The Year That Was… 1990

By TAG reviewers


1990 was NOT a year dominated by Sierra! In fact, almost no game of the Sierra main series was published this year, and even those published had something new in them. Hero’s Quest changed its name to Quest for Glory in the second game of the series, King’s Quest started the tradition of Sierra remakes and King’s Quest V turned Sierra finally into VGA point and click. We also got the beginning of Sierra’s Conquest-series with Conquest of the Camelot and Dynamix started developing games for Sierra with Rise of the Dragon.

Although we didn’t see so many Sierra games, there were few companies publishing clear Sierra clones: Interstel with Earthrise and especially Accolade with first Les Manley and Altered Destiny, none of which lived up to the original. In fact, 1990 was a year for many new adventure game publishers: notable examples are Delphine Adventure, publishing first French adventure games that were not complete trash, and Legend Entertainment, which rejuvenated the graphic text adventure genre. But the true winner of the year was once again Lucasfilm with Loom and especially Secret of the Monkey Island.

The year was also full of surprises for The Adventure Gamer. Trickster decided to step away from adventure game blogging and TAG became a community effort. Since most of the games in 1990 were still reviewed by Trickster, the TAG awards are also mostly decided by Trickster - although rest of the reviewers of this year (Aperama, Joe Pranevich, Deimar, Ilmari and TBD) have also had the opportunity to choose their favourites.

Let the award ceremonies begin!

Reader's Choice Tag - 1990

Before letting Trickster on stage, let's see what you readers had to say about the best game of 1990. The winner is - why I am not surprised? - The Secret of Monkey Island with 86 votes and 53 % of all votes!

Our astonished winner!
Our runner-ups are, in the second place, Quest for Glory 2, with 23 votes and 14 % of all votes, and in the third place, Loom, with 21 votes and 13 % of all votes.  A special commendation must go to Les Manley, which, despite all our warnings, managed to get six votes! And now for the rewards decided by Trickster!

The Charles Darwin TAG: 
For the Most Evolutionary Game of 1990

Winner: The Secret of Monkey Island

Monkey Island is evolutionary for a stack of reasons, not least of all due to it raising the bar to unprecedented heights when it comes to entertainment and professionalism. To be more specific though, the insult combat sequences showed that a bit of thought could negate the need for badly implemented action mini-games, the branching dialogue interface nailed the adventure game blueprint that still survives today, and the music set a standard in the industry that pushed other developers to increase their efforts.

If all minigames in all adventure games just were this good!

Also worth a mention:

Loom – An adventure game with no actual inventory? You betcha! Loom is nothing if not unique, and while calling it “evolutionary” is a stretch (since no-one really copied it), the overall production (that included a professionally recorded audio cassette) was extremely high, and the musical interface no doubt made a bunch of other developers think outside the square.

TBD adds: King's Quest V - The use of hand-painted and scanned backgrounds, rotoscoping for character animations and most evolutionary of all, full voice acting, all showed game developers how to better use new technology to improve their games. Though the voice acted version was actually released in 1991, King's Quest V is still the first adventure game to go this route and deserves a mention for being the first to do something that soon became a staple of the genre.

The Lament Configuration TAG: 
For the Most Ridiculous Puzzle of 1990

Winner: Les Manley

This game is basically one long advertisement for ridiculous puzzles, but rather than filling all three slots with the one game, I’ve decided to pick one puzzle that represents the level of stupidity on offer in a nutshell. Not only is the player expected to “look” at a sleeping guard’s dream to see what’s going on in his head, they’re then expected to “pick it up”. I won’t even go into the contents of said dream (that would only act to kill off more of your brain cells), but I will say that the purpose of said dream collection was to give it to the World’s Smallest Man to cheer him up. I don’t think any further justification is required.

Seriously, has anyone solved this without any hints?

Also worth a mention:

Altered Destiny – The puzzles in this sci-fi game were more strange than ridiculous, but there was one particular part that made absolutely no sense at all. After scaling a dangerous maze of cliff-edging paths, I discovered a plant that I could not pick up because I didn’t know what it was called (the game actually told me so). After discovering that it’s called a defoil plant, I could. Huh!?

Future Wars - So, you need to disguise yourself so as not to draw the attention of a couple of angry monks. What should you do? Oh, I know! Climb a tree and go to sleep until someone decides to skinny dip nearby so you can steal their clothes. Of course! Who wouldn’t think to do that? It's so obvious!

