Adventure games belong to the oldest genre in computer and video games and span a wide variety of subgenres. It rich history deserves more than a few pages of paper, so it’s up to Hardcore Gaming 101 to set the record straight with the comprehensive The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures.
Hardcore Gaming 101 Presents: The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures
(USA 2011, editor: Kurt Kalata, publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform)
Big, bigger, compendium of many adventures with or without a guy to brush
With an overwhelming 772 pages of content, the softcover book is quite a load to handle and especially to hold steady in both hands without straining the wrists. So it’s a good thing that the index lists all the games alphabetically, while the table of contents puts them into specific categories which can either be about certain companies or sub-genres. Still, it’s much more like a compendium one uses for quickly checking on particular titles, rather than having a coherent analysis of the whole adventure games genre. Interviews also feature and in some cases, there’s an interesting insight into the creative heads of the genre, although one shouldn’t expect to have every important person having their say in the book. Still, it’s a nice addition to the whole package which is already quite extensive.
It’s obviously very difficult to include all games, even with so many pages, and it’s even more difficult to find transitions between the games and companies. But after reading through the whole book, it becomes clear that Hardcore Gaming 101 doesn’t only succeed in giving a good overview, but also in using a very concise and convincing way to review each and single one of them. Sure, some get more writing space than others, and there’s certainly a lot of debate why certain games get more praise (IMHO, Gray Matter doesn’t necessarily convince in either gameplay or storytelling), but overall, the writing is consistently excellent in both giving an idea of why the plot and characters still hold up today and how puzzle design in certain titles (especially from Sierra) hasn’t aged that well.
Three-headed monkey problems and how to deal with them in prose style
What’s also pleasing to see is that the comparisons of different versions of the games never get too technical, like in Hardcore Gaming 101’s second book Sega Arcade Classics Vol. 1 which could become rather dull. Obviously, some passages in the adventure gaming book read similar when it comes to puzzles which rarely fit the story progression. But then again, it’s interesting to have a more critical approach and actually lay bare the reasons why so many titles of the genre fail to break out of their niche gameplay because of obtuse puzzle design.
Something which can become a concern is how Hardcore Gaming 101 deals with plot, character development and solutions to puzzles. As Kurt Kulata states in the introduction, it’s difficult to discuss adventure games without spoiling anything. In a way, he’s correct, because how else can one see the problems in these three pillars of adventure gaming when one element doesn’t gel with the other and why certain games stay in the player’s mind longer? Surprisingly, despite some straightforward solutions to obscure puzzles as examples, the balance is usually just right to make the uninitiated understand the good and bad sides of the games. At some points, it’s questionable if it’s really necessary to mention the ending of a game, but overall, it’s certainly an accomplishment to discuss so many games in a relatively small space.
Unfortunately with such an amount of text and pages to fill, some minor but also quite annoying issues turn up, mainly with spelling mistakes, grammatical errors and sometimes even plain wrong names (like Daedalus Entertainment instead of Daedalic Entertainment) which could have been avoided with more proofreading. Another small problem is the picture quality of the screenshots. The ones on display here are directly taken from Hardcore Gaming 101’s website and illustrate how they stand in stark contrast to the first two which are found in the book. It’s certainly commendable that the author tried to include one or more for every single game, but sometimes it’s difficult to see what’s going on in the pictures, not to mention the art of colorfully created worlds which get lost in small black-and-white images. Fortunately, the digital versions for Kindle or other reading devices solve this problem as they offer the full colored spectacle. But still, it’s not really a substitute for something out of paper one can hold in their hands.
A big monkey in my pocket or a very concise work of writing goodness
Despite some inconsistencies in text and picture quality (the latter only in the print version), Hardcore Gaming 101’s The Guide to Classic Graphic Adventures is the closest of a Holy Bible for fans of the genre one can get. It’s excellently written almost without superfluous nostalgic superlatives and gives newcomers to and oldschool fans of the genre an amazing value for money. This is definitely a book which helps to better understand the ups and downs, pros and cons of the genre without alienating the hardcore or overwhelming beginners.
For more info on the book and a listing of the individual games discussed can be found here.
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