10 Under-The-Radar Graphic Adventures

by Kimberley Wallace on Sep 06, 2012 at 10:00 AM

The entire graphic adventure genre is practically under-the-radar, but releases like Telltale’s The Walking Dead prove that at least a few titles deserve our notice. With new graphic adventure fans emerging, this is the perfect time to shine light on some titles that have not received their due because of the genre’s niche status. If you’ve been hankering to get swept up in something different, these graphic adventures are worth checking out. 

Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective (Nintendo DS, iOS)

If you’re a fan of the Ace Attorney games and want a break from the courtroom, Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective is the game for you. Shu Takumi, the writer and director of Phoenix Wright, created Ghost Trick. Capturing Takumi’s quirk and memorable characters, Ghost Trick begins with your death, resulting in a wiped memory that leaves you questioning who you are and how you met your demise. Thankfully, your death grants some handy powers, such as the ability to go back in time to manipulate objects that alter people’s fate. This all comes down to completing Rube Goldberg-esque puzzles, where using objects at the right time and place sets things in motion. The gameplay is challenging, the characters are kooky (see a detective who thinks he’s the living reincarnation of Elvis), and the dialogue is witty. Also, Missile, the Pomeranian, is one of the best companions to grace a game. Give that pooch a spin-off already!

Gemini Rue (PC)

Have a thing for cyberpunk? How about space? If so, Gemini Rue, a retro-style adventure game that takes place in the far future in the Milky Way Galaxy, may be right up your alley. Gemini Rue tells two simultaneous stories: one focuses on a detective dealing with a crime syndicate that is pushing a new drug called, “Juice,” while the other character is imprisoned as a test subject at a psychological rehabilitation institute. Gemini Rue runs deep with philosophical questions that have been asked for centuries regarding identity, memory, and what comprises the self. The questions get you thinking without the narrative ever committing to any answers. Also to eschew the adventure game mold, Gemini Rue throws you into the action with shootouts and hacking. Gemini Rue is a deep experience, perfect for those who are looking for self-reflection in their gaming.

9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors (Nintendo DS)

Talk about a game that knows how to instill suspense from the get-go, 9 Hours, 9 Persons, 9 Doors starts with frenzy: a mysterious kidnapper abducts nine people trapping them on a ship with only nine hours to escape before it sinks. 999 is about piecing all the parts together as you go, since branching paths require multiple playthroughs for the true ending. Picking different choices and dialog options each playthrough is very important, as they reveal new insight into the story. Not many games can engage you for multiple replays, but the intensity of 999’s narrative and its well-written characters drive you to figure out what happens next. 999 tears apart your emotions; it’s not afraid to be dark and unhappy, inspiring you to come away with the best ending for some peace of mind. Also, with an upcoming 3DS and Vita sequel set for October – Zero Escape: Virtue’s Last Reward – this is the perfect time to get acquainted with the series.

Resonance (PC)

Resonance has that charming, old school feel missing since the King’s Quest era of graphic adventures. In Resonance, four strangers – a physicist, doctor, police detective, and undercover reporter – are brought together by the death of an acclaimed scientist. The game adds immediacy by giving you 24 hours to save the late researcher’s new super-powerful technology before the wrong person finds and abuses it. The four have no ties to each other, and the adventure is about building up the trust of four very different individuals. Those differences also extend into the gameplay, where each character has their own unique skillset. Some are more advantageous and vital to certain puzzles more than others. Gathering information also has a twist, as you can bank a limited amount of knowledge in your short-term memory, making it easier to talk your way out of situations. Resonance captures a lot of what made graphic adventures loveable in the first place, but adds just enough modern appeal to avoid feeling dated.

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 (Nintendo DS)

Hotel Dusk: Room 215 stands out as one of the best graphic adventures to take advantage of the Nintendo DS hardware. The touchscreen, microphone, and the ability to hold the DS like a book are all a part of the journey. The gameplay takes a realistic step by making the people around you act accordingly if you ask the wrong questions, present confusing evidence, or make false statements during interrogations. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 isn’t playing around; the opportunity to fail and get a “game over” screen is a part of what keeps you on your toes. As for the mystery, Kyle Hyde has his plate full when his former partner is murdered; taking the blame, he leaves the NYPD and embarks on a quest for redemption. It goes even deeper when he stays at a mysterious hotel that holds eerie connections and answers to his life. Hotel Dusk: Room 215 is a prime example of how great dialogue and getting to know characters can unfold in unexpected ways, creating a powerful narrative that challenges you every step of the way.