Joffrey’s Death TAG – 
For the Most Memorable Moment of 1990

Winner: The Conquests of Camelot

I can’t say that this game held too many memorable moments, but Fatima more than made up for it. I certainly didn’t expect to be seduced by a minimally-clad, gyrating brunette, especially one offering her “body and soul and sensual delights beyond imagining”, when I started up this family adventure game. I wonder if there has been a single male player in history that didn’t take her up on her offer at least once just to see if they could get laid.

Enticing, but deadly!

Also worth a mention:

Loom - I really was a bit shocked and disturbed to find that one of my spells, which made me appear like a young boy and he appear as me, resulted in the poor little guy being eaten by a dragon. Consequences as tragic as that don’t normally occur in LucasArts games!

The Secret of Monkey Island - The whole thing is highly memorable, but if I had to choose one scene that captures the spirit of the game, it would be Stan the Salesman giving me one last post-sales pitch for the Sea Monkey, only for its front mast to collapse into the sea moments later. A perfectly timed, laugh out loud moment!

The Needle’s Eye TAG – 
For the Most Unsolvable Puzzle of 1990

Winner: Les Manley

Once again I could have picked any of a bunch of puzzles in this game, but I’ve gone for the one that required I “touch” Madame Zarmooska for no particular reason. Finding the resurrection card relies upon the player trying this at random, but even once this action inexplicably causes her to disappear, they then have to touch the lizard statue on the table to get the resurrection card that they couldn’t possibly know exists (unless the parser has mistakenly told them so). Enough said.

We all hope this game would have been a bad dream!

Also worth a mention:

Hugo’s House of Horrors - Puzzles requiring specific knowledge that can only be acquired outside of the game proper are in my opinion not fair game. Yes, it’s true; it’s easy to solve the Roy Rogers puzzle by looking up the answer elsewhere, but that goes against the spirit of adventure games in my opinion.

Earthrise – Earthrise wasn’t a terrible game, but the parser sure gave me some trouble. The worst case of this was in the inner security office, where I was expected to shoot a hole in the door and then fire my laser at a panel through it. Not hard in theory, but with the game’s parser, well let’s just say a lot of luck and/or inhuman perseverance was required.

The Golden Mop TAG – 
For the Best New Character of 1990

Winner: The whole Monkey Island gang

I know I’m cheating here, but the truth is that the top ten characters of the year would all come from this game. Guybrush Threepwood might be a wuss, but that’s what makes him so perfectly suited to Monkey Island shenanigans. LeChuck is a fantastic villain and Elaine an admirably capable heroine, but the real quality comes in the way of the supporting cast. Stan the Salesman, The Fettuccini Brothers, the vegetarian cannibals, all of these characters are distinct and utterly hilarious in their own ways. I can’t separate them, so the whole lot of them win.

Who could resist all these fine personalities?

Also worth a mention:

Bobbin Threadbare – I haven’t chosen Bobbin because he’s a particularly strong character. The truth is that he lacks any sort of charisma. Despite this, the weaver is a fascinating character to play with a particularly cool ability.

Nawar the Prostitute - I realise Nawar only appeared in Quest for Glory II for a very short period of time, but it was enough for me to ask Corey whether she would ever make another appearance. Brutally honest, crass, and extremely witty, Nawar’s awesome!

TBD regretfully adds: Cedric - he's not the best character, but he's definitely one of the most memorable. Though his personality is less defined than Stan the Salesman, and he doesn't help Graham solve any puzzle, he's our constant companion. He'll stay with King Graham through any dangers... as long as those dangers don't involve bandits, dogs, inns, bakers, forests, labyrinths, witches, gypsies, deserts, towns, castles, yetis, wolves or harpies. He's possibly the most made-fun-of character in adventure game history so deserves his place in this list.

The Severed Head TAG – 
For the Worst Game of 1990

Winner: Hugo’s House of Horrors

As much as I would have liked to give this award to Les Manley, the truth is that Hugo’s House of Horrors is so badly made that it’s hard to believe the thing was actually reasonably popular. Stupidly simple puzzles, dodgy parser, appalling graphics, non-existent sound, the only good things to say about it are that it was free, and can be completed in one session.

And then there's this...

