Back in the days when games on CD with full voice acting were a rarity and screen resolutions were lower than the original iPhone, the humble adventure game had a loyal following. Transcending their limitations, they offered a mature, story-led experience with engaging dialogue and puzzles to tax the brain. 

The format was simple: you kept the story going by completing puzzles. These involved picking up items and using them to advance the story. Sometimes these were wilfully obscure, but there was a certain way of thinking that ‘point and clickers’ developed to get to the end.

The genre rose and fell in the 90s, but the iPhone has offered it a second chance. It’s encouraged developers to re-release the classics of yesteryear, as well as create innovative new games. Here are five great examples of each.

5 90's remakes

Monkey Island Special Edition 1 & 2

LucasArts was the king of adventure, so it’s surprising that Monkey Island is its only foray into iOS to date. Still, if you had to pick a couple of games to convince an adventure game sceptic, you’d start with these. LucasArts hasn’t settled for a quick port, combining all-new visuals, full voice acting and a re-recorded soundtrack. And rather neatly, you can go back to the original graphics and music on any scene with a swipe of the fingers, allowing you to see what a great job LucasArts did redrawing it.

Both games follow the exploits of Guybrush Threepwood, a wannabe pirate, and contain genuinely laugh-out-loud dialogue, clever puzzles and an engaging storyline.

Broken Sword 1 & 2

Broken Sword also gets the HD treatment and a bit more besides – this version includes new scenes and puzzles. Unlike Monkey Island, though, this isn’t a comic adventure, offering a more cinematic and serious experience with a twisting plot. 

The adventures follow a terrorist attack, taking our heroes from the catacombs of Paris to Aztec pyramids, via an Irish pub (of course). It’s been lovingly recreated for touchscreens, and plays very nicely indeed – the gripping storyline should keep you suitably stuck to your iPhone.

Beneath a Steel Sky

Beneath a Steel Sky offers a very different world: a dystopian vision of an industrial future, where civilisation is confined to skyscraper cities and segregated by class. Abducted by armed police from his home in the wastelands, you play Robert Foster as he attempts to navigate around the dark metropolis and escape back to the wilderness.

Despite the fact that death is around every corner (save often), the game has a healthy sense of humour, partly embodied in your robot sidekick, who’s none too pleased at having to make do with a vacuum-cleaner chassis for half the game. Sadly, this ‘remastered edition’ hasn’t had the same love as Monkey Island, keeping its 1994 artwork, with only minor improvements to sound and cutscenes.

Simon the Sorcerer 1 & 2

Simon the Sorcerer has issues: users complain of crashes, and little effort has been put into porting the games to iOS. More’s the pity, because they offer a very English and funny run around the world of wizards, dragons and orcs.

The first game includes voice acting from Chris Barrie as Simon, a reluctant wannabe wizard, having been pulled from his old life as a regular teenager to rescue the wizard Calypso.

Flight of the Amazon Queen

As LucasArts has yet to bring its Indiana Jones games to iOS, Flight of the Amazon Queen will have to do: the globetrotting adventure Pepsi to Indie’s Coke. Joe King (yes, really) is the star here, and his adventures take him to jungles, ancient tombs and all the fun holiday locales you could hope for. Sadly, like Simon the Sorcerer, this hasn’t been properly optimised for iOS and also like that game it’s affected by bugs and crashes. That’s a shame, because the action underneath is a fun romp that never takes itself too seriously. 

5 New Adventures

Machinarium

A beautifully drawn adventure about an adorable robot in search of his metallic other half. It breaks convention by not featuring a single line of dialogue, but that’s not to say it’s without humour; and the puzzles are tough enough to keep the grey matter engaged. 

Monkey Island Tales

Telltale is bringing plenty of adventure games to iOS. In Monkey Island Tales, it continues Guybrush’s adventure where LucasArts left off: still ineptly living the life of the pirate. The 3D environments take some getting used to, and the dialogue isn’t quite as punchy, but it’s generally a brilliant successor.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

More like an interactive story than a game, this anime adventure first found Western success on the Nintendo DS. You spend an awful lot of time tapping through dialogue, but it’s all so charming and silly that it doesn’t seem to matter. Besides that, the memorable characters and satisfaction of pinning the right piece of evidence on a slippery murder suspect make this something everyone should try.

Puzzle Agent

Another Telltale game, but moving away from the ‘use hammer on nail’ style of the past towards traditional maths, logic and lateral-thinking brain teasers. The story concerns Nelson Tethers, sole employee of the FBI’s underused Puzzle Solving Division, who is dispatched to investigate missing erasers at the White House. Wonderfully silly.

McPixel

Concerned all these adventures may be too time-consuming? McPixel has a novel take for you: each scenario gives you 15 seconds before something explodes. You have that brief time to avert disaster. Whether you succeed or blow up the world, you’re presented with another puzzle straight away.

The Future

The new lease of life for the genre has got our hopes up. There’s plenty of classic adventure games begging for remakes: Day of the Tentacle, Discworld and Grim Fandango, to name just a few. Although Phoenix Wright is mentioned above, the full trilogy of games is getting an HD remake later this year.

While the genre was on life support 10 years ago, the future looks very bright: another way the iPhone has shaken up the games industry.