If you're looking for the modern canon, I think it's the games with over 50 reviews on IFDB
, no matter how they're rated. (And as you'll see, three of my top whatever are in the bottom five of these games.) And I haven't played a lot of it. Anchorhead? Just finished the first day. Infocom? Before my time. Varicella? The whole concept frightens me, because I'm terrible at puzzles. So, herewith, some favorite games of someone who should really be playing games instead of talking about them, listed in the order I type them in.Photopia.
No comment necessary.Galatea.
Ditto. Spider and Web.
This gets in practically for the framing device alone; it was one of the first games I played and way past my capacity, so I spent a lot of time just typing in the walkthrough. But still, it was amazing. And I did do some puzzle solving; in fact I almost got that one puzzle, except at the crucial moment
I forgot what meant "on" and what meant "off."
Anyway, if not for these three I probably wouldn't be playing IF.Best of Three.
In some ways the most satisfying game I've played; I went through, did what seemed natural, and what happened felt just right. Grant's tea order is my favorite writing in IF, and when I went to look it up just now some of the parts leading up to it may have been even better. And why shouldn't IF take on the subject matter of mainstream realistic fiction? Answer: More of it should, if it can.Shrapnel.
Real horror comes from what you do yourself, or what you have done. Another Cadre railroad game, much darker and nastier than Photopia, and effective with it. (Yeah, I like games that are about story, and also games I can finish. No apologies for that.)The Firebird.
This isn't perfect; it has a couple bugs (one of which seemed to cancel out one of the more annoying aspects of the otter puzzle, though that sequence was the time I hit the walkthrough anyway). But it's magical and funny and the puzzles are actually fun, and it does a good job of giving you multiple ways through the more open parts at the beginning. Also, it was a long game I could finish, and the hint it gives you for the maze is a hoot. Blue Chairs.
Art-damaged and I like it. Unapologetic about its fictional nature, about not giving you all the keys to its meaning, and about including details that point to something beyond the world of its story. We need more like this, too, so long as it's good. (Chris Klimas has gone on to make flash games at Twofold Secret
, which are highly recommended if you suck less at them than I do.)The Act of Misdirection.
Beats out "All Roads" for the linear game "what happened?" slot, partly because I have a little more intimation that what happened makes sense (even if we Cannot Comprehend Its True Form), mostly because the first scene is So Awesome. And the rest really is chilling. (No, I didn't get the good ending.) Rover's Day Out.
Another one that makes it on the strength of the first part. What can I say, I love winks to the fourth wall, at least when they're done this well.The Baron.
Utterly powerful and compelling. It actually makes you think about free will and desire, and makes you feel the weight of your choices.A New Life.
This game has basically no business on this list. It's impossibly difficult; I haven't finished it yet, even though I've looked at the hints and a walkthrough and figured out a bunch of stuff for myself that wasn't in either of them. And the reason I didn't finish was because of what appeared to be a game-breaking bug:
I visited the dragon too soon, was told to go away and come back later, but when I came back it had disappeared.
And the hints -- the hints seem like they're some kind of performance art. At least two of them point you to puzzles that I'm pretty sure are unsolvable.
If anyone found a musical instrument, let me know.
Not to mention that you're forced to stay in the gameplay area by the immutable force of the parser telling you you haven't reached the ending yet. So why do I like it so much? Because it does such an amazing job of world-building. The connections you can draw between different parts of the game, even when they don't help you solve any puzzles, give you a sense of a wider universe beyond these few objects that you can manipulate. Especially when they don't help you solve any puzzles, in fact; it's an escape from the airless IF world where everything has been placed there for you to use. Even the unsolvable puzzles in the hints create that impression. Plus, when I did figure something out, I felt smart.
OK, that's a top... eleven. Not a very good number, but I reserve the right to remember something obvious that I forgot later.
Honorable mention: Pick Up the Phone Booth and Aisle. Come on, it's awesome.