Also worth a mention:

Les Manley - Oh man, out of all the games I played for the blog, this is the one I despised the most. The puzzles were shamefully nonsensical, and were made that much harder by the repulsive parser technology. Whatever you do, stay away from this game!

Déjà Vu II – It’s a shame that this game ended up falling to these depths, as I recall enjoying it for the first few sessions. The interface really was a pain to use though, especially after experiencing the leaps and bounds made by competitors. The whole thing collapsed into a heap by its close.

Aperama warns: B.A.T. - France has struck again! The terror of Emmanuelle lived on here in a game with a poor interface, virtually no puzzles and difficulty based purely around what can only be considered chance. There really is nothing redeeming about this French ‘adventure’ game.

The Atlantean Medallion TAG – 
For the Best Game of 1990

Winner: The Secret of Monkey Island

There was only going to be one winner this year. The Secret of Monkey Island isn’t just the best adventure game of 1990. It’s arguably the best adventure game ever made. LucasArts had already made some groundbreaking and highly entertaining games by the time Gilbert, Schafer and Grossman sat down to design it, but with Monkey Island they perfected the formula. Challenging without being frustrating, hilarious without lacking drama, the game is beautifully balanced. The fantastic visuals and stupendously enjoyable soundtrack are just the cherry on the top.

And it comes with memorable lines to quote!

Also worth a mention:

Quest for Glory II - The sequel to 1989’s Hero’s Quest is a very ambitious game, and it delivers for the most part. There are very few games that so completely capture the spirit of the game world within every facet.

Loom - Loom deserves praise for its uniqueness alone, but it’s also a very engaging experience. Its puzzle solving mechanic may make reaching the climax just a matter of time, but the journey is one you’re unlikely to forget.

Ilmari recommends: Rise of the Dragon - Certainly not as magical game as the three greats above, but it offered a competent and interesting ride in a Blade Runner -inspired future, with a dynamic environment where your actions really made a difference. Add to the equation hand-painted graphics with a comic book look, alternative solutions to puzzles and the possibility to skip minigames and you have ingredients for a entertaining, if short experience.


Those were the TAG awards for 1990! But before we begin 1991, we’ll announce a whole new contest. Someone (I think it was Laertes) suggested a competition for guessing the game which gets the highest score in 1991. This might be a bit too easy, since there’s a certain sequel coming up that will certainly wipe out all the competition (I am of course speaking of the second Les Manley).

Instead, you’ll have a chance to guess the TOP 5. If you can state which 5 games will be the best games of 1991, you’ll get 10 CAPs. You won’t have to know the exact ratings the games will get, but you do have to get the exact order of the top five games.

You’ll also get to guess the BOTTOM 5. The rules and the prizes are same as in the TOP 5, but you’ll have to guess the five worst games of 1991, in the exact order.

And to top it all, you’ll also have a chance to compete for the FULL HOUSE. Guess the exact order of all the games of 1991. If you get them right, you’ll get the TOP 5 and BOTTOM 5 awards, but also 2 CAPs for each game not in TOP or BOTTOM 5. This year getting FULL HOUSE will thus mean a prize of 42 CAPs. For ease of reference, here are the games we’ll be playing in 1991:

Hugo II: Whodunit?
Space Quest IV: Roger Wilco and the Time Rippers
Leisure Suit Larry 1: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards
Space Quest I: Roger Wilco in the Sarien Encounter
Leisure Suit Larry 5: Passionate Patti Does a Little Undercover Work
Police Quest III: The Kindred
The Adventures of Willy Beamish
Spellcasting 201: The Sorcerer's Appliance
Martian Memorandum
Castle of Dr. Brain
Conquests of the Longbow: The Legend of Robin Hood
Free D.C!
Les Manley in: Lost in L.A.
Maupiti Island
Elvira II: The Jaws of Cerberus
Cruise for a Corpse
Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge
Heart of China
EcoQuest: The Search for Cetus
Sherlock Holmes: Consulting Detective

Please make your guesses for TOP 5, BOTTOM 5 and FULL HOUSE in the comments for this post. The guesses should be made before the first two final ratings of the year 1991 will be published. The prizes for the potential winners will be handed at the end of the year 1991.

So, the next games to be played will be Hugo II and Space Quest IV. But before that, we have something special in store, involving a movie that is coming up quite soon. Stay tuned!

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