Today Game Informer reported the sad news that LucasArts is shutting down as a game publisher. Disney acquired it as part of the LucasFilm purchase, which will allow Disney to produce/make billions off of the next three Star Wars movies.
But for nerds of a certain age and temperament, LucasArts is more than just a rounding error on a contract. The company pioneered a genre of PC action/adventure games marked by hilarious dialogue, plot twists that would make Raymond Chandler blush, and idiosyncratic gameplay (“Okay, then you use the hamster in the microwave to dry off his sweater…”)
Unfortunately many of these games have been lost to Circuit City bargain bins over the years, but there are still ways to play most of them — you just have to get a little creative. It’s also worth noting that despite the shuttering of LucasArts, the gameplay it helped popularize is undergoing a bit of a resurgence. Telltale Games, which has developed new titles starring classic LucasArts characters, recently released an award-winning, wildly popular “Walking Dead” adaptation that bears many similarities to these old-school adventure titles. And Tim Schafer, who designed or co-designed almost all the games on this list, raised a mind-numbing $3.3 million on Kickstarter to build an adventure game akin to the LucasArts classics.
But in the meantime, pour out some grog for this legendary game publisher and check out these five classic titles (and where to find them).
5. “Full Throttle” (1995)
The first LucasArts game where Tim Schafer served as project lead, 1995’s “Full Throttle” took the point-and-click graphic adventure to untold cinematic heights. With action-packed cut scenes and award-worthy voice work from “Star Wars”‘s Mark Hamill, “Full Throttle” was the story of a biker detective traveling through a dystopian future where motorcycles have been replaced by (gasp!) anti-gravity hovercrafts.
One part “Mad Max” and one part “The Maltese Falcon,” “Full Throttle” had such an enormous effect on me that at age 11 I wrote an 80-page “screenplay” adaptation. I guess mom was right about me needing to play outside more.
Where to find it: Unlike some of the titles on this list, “Full Throttle” hasn’t been remade for Android or iOS. And while the original CD-ROM is pretty cheap on eBay, playing it on a modern computer is another story. But this is the Internet, and life always finds a way. Emulators like Scummvm and Dosbox can be used to play many of these old games, provided you have the data files (which usually aren’t very hard to find using BitTorrent, if that’s your thing).
4. “Sam and Max Hit the Road” (1993)
Sam and Max are two freewheeling, foul-mouthed, sometimes cross-dressing freelance detectives who just so happen to be an anthropomorphic bunny and dog, traveling America’s heartland like Thelma and Louise. The game’s depiction of flyover country is hilariously debased yet woefully accurate, with its sociopathic country singers, roadstop curiosities, and crazed carnies. Meanwhile, the puzzles are just as frightening and wonderful (“use the severed hand on the golf-ball retriever…”). This may not be the America Simon and Garfunkel sang about. But like other cultural artifacts like “Roseanne” and “Married… With Children,” “Sam and Max” captures the twisted, tacky populism of the post-Reagan era.
Where to find it: Although Telltale Games owns the rights to “Sam and Max” and continues to make new games in the series, it has yet to re-release “Hit the Road.” In the meantime, you’ll have to track down the game data and use the Scummvm emulator.
3. “Day of the Tentacle” (1993)
A sequel to the darkly hilarious “Maniac Mansion” (which is up there with “Evil Dead 2″ and “Cabin in the Woods” when it comes to teen horror-spoofs), “Day of the Tentacle” adds a new wrinkle to the LucasArts graphic adventure template: time. Players control three characters, one in colonial America, one in the present, and one in the future where giant sentient tentacles have taken over the world. The characters cannot travel through time, but they can send items to one-another by flushing them down magical Port-a-Johns. This allows for some unique puzzles. For example, when one character gives a tentacle’s medical chart to Betsy Ross, she thinks it’s an updated design for the American flag. Then in the future, another character can put on the newly-shaped flag to disguise herself in order to sneak past guards.
Where to find it: See “Sam and Max” / “Full Throttle.” At least for “Day of the Tentacle” there’s a really helpful YouTube clip explaining how to play it on a Mac:
2. “Grim Fandango” (1998)
Another Tim Schafer-led title, “Grim Fandango” was both an artistic high-mark for the graphic adventure genre, but also a major reason why LucasArts stopped making these games, thanks to its commercial failure. But over the years the game has maintained its cult status. A noir-damaged fantasy about solving mysteries in the Land of the Dead, many consider “Grim Fandango” to be the last great LucasArts adventure game, and perhaps the greatest point-and-click adventure game of all time. Funny, dark, self-referential, and with state-of-the-art graphics, it represented the best of a dying genre.
Where to find it: Like the previous three titles, there are no easy ways to play “Grim Fandango” on a modern computer. And because it uses a custom graphics engine, Scummvm won’t work either. But don’t fret! Just last December, Kill Screen reported that some true heroes over at Residualvm created an emulator that can support “Grim Fandango”‘s game data.
1. “The Secret of Monkey Island” (1990) / “Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge” (1992)
Look. Bikers, giant tentacles, canine detectives, and grim reapers are all well and good. But none of them hold a candle to pirates. Or even wannabe pirates like the pun-loving grog-swilling everyman hero of the “Monkey Island” series, Guybrush Threepwood. Perpetually-underestimated yet imbued with an unflagging sense of adventure, Threepwood is LucasArts’ greatest character. So put him in a story as hilarious and confounding as anything LucasArts ever made, and you’ve got the best graphic adventure probably of all time.