Adventure Games: What's with all the clowns?

The thought struck me tonight: there is a bit of a thing having clowns in adventure games. Some people find clowns quite scary and yet they appear in the most innocent of adventure games. So that begs the question, what’s with all of the clowns?

To answer this, I had to find, fire up and generally muck around to make a bunch of classics work. ScummVM of course helps a lot in these situations!

Here we go, loosely ordered from the latest to the oldest release.

Thimbleweed Park - “Ransome” (2017)

Agent Ray and Ransome the Clown in Thimbleweed Park

A playable clown who *beeping* swears all of the time and abuses everyone? Interesting…

This game was the complete inspiration for this blog entry. I’ve been making my way through the game and although I haven’t got to the end just yet (I’ve just got myself into the abandoned “pillow” factory), it’s an incredible parody/homage to the golden age of adventure games: the 90’s.

Whether it be references to a “really powerful” Commodore 64 with dual floppy drives, meeting Ron Gilbert at Thimble-Con 87, collecting so-so many useless specks of dust or fulfilling your dream of playing a budding video game designer, this game has plenty of in-jokes to keep fans of adventure games satisfied.

Ron Gilbert in Thimbleweed Park

Anyways, enough about the game (I could probably write an entire review about it) and let’s get back to the clowns.

Dropsy - “Dropsy” (2015)

Dropsy

Dropsy is a non-traditional take on the classic point and click adventure formula starring the game’s perpetually carefree namesake clown as he explores a richly detailed world full of colorful characters and sinister secrets, doling out hugs along the way.

Sure, a playable clown character is one thing, but centering the entire game on a clown is in another league.

I haven’t played this one yet so it’s in the queue, but judging from the creepy artwork combined with the infectious desire to give out hugs, this could be a wild ride. Expect comments on this one at some stage in the future…

Grim Fandango - “The Clown” (1998)

DESCRIPTION HERE

I could wax lyrical about this game and just playing it again for the sake of taking screenshots for this blog brings back many memories of great game play. This game is still number one for me. I had forgotten how pretty the artwork was… but we’re here to talk about clowns, of course!

This one is pretty obvious. Bonus points to “The Clown” for being a skillful hand at making balloon animals including Robert Frost.

Some quick stats reveals this guy’s name is simply “The Clown” and you’ll find him in El Marrow Carnival. Actually, his official occupation is “Balloon Twister”, which I guess is more appropriate since he does famous poets as well as animals. Clever.

Voiced by Joe Nipote, this clown has a pedigree from Monkey Island to Command and Conquer. Not always playing a clown, of course!

DESCRIPTION HERE

Deadpan “Ta-da” as the Robert Frost balloon ‘animal’ is revealed. You get a choice of animal and even the “dead worms” (balloons not inflated) are useful in this game. I hear they’re great when filled and stuffed into tubular messaging machinery!

Grim Fandango is really the trifecta of awesome: story, graphics, sound. And the remastered edition (seen above) doesn’t distract too far from the original in my opinion. For some games, when it’s remastered, the graphics takes too much of an improvement, which distracts from the original charm and skill involved in limited resolution and palette.

Maybe it’s time for a Blade Runner game remaster?

Broken Sword: The Shadow of the Templars - “Khan” (1996)

Yes. Definitely, yes. This fella, who you figure out a bit more about later on and even discover greasepaint in the sewer, has got to be one of the scariest I’ve seen in a game. And let me tell you, it’s not because he has a terrorist streak. So much as, it made the official list from the folks at Kotaku:

https://www.kotaku.com.au/2013/03/the-scariest-clowns-and-jesters-in-games/

Broken Sword - Clown FMV

I’m shaking, I’m shaking!

No, wait, that’s that other game. But this guy is one seriously scary clown.

Broken Sword - Asking about a clown

You soon discover (without me giving too much away) that the clown was involved in terrorism and a somewhat destroyed cafe, which was looking oh-so-idyllic in the intro movie, nestled on the banks of the River Seine.

This style of adventure game is somewhat different. I mean sure, you still have enormously spacious pockets to carry so much inventory and you end up trying object A with thing B, but the art style and the smooth animation (surely rotoscoped?) really draws you into the scene with almost cinematic effect. Playing it again, I found it frustratingly slow to get through the animation, but somehow I’ve played through all of Broken Sword 1 and 2 without a memory of the slowness!

Wasn’t there going to be a movie made of this at some stage?

Maniac Mansion II: Day of the Tentacle - “Oozo” (1993)

Who could forget this bouncy rotund fellow?

Day of the Tentacle Remastered

No doubt inspired by Bozo the Clown, Oozo is a bucket of laughs when pushed to the edge…

Punching Oozo in Day of the Tentacle

Let’s try a little punch…

Oozo the Clown Fights Back

That hurt. The dead-pan laugh of “ha. ha. ha” still rings in my memory after playing this game since the mid-90’s.

I won’t give anything more away of what happens to Oozo: you’ll just have to play the game for yourself. But it’s really the odd-ball art style (reminiscent of Rocko’s Modern Life) combined with a brilliant sense of humour that makes this game stand out. The inclusion of the original Maniac Mansion game as a completely playable game-within-a-game meant you got two games for the price of one… although I have to admit, I haven’t managed to play all the way through Maniac Mansion yet. It’s on the list, thought.

Sam n Max: Hit the Road - “hmmmm” (1993)

Sam n Max Hit the Road

Nope, no clown in sight. But there sure is a lot of showbiz action! But how can you have a Kushman Bros Show without a clown?

If ever there was an opportunity for a clown in an adventure game, I really thought this would be it.

Sam n Max Hit the Road and a clownless-show

What a scandal.

But I will forgive Sam n Max: Hit the Road, mainly because of the memorable scenes like Snuckeys burger joint, the world’s largest ball of twine with a rooftop restaurant (that’s gold, Jerry) and the incredible sound track. Playing it again, I forgot how much easier this game is compared to other adventure games. Easy, but definitely no less fun.

Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz (1988)

Zork Zero The Revenge of Megaboz

Watch out for the Jester, who will both help and annoy you. When he sticks a clown nose on your face, you must remove it before you suffocate.

Also, wandering around Flatheadia, East Wing, you may come across the northern secret room which contains a crate of red clown noses. Surely this must be the inspiration for clowns in adventure games?

My introduction to the Zork world was a talky CD of Return to Zork, which I can only assume to be a poor cousin of the original text-based games of the 80’s. It did freak me out though: combining a winning ticket with a far-off fantasy world where grues were hungry and people were scarce and unfriendly. Definitely one of the harder adventure games out there, mainly because you can so easily die in so many ways without much warning. I think it used to give me nightmares.

I should step into the text world of Zork, to see what the fuss is all about.

Other mentions: hello Sierra Games

For good memories, I’m going to include this image:

Sierra Games Logo

There is a distinct lack of Sierra games in this list (think: LSL, Space Quest, Kings Quest, Police Quest, amongst others) and I did poke around that camp for a little while just to make sure I wasn’t missing any.

The only thing I could find is reference to the mascot of Monolith Burger in Space Quest is called “Monny the Burger Clown” - but no evidence of this character exists in the games, only in fan-written articles.

That’s all

Yep, that’s about all I could remember from playing loads of great adventure games.

Of course, there are other adventure game franchises I haven’t played but that’s probably enough for today!

Do you know of any others with clowns?