For most of my life, I would have told you that I was a huge fan of adventure games. I was so sad when, after the advent of first person shooters and other intensely competitive, reflex-based games in the mid-to-late 90's, this storied genre of game fell by the wayside. And then, a decade or so later, adventure games started to make a bit of a comeback. And I started playing some of them again, and even going back and replaying some classics from the early days that I had missed as a kid. And I realized something.
These games aren't very much fun at all.
I was wrong about myself, and had been for a while. I'm not a fan of point-and-click or text-parser adventure games. Scouring pixel art pictures for items to pick up or buttons to push, cheap instant deaths, horrifyingly obscure puzzles that nobody is going to figure out without a guidebook - the basic mechanics of an old-school adventure game just aren't very enjoyable. They're not enjoyable now, and they weren't really enjoyable when I was a kid either. Mostly, they're frustrating and irritating, if not terminally boring. So how did I wind up being so wrong about my own taste in games?
I blame Freddy Pharkas: Frontier Pharmacist. Although this game is essentially obscure abandonware at this point, I absolutely loved this game when it came out. Freddy Pharkas was one of the last adventure games produced by Sierra. It had full voice acting, lush hand-drawn artwork, and an absolutely hilarious script written by Al Lowe, creator of the Leisure Suit Larry series (which had been previous called, and I am not making this up, Soft Porn Adventure, in case you were wondering about the level of humor present in Lowe's games). Granted, Pharkas had a lot of dirty jokes (that mostly sailed over my head as a kid), but it also had a lot of just good old fashioned one-liners and character-based situation comedy as well.
Pharkas was a tremendously rewarding game to play. Virtually everything you could click on - every Look, Touch, and Talk command - resulted in something that wasn't only interesting and new, but frequently hysterically funny. I would spend hours in this game just clicking on everything to see what there was to see and hear what there was to hear. I would find an inventory item and immediately run around to all the townsfolk to give it to them to see what jokes they would tell about it (particularly the Irish-Italian barber who constantly alternated between accents, and haughty, villainous banker P. H. Balance). Very few games have rewarded exploration as consistently or thoroughly as Freddy Pharkas. I find myself occasionally frustrated that pretty much no one has ever heard of this game, as I think of it as a masterpiece.
Except for one tiny little thing. Underneath all the melodic music, the lush voice acting, and the nonstop barrage of jokes, Freddy Pharkas is still a point-and-click adventure game. The puzzles are mostly frustrating, awkward, and random. There are timed puzzles that result in your grisly death if you don't solve them fast enough - not that the game will tell you this until the cow flatulence finally suffocates you or the snail stampede overruns the town. There are inventory items that can't be found unless you click on just a few tiny pixels on one screen. Worst of all, there are a number of mini-games that require you to have reflexes and aim, which I do not.
All that said, I gladly suffered through the actual gameplay mechanics to experience the world, writing, humor, music, and characters. And just for the record, not all the mechanics are bad. For example, I had a lot of fun messing around with the drugs and bottles and glass rods and such in Freddy's pharmacy lab (the old-timey pharmacy reference that comes with the game is ALSO full of hilarity). A few of the puzzles were even fun to solve, even if most of them were random and impossible to solve without a conveniently priced guidebook.
So I've now come to the realization that, while I may have loved an adventure game, that doesn't really mean I love adventure games as a genre. When I tried my hand at other adventure games, recent and old, I found that a whole lot of them had all the frustration and awkwardness of Freddy Pharkas, but none of the charm or humor. To be fair, some of the Space Quest titles were still reasonably fun, and I did have a good time playing Strong Bad's parody game Peasant's Quest. But other than that, most other adventure games have been simultaneously boring and irritating. This includes lauded and otherwise high quality titles such as Grim Fandango, Dragonsphere (which at least has a nice nostalgic feeling), Secret of Monkey Island, and the Telltale Strong Bad series, among various other Flash adventure games and escape rooms I've tried.
Does this mean I've given up on finding another Freddy Pharkas cold turkey?
Eh... probably not, unfortunately.
Because deep down, I still yearn for a game as satisfying to explore, as hilariously written, and as colorful and irreverent, as Freddy Pharkas.
Also because I'm a moron.