THE LEGEND OF KYRANDIA / Westwood / PC
Back when Legend of Kyrandia was released, I was still of a tender age, and not yet wise to all the wiles of the gaming world. But even as a little one, when the word of it started to spread in the gaming rags of the time and the various BBSes, I clearly remember thinking "Damn what a King's Quest ripoff".
As I'd find out later, however, the only things Kyrandia really shares with King's Quest are the basic qualifications of being an adventure game and taking place in a fantasy setting. Pretty much everything else about the games is very different. Where King's Quest shoots for earnest emulation of a fairy tale, the first Kyrandia game is somewhere between melodrama and the cheeky tone of the Monkey Island games.
The interface is also different, lacking both the icons of the Sierra adventures of the period and the verb menu of the LucasArts games. Kyrandia was a bit ahead of its time as far as adventure game trends go, actually, being the first that I know of to use a mouse-based interface where everything is done with just a pointer.
Of course, with this kind of radical simplicity, you are limited to only a handful of ways in which to create a challenge for your player. Kyrandia, unfortunately, picks some of the most thoughtless and irritating. It extends the length of the game largely through completely arbitrary trial-and-error puzzles, and annoying lengthy mazes (one of which forces you to die repeatedly while mapping it to get through.) It technically hits the Bad Adventure Game Puzzle Trifecta by incorporating pixel hunting, but to be fair this occurs only in one lone puzzle near the very end of the game.
I suspect more than half of everyone on the planet whoever played this game quit in the middle of Serpent's Grotto and never looked back. If you do manage to navigate that highly irritating try-and-die maze (probably by downloading a map off GameFAQs), however, the game doesn't have much waiting to reward you with. You can look forward to an irreversible hang-up at the very end of the game if you proceed to the final area without having three key items, two of which you are given no cues that you need to find (one of which is further buried in an extremely obscure area in said irritating maze), and one which you have to stumble into at random in a previously unoccupied area to notice. If you muddle through all this somehow (almost assuredly with some sort of help), your reward is a rather halfassed ending.
Deaths for hapless hero Brandon (easily the dopiest adventure game hero ever) are relatively few and far between, and you usually get a strong warning prior to one happening. The problem here is not deaths, but the fact that most of the game puzzles require you to randomly try using items in a certain order, and will destroy said items if you use them incorrectly. In most cases, you can get a replacement, but it spawns at random, so you have to gallivant about the land until you happen upon it. So the game basically punishes you by wasting your time if you guess at its puzzles wrong.
A shame that the puzzle design and layout was so mishandled, as the game really has pretty stellar production values for a 1992 game from a then-unknown team. Kyrandia is a lovely forested world, not always all that animated and lively, but colorful and pleasant. The soundtrack by Frank Klepacki is additionally pretty great. And the game can be quite charming with its oddball humor, during the periods that it isn't irritating the crap out of you. Adventure game fans may want to give it a look just for the things it does right, but I'd be surprised if it makes your list of personal favorites.
Worst adventure hero ever. Seriously.
* Gameplay Video