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 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.
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. 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|
|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."