Action versus adventure video games

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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 genre or the other. Obviously, no one game property can determine which genre a game fits into, but the more that match, the more "pure" the fit.

Properties

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.

Games

This list currently focuses on NES games. I've excluded traditional RPGs which would answer no for every question, as well as sports simulators and various other abstract games, though I will add more in the future.

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
Galaga Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes 11
Pac-Man Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes 11
Tetris Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 11
Double Dragon Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes 10
Spy Hunter Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes 10
Super Mario Bros. Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes 10
Bubble Bobble Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes Yes No Yes 8
Contra, Super C Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes 9
Castlevania Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes 8
Double Dragon 2 & 3 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No Yes No Yes No No 8
Life Force Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No Yes 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
Battletoads Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No No No Yes No No 7
Castlevania III: Dracula's Curse Yes Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No No 7
The Goonies Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No Yes Yes No No Yes 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
Guerrilla War No Yes Yes No Yes Yes Yes No No Yes No No 6
Little Nemo: The Dream Master Yes Yes No No Yes Yes No No No Yes No No 5
Gauntlet Yes Yes No No Yes No No No Yes No No Yes 5
Kirby's Adventure Yes Yes No No No Yes No No No Yes No Yes 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
Bionic Commando Yes Yes No No No Yes Yes No No No No No 4
Blaster Master Yes No No No Yes Yes No No No No No Yes 4
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
Metroid No No No No No No No No No No No Yes 1
The Legend of Zelda No No No No No No No No No No No No 0

Purpose

The main purpose of this categorization is to help determine if a game should be described as an "action-adventure" or "adventure-action."

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