Action versus adventure video games
In general, video game players know the difference between an action game and an adventure game, but there is still a gradient from one genre to the other. In order to more accurately quantify the difference, I have identified specific properties found in games that I think indicates what causes a game fit into one genre or the other. Obviously, no single game property can determine which genre a game fits into, but the more that match, the more "pure" the fit.
These are the specific properties I have identified that I feel can be used to accurately determine whether a game is an action or adventure game and are also fairly easy to gauge as a yes or no. Other properties may much more accurately determine a game's genre, but are greatly a matter of opinion (e.g., do I feel like I'm exploring when I play the game?), so I don't include them.
- Limited Lives: Does the player have a limited number of attempts to beat the game before the game is over and they must restart or continue, or are they given unlimited attempts.
- Stage-based: Are portions of the game broken up unto discrete sections that must be completed, or does they player have free movement to move between them?
- Straightforward Maps: Must the player roughly follow a single path to the end of a map with few decisions or backtracking, or are their many possible routes?
- No Exploration: Is the player not expected to explore the map, or can bonuses be found for those who search around?
- Forced Stage Order: During normal game play, must the player complete stages in a pre-planned order, or can they finish sections in any order?
- Instant Death: Can a single mistake kill the player regardless of hit points or power-ups (pits, spikes, lava, etc.)?
- No Health: Will a single mistake of any kind kill the player based on their starting condition, or can they make multiple mistakes before dying?
- No Continues: If the player runs out of lives, do they get a limited number of chances to continue from where they left off, or must they restart the game?
- Time Limits: Under normal conditions, will a player die if they don't finish a stage in specified time?
- Temporary Power-ups: Are power-ups kept for a limited time, number of uses, or until death, or do you keep them for the rest of the game?
- Unbeatable: Does the game go on forever, or can you finish it?
- Title Screen Story: Can the game's entire story be described in a paragraph on the title screen, or is there character dialogue, cut-scenes, and an advancing plot?
The more yes-answers, the more action oriented the game is, the more no-answers, the more adventure oriented it is. Naturally, not every game can neatly answer each of these questions with a yes or no, so, when the true answer is a gray area, I try my best to answer fairly. For example, in The Legend of Zelda, you technically only have one life before you get a game over, but, since you have unlimited continues and get to keep your items after death, I consider it equivalent to unlimited lives.
This list currently focuses on NES games, though I will add more in the future. I've excluded traditional RPGs which would answer no for the bulk of the questions, as well as sports simulators
|Game||Limited Lives||Staged-based||Straightforward Maps||No Exploration Reward||Forced Stage Order||Instant Death||No Health||No Continues||Time Limits||Temporary Power-ups||Unbeatable||Title Screen Story||Total|
|Super Mario Bros.||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||10|
|Contra, Super C||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||9|
|Double Dragon 2 & 3||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||8|
|Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||8|
|Ninja Gaiden 1, 2, 3||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||8|
|Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||7|
|Jackie Chan's Action Kung Fu||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||7|
|Super Mario Bros. 2||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||7|
|Super Mario Bros. 3||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||7|
|Little Nemo: The Dream Master||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||5|
|Mega Man 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6||Yes||Yes||Yes||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||5|
|Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||5|
|A Boy and His Blob: Trouble On Blobolonia||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes||4|
|DuckTales and DuckTales 2||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||4|
|Kid Icarus: Angel Land Story||No||Yes||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||Yes||4|
|River City Ransom||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||3|
|Castlevania II: Simon's Quest||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||2|
|The Goonies II||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||2|
|Zelda II: The Adventure of Link||Yes||No||No||No||No||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||No||2|
|The Legend of Zelda||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||No||0|
The main purpose of this categorization is to help determine if a game should be described as an "action-adventure" or "adventure-action."