[Next Up: Magic tricks, time travel, and an internet celebrity ....]

Gray Matter (PC)

Two words: Jane Jensen. She is best known for Sierra’s Gabriel Knight series, and Gray Matter is her latest creation. Gray Matter tells the story of Sam, a motorcycle-riding girl with an affinity for magic tricks. When her bike breaks down near a mansion, she decides to pose as an Oxford student when she realizes it’s the home of a famed professor, David Styles, who’s looking for a research assistant. Sam is eager to learn all that she can from David, so she volunteers to recruit test subjects for his latest experiment and ultimately ends up one herself. As you may have already guessed, this experiment is more than any of them bargained for. Things are not always what they seem – and soon the professor’s paranormal research, past, and the secrets of Oxford University all collide into an intense mystery, where Sam must assemble the pieces. Gray Matter delves into the world of magic, and offers its own for the graphic adventure.

Trace Memory (Nintendo DS)

Having parents who research the human memory is a dangerous... just ask Ashley Robbins, whose parents mysteriously disappeared when she was a young child. Ashley gives up hope until her 13th birthday, when she receives a message from her father confirming he’s alive and waiting for her on Blood Edward Island. Is it really her father or just a deception? It’s on the island that Ashley meets her true companion – a ghost, searching for his lost memories, so he can finally cross over into his next life. The two form a powerful bond throughout the journey, helping each other through their darkest mysteries. Trace Memory, though short, is a touching story that keeps you invested the entire way through. And the ending…let’s just say, it’s memorable due to its character development and relationships.

Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People (PC, WiiWare, PlayStation Network)

Who said all graphic adventures had to be a deep-rooted mystery? Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People is for those looking for a zany ride... but the title should have told you that much. The series is based off of the Homestar Runner web cartoon and focuses on fan-favorite Strong Bad, whose claim to fame is his segment, “Strong Bad Emails,” where he hilariously answers letters from fans. This five episode adventure digs into the prankster’s life, and the episodes are anything but ordinary.  From declaring his lot an independent nation to raising money for his broken video game console by organizing a Battle Royale of the Bands – Strong Bad never fails to be quirky. This goofiness also plays out in the gameplay, where the minigames parody games like Double Dragon and Atari 2600’s Boxing. Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People doesn’t take itself seriously, which is a nice change of pace.

Still Life (PC)

A follow-up to 2002’s Post Mortem, Still Life provides a mature, disturbing narrative for those brave enough to unravel the tale. The story centers on FBI Agent Victoria McPherson, granddaughter of Post Mortem’s protagonist, Gustav McPherson. Victoria is very much like her grandfather: headstrong and not afraid to break the rules. She meets her match when a serial killer, with a thirst for drugging, drowning, and brutally dismembering victims, starts wreaking havoc all over Chicago. Victoria finds a connection to the murder in an unexpected place: her grandfather’s journals from the 1920s. Though 70 years apart, the murders’ similarities are too strong to ignore. The rest of the mystery unlocks by switching from Victoria and Gus’ perspectives, which alternate between modern Chicago and 1920s Prague. Still Life fits the bill as a mature adventure, right down to its clever, more thought-intensive puzzles.

Time Hollow (Nintendo DS)

Searching for a missing person may be a common plot device, but Time Hollow adds a twist by giving its main character, Ethan Kairos, a “Hollow Pen.” The pen allows Ethan to create portals that permit him to jump into the past. But we all know how changing the past ultimately impacts the present, and Ethan’s primary challenge is making the best choices for the future. Unfortunately, there’s another pen wielder also messing with the timeline. Brace yourself for a pretty crafty villain, who is keen on getting under your skin in some unorthodox ways. Is he the reason Ethan’s parents suddenly went missing and the life he knew is gone? Parallel worlds are always tricky.