way it was communicated was strange to say the least.
The Rains of Castamere TAG – For the Most Memorable Moment of 1989
Winner: Leisure Suit Larry III
It had been well over twenty years since I first attempted to play Larry III, yet I still vividly remembered Tawni appearing mostly naked on the beach. Yes, this says a lot about where my head was at around that time of my life, but it proves that the scene has serious staying power regardless. If I include the bit later on at the beach where Larry sunbakes nude while a red lizard stands upright in the foreground, and the game’s incredibly awesome finale, well I don’t really have any doubts about which game had the most memorable moments!
Exactly how I remembered it!
Also worth a mention:
Hero’s Quest: The moment the hut of Baba Yaga lurches forward, then seats itself in front of the The Hero, beckoning him to enter if he dares.
Space Quest III: When The Two Guys from Andromeda finally smash down the fourth wall and take the player to Sierra headquarters to meet Ken Williams. It’s hugely arrogant of the designers to do such a thing, but somehow we loved them more for it!
The Needle’s Eye TAG – For the Most Unsolvable Puzzle of 1989
The manual gave me one instruction prior to beginning my quest to have sex with Emmanuelle. Find Mario! There’s only one problem with this suggestion though (well actually there’s lots). You see, Mario’s room number can only be found by seducing Nancy at the bar in the Salvador hotel. Unfortunately, Nancy only tells the player about Mario’s location about one in every four successful seductions, and only if the player chooses specific options at that point. Since there’s no real reason to seduce Nancy more than once in the game (as far as the player knows anyway), and trying to find Mario by looking in every hotel room generally results in an unfinishable game, this is one puzzle that relies completely on luck.
You mean by sleeping with every woman you can find.
Also worth a mention:
The Colonel’s Bequest – I realise that others managed to solve this puzzle unassisted, but I thought it was a bit shitty. Apparently the cook Celie is missing a necklace. I didn’t hear anything that suggested she was, but...well, she was. The necklace turned out to be hidden in the doghouse, but I couldn’t get to it because Beauregard (that’s the dog) was in there. I was supposed to give him a bone from the fridge to make him leave his doghouse so I could get the necklace, but of course, I didn’t know it was there. To make matters worse, I’d looked in the doghouse already and not found a necklace there, so there was definitely no reason why I would want to look there again. Add to all this the fact that the game let me give the bone to Beauregard earlier on in the kitchen, and this basically sucks!
Leisure Suit Larry III – I’ve already mentioned the magic marker puzzle, but what I haven’t talked about is how the player is expected to get it. It’s pretty similar to the Colonel’s Bequest puzzle really, in that the magic marker is sitting on a board in the casino bar right from the beginning of the game. I tried to pick it up early on, but the game wouldn’t let me. I didn’t think to try picking it up later as, well why would I!? Long story short, after surviving a bamboo maze, a bungy jump off a cliff, a dangerous rope climb across a chasm, an attack by a wild boar, and a hair-raising trip down an obstacle filled river on a log, I found that I needed that marker to draw my way out of captivity!!!
The Golden Mop TAG – For the Best New Character of 1989
Winner: Indiana Jones
Was there any question? It’s hard to beat one of the most loved characters of the past few decades, and Indy’s personality and abilities come across wonderfully in LucasArts first adventure game to feature him. If only we had a game with Han Solo in it now!
Who doesn't love Indiana Jones?!
Also worth a mention:
Tex Murphy – Tough talking and well, just plain tough, Tex is a character that would quickly develop into a fan favourite. A lover of film noir, this hard-boiled P.I. is hugely influenced by characters like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe. We’re yet to see the best of him, but at least he’s here!
Laura Bow – This young girl might be a detective like Tex, but she does her thing in a very different way. Laura does everything by the book, trying to solve mysteries without taking advantage of others or risking lives. My own experience made her seem completely useless, but I don’t think Laura can be blamed for my shortcomings.
The Severed Head TAG – For the Worst Game of 1989
Seriously, this game was terrible! Not only was the plot juvenile and borderline offensive, the puzzles were almost non-existent and the game mechanics close to unusable. It wasn’t even good to look at, which would have at least have made the game’s purpose somewhat satisfying, and don’t get me started about the randomness and lack of a save game feature. This is one of the few games that I wouldn’t play again, even if you paid me!
Emmanuelle: About as titillating as spying on old ladies
Also worth a mention:
Chamber of the Sci-Mutant Priestess – with a storyline that simply had to be written under the effects of hardcore drugs, this game at least had some interesting puzzles and a unique interface. Unfortunately it was extremely ugly, and had an ending that made very little sense.
Codename: ICEMAN – I’m happy that this game gets on a negative TAG list, as I really disliked it. ICEMAN had numerous potential dead ends that were usually enforced through a completely inadequate parser. There were also more bugs than I’d experienced in any other Sierra game, and some very boring and frustrating mini games to boot. Not fun!
The Atlantean Medallion TAG – For the Best Game of 1989
Winner: Hero’s Quest: So You Want to be a Hero?
If anyone asked me for a list of my favourite games (and no, no-one ever has), this would have to be on the list somewhere. It probably has something to do with my love of RPGs and adventure games, making this hybrid a fair amalgamation of my tastes, but it’s also the music, the fantastic visuals, the humour, and most of all, the sheer wonder of it all! There are so many memorable characters and moments, and thankfully the Cole’s were given the opportunity to take us on more magical adventures in years to come.
So You've Become An Atlantean Medallion Winner!
Also worth a mention:
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: I always see The Fate of Atlantis on top adventure game lists, but rarely this one. Now that I’ve played it I have to wonder why, as it’s a very entertaining and playable game, which captures the excitement and the adventure of the classic film trilogy (I’ll always just remember it as a trilogy).
Leisure Suit Larry III: I really didn’t expect this game to be as good as it was, particularly after the disappointing (and hugely buggy) first sequel. But Al Lowe got things right for this one, returning to what made the original so fun, yet with countless clever puzzles and some seriously funny moments!
Thanks for joining me for this year’s TAG Awards! Agree or disagree with any of my selections? As usual I encourage discussion, and look forward to getting stuck into 1990! This one should be very interesting indeed, with a few unquestionable classics (Monkey Island, Loom, Quest for Glory II) mixed into an eclectic bunch of lesser known games. No who’s with me!?