Now that my sensationalist headline has caught your attention, I’d like to slow down for a moment and actually attempt a rational argument, inspired by the long-overdue release of Broken Age, Double Fine Productions’ troubled nostalgia baby that’ll probably go down in history as exemplifying the light and dark sides of crowdfunding.
Point-and-click adventures are an awkwardly-named genre of games defined by the mechanic of moving a character around the screen with various actions like “look at” and “talk to”. Their slow pace and minimalist mechanics made them something of a beacon of good writing and storytelling from roughly the late 80s to late 90s, perhaps best embodied by classics like LucasArts’ Monkey Island series. What point-and-clicks were also known for, though, and what might have contributed to their eventual fall from grace, was their habit of employing puzzles driven by infuriating anti-logic that utterly killed the pacing of otherwise excellent narratives.
Telltale’s Back to the Future game surprised me not just by being a rare example of a good movie-licensed game, but by taking the old point-and-click adventure format and modernising it. Not only is the writing well above the gaming average, the puzzles can take some head-scratching while only occasionally stooping to the sort of arbitrary fiddliness that makes Monkey Island harder to enjoy today. Even just having the option to move your character with an analogue stick is a godsend in itself.
While plenty of game mechanics age over time, point-and-clicks in particular suffer because their worlds and characters can highlight how shallow most gaming stories still are even with ridiculous technological potential and ballooning budgets. The format Telltale used in Back to the Future serves all the same purposes that the traditional point-and-click interface does and represents a logical improvement upon it. If Monkey Island had never been developed until 2015, I doubt its creators would have chosen such a contrived control scheme when the tools available to them allowed something like Telltale’s interface.
That new point-and-clicks are still being made speaks more to the nostalgic power of games like Grim Fandango or Day of the Tentacle than any inherent worth in their gameplay. In particular I think it says a lot that many games from the infamous full-motion video fad in the mid 90s used point-and-click mechanics as a basis for what were often little more than movies with gimmicky interactive moments. Gaming culture has a bad habit of selective amnesia, which makes it hard to innovate upon beloved games without drawing ire, and it’s for that reason I don’t expect Telltale-style mechanics to achieve the pedigree that the old point-and-click system did, no matter what its merits might be.
The point-and-click adventure game is dead, but people insist on stringing up its corpse and making it dance to the same old tune.
Broken Age image rights: Double Fine Productions