What was it? An endlessly brilliant point-and-click adventure that starred Dia de Los Muertos skeletons and took place almost entirely in the Mayan underworld.
What made it so great? Where to begin? The art deco presentation was memorably slick, the game’s vision of the afterlife was richly realized and believable and the story – about a post-life travel agent who falls in love with a mysterious woman – spun an elaborate Mayan-noir yarn, filled with intrigue, skeletons and friendly demons, that has to be played to be believed (or even understood, for that matter). The heroes were lovable, the villains diabolical and the puzzles – which included a competitive beat-poetry slam, among other things – were unforgettable. In short, this was the apex of the point-and-click genre. Too bad it came out when nobody cared about point-and-click anymore.
Highest praise: “Quite possibly one of the top five adventures of all time, and certainly in the Top Ten. The style, atmosphere, wit, creativity and inventiveness are what make Grim Fandango remarkable. … One would almost say that ‘they don't make them like that anymore’ – but fortunately that isn't quite true.” – Just Adventure
Why it tanked anyway: Impenetrable title? Skeleton protagonists? Oh yeah, we bet that’d sell millions. Even putting aside the obvious lack of mass-market appeal, though, Grim Fandango’s failure at market can be chalked up to a general disillusionment with point-and-click adventures, which by 1998 were seen as slow-paced, antiquated relics. Perhaps it’s fitting that a game about death and what happens afterward sounded the death knell for adventure games as we knew them, but Grim Fandango’s so relentlessly enjoyable that we can’t help but wish it’d happened to a crappier title.
The Neverhood (1996)
Average Metacritic score: N/A
What was it? A beautifully realized point-and-click adventure that features innovative claymation, a warped sense of fun, an incredible soundtrack and a “DURR HURR HURR” aesthetic.
What made it so great? Essentially a full-motion-video game, The Neverhood distinguished itself by using lavish, stop-motion claymation (by Doug TenNapel, creator of Earthworm Jim) instead of live actors on bluescreen sets. The actual gameplay was a combination of traditional point-and-click puzzle-solving and Myst-style first-person exploration, and it was all crisply rendered, with characters that exploded with personality. At the center of it all was Klaymen, a moronic, rubbery everyman whose extravagant bumbling generated most of the game’s bizarre slapstick humor, and the whole thing was accompanied by an incredible soundtrack of original songs.
Highest praise: “Has time been kind to The Neverhood? It certainly has. On many levels, the game is superior to more contemporary counterparts that may be technically superior. ... In other words, it is still as fun to play today as years ago—and fun is, basically, what gaming is all about.” – Adventure Classic Gaming
Actually, you can’t get a feel for why it was awesome just looking at a still picture. Here, check out this YouTube clip:
Why it tanked anyway: While we like to think of Grim Fandango as the beginning of the end for point-and-click gaming, the truth is that the slide started long before then. The Neverhood might have gained a cult following (as well as a sequel, Skullmonkeys, which ditched adventure for a platforming approach), but it never flew off the shelves – a shame, considering the amount of time and money that must have gone into creating its elaborate clay sets and characters.
Average Metacritic score: 92
What was it? Either the single most amazing PS2/Wii game ever made or an endless public guilt trip we keep laying on our readers, depending on who you ask. Also, it’s a Zelda-like game about a sun-goddess/wolf out to rescue Japan from an oppressive gray curse with the power of art.
What made it so great? Pssh. You didn’t think we were going to leave this out, did you? Any opportunity to shoehorn Okami into a feature is an opportunity we’re going to take. A deep, versatile and endlessly enjoyable romp that borrows heavily from the Zelda series, Okami offers up a huge, more-or-less freely explorable version of folkloric Japan to run amok in, and then fills it with seemingly endless monsters to kill and activities to pursue. These only get more diverse and interesting as you gain new powers (most of which revolve around painting designs on the screen with a magic brush), and include making friends with animals, building bridges, digging wells, regrowing vegetation and occasionally tormenting the locals. Of course, the single most striking thing about Okami is its visual style, which is not only brilliantly animated but creatively uses cel-shading to create a look that’s part cartoon, part watercolor painting. And it’s all awesome.
Highest praise: “If games can be art, here’s the best possible example. … If you consider yourself a gamer in any way, buy this right now. You will not be disappointed.” – GamesRadar (Sorry, we had to.)
Why it tanked anyway: It’s hard to say. There wasn’t anything too notable that came out around the same time to distract gamers (unless you count Scarface, which hit almost a month later). However, the 360 was already starting to make PS2 games seem antiquated by late 2006, and with the PS3 and Wii just over the horizon, it’s possible gamers were too busy looking ahead to take a risk on what was in front of them. It’s also possible that Okami’s charms actually worked against it, as the unusual name and cartoony presentation might have been a turnoff to gamers looking for more “serious” fare. Or maybe gamers just didn’t like the idea of playing as a dog on fire. Whatever the case, it looks like the DS sequel might be headed our way soon, so let’s hope it finds an audience this time.
Oct 21, 2009
The critics panned them, but you bought them anyway - let's look at why
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