Where's the Revival of the Point-and-Click Adventure?

Where's the Revival of the Point-and-Click Adventure?

Have you tried clicking every pixel?

pocru by pocru on Jan 21, 2018 @ 12:12 AM (Staff Bios)
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Way back in the late 2000s, there was a bit of a debate in the gaming world as to what exactly was happening to survival horror. The long-standing bastions of the genre, Capcom’s Resident Evil, had just come out with the long-awaited 5th game in the series, which made it more action-packed and less frightening than ever before. The most popular horror game of the generation, Dead Space, armed you to the teeth, and while “survival” was obviously the goal it couldn’t really be called the kind of ‘scrape by and fear every corner’ kind of survival horror game that people had grown up with. Left 4 Dead 2 was taking the world by storm, and yet while it positioned itself as a horror game, the cooperative nature and the unending combat meant it was more of a cooperative FPS in a horror-game skin than a game designed to actually scare you. It was a game that stressed you out, made you anxious, perhaps, but it wouldn’t make you shiver with fright.

There were concerns, especially among the most ardent survival horror fans, that the genre would die. Journalists and developers talked about the lack of viability in horror games, how their niche audience and lack of conventional engagement tools (like multiplayer) made them an unappealing risk to most studios. And among all that talk, indie developers took notice, and one of them released Amnesia: Dark Descent, and subsequently earned all the praise and money every old fashioned horror gamer could pool together. Slender soon came afterwards, and suddenly old-school survival horror became mainstream once again with PT and, of course, Resident Evil: Biohazard.

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Way back in 2015, there was a lot of debate in the gaming world as to what exactly had happened to platformers. While Nintendo had still been making Mario games, none of them really had the same gripping hold on the industry that Super Mario 64 had. One of their biggest competitors, Rare, had basically given up on the genre that had put them on the map. The same could be said of Sonic Team—while Sonic had always been a platformer, they were just discovering that 3D sonic games worked best with the “boost” gameplay, where the objective is to keep going fast rather than navigate paper-thin platforms. Games that had once included platforming elements, like Ninja Gaiden and Spyro, dropped them in favor of more combat-focused gameplay. And characters like Crash Bandicoot and Sly Cooper simply fell out of existence.

There were concerns, especially amongst the most ardent platformer fans, that the genre would die. Journalists and developers alike talked about the lack of viability in platformers, how their niche audience and lack of conventional engagement tools (like multiplayer) made them an unappealing risk to most studios. And amongst all that talk, indie developers took notice, and one of them announced A Hat in Time, which subsequently earned all the praise and money every old-fashioned platform fan could throw together for their Kickstarter campaign. Yooka-Laylee came soon afterwards, and suddenly old-school platformer games became mainstream once again with Little Nightmares, Cuphead (to some degree), and of course, Super Mario Odyssey.

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Way back in 2013, there was a lot of debate in the gaming world as to what exactly happened to point-and-click games. Once a mainstay of the PC gaming market, and one of the genres that had elevated gaming to the level it is today, was suddenly gone. While a few point-and-click games came out, most of them were small flash games, horror titles that relied on jump scares, and remasters of classics like Day of the Tentacle and Monkey Island. Some games, like Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright, borrowed the style of the point-and-click titles, but married it to far more complex gameplay that further divorced them from that genre. Survival games certainly borrowed many elements of point-and-click adventures, particularly with crafting, but otherwise discarded everything else. And games that might have once been point-and-click games, like the games produced by Telltale and “walking simulators”, were dropping the pointing and clicking and replacing it with more linear storytelling fare.

There were concerns, especially amongst the most ardent point-and-click fans, that the genre would die. Journalists and developers alike talked about the lack of viability in platformers, how their niche audience and lack of conventional engagement tools (like multiplayer) made them an unappealing risk to most studios. And amongst all that talk, indie developers took notice, and created games like Valliant Hearts, Broken Age, and Dropsy, which subsequently… sold pretty badly.

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So what’s up with Point-and-click adventure games? Where on earth is their revival?

In answering that, it’s important to note that there are always other reasons why a genre might die and come back: Horror games, for example, benefited greatly from the rise of Let’s Players and youtubers who would showcase each game to a morbidly curious audience, which would raise a fuss about each game, and then cause actual fans to jump on board before they accidentally spoiled themselves: it was arguably YouTube that made Five Nights at Freddy’s and Slender even possible as franchises.

Platformers, too, benefited from another growing movement: speedrunning. Speedrunning might have been around for a while, but it’s popularity only exploded in recent months as games journalists report on their amazing feats and they started livestreaming to raise money for charity. Platformers like Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Kazooie started becoming popular again as more people watched them get broken, and modern developers realized that was a level of free publicity they craved. Nintendo, of course, had never given up on the platformer, but it is strange they wouldn’t release the best platformer they ever made until after it became much more popular thanks to titles like Ori and the Blind Forest, Inside, and I suppose the hype surrounding Yooka-Laylee more than the actual game itself.

Not only do Point and Click games not have the kind of view ability that make them appealing in a marketing sense, they’re also appealing to the wrong audience. The ardent fans of survival horror and platforming genres typically grew up in the 90’s, making them the perfect game-buying demographics—adults who have money and the free time to play games. Older people, the ones who grew up with point and click games, might have the money for games, but probably don’t have the time or interest. They could have grown up as “gamers”, but since they were around before the identity transformed into a culture, it simply might not be as important to them as it would be for someone like me.

There’s another problem with point-and-click games, though: typically, that style was used as a substitution for something technology couldn’t do at the time. Same with text-based games: whereas in the past you would need to imagine a dragon burning down a village, today, even a newbie could render a rough version of that thanks to our increased graphics and processing powers. But if the original Mario never existed, and you asked Nintendo to make a side-scrolling platformer, there’s a decent chance they would make a (better looking) replica of Super Mario Bros: whatever little it was, it was enough to communicate what the developers wanted. It’s not as if they decided to substitute guns for jumping because you couldn’t “render” a gun.

The third and final problem is that point-and-click games might not be dead at all: but rather, were revived into something you don’t recognize. Specifically, Point-and-Click games continue to be the bread and butter of small developers you probably don’t recognize. Her Interactive, for example, produces the Nancy Drew series of point-and-click mystery games, of which there have been countless and fairly successful with their demographic, women who don’t identify as gamers yet enjoy the challenge and mystery that is essential to the genre.

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It also doesn’t help that “Point and Click” games have been ‘rebranded’ in recent years as “Hidden Object” games: while nearly identical in practice, these calming games are pretty darn popular with their target demographic, which would again be women who don’t identify as gamers.

Neither the Nancy Drew games nor the Hidden Object games could objectively be called as “big” as the other revivals of the other “dead” genres, but then again, it doesn’t need to be. The audience that once enjoyed that type of game has basically vanished, and a new audience of people has risen to take their place. And that audience is so removed from “gaming” as a culture and as an industry that they’ve basically stolen it and claimed it as their own. But that’s okay: lord knows video games “stole” plenty from books and movies and made it our own as well.

So if you ever find yourself wondering if a genre is dead, or going to die, think instead that maybe it’s just moved. Point-and-Click games will likely never get the great “revival” that survival horror and platforming games got, but then again, maybe it doesn’t need one. Maybe it’s perfectly happy exactly where it is.

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