Puzzles and why they can Make or Break a Game

(If this post contains spoilers then they will probably be very minor ones and will not involve any major story elements)

So am I right in assuming that we all know what puzzles are? I very much hope so. If not… Fucking Google it.

ANYWAY… Puzzles are a very good way to challenge your mind and make you think outside of the box. Some puzzles are easy and some require you to really use that grey matter. But, by far, the best part of a puzzle is the solution. Hands down. It’s just so satisfying when you reach the end of a puzzle knowing that you solved it.

Moving on to the main point, you’d think that puzzles would be a simple thing to incorporate into a game. And they are. But somehow, Game Devs still manage to fuck it up from time to time. So I’ll give some examples of games that got it right and what makes good.

(We all it coming) The Professor Layton series. A game that is nothing but puzzles (until the Phoenix Wright crossover… Which was awesome by the way). A simple enough game. Get in, solve puzzles, reach the end of the story and complete the post game puzzles. DONE. You might think that’s too basic. But actually no. The Game Devs did a great job of balancing story and puzzles and were able to integrate a fantastic hint system that helps when you are stuck but still doesn’t give the entire puzzle away. The Professor Layton games are a prime example of puzzles in games done right. I would recommend any of the games in the series (especially that PW Crossover: Professor Layton vs Phoenix Wright) to anyone who loves puzzles and games in the mystery genre.

The next example is the Kyle Hyde series. I say series but it’s really only 2 games (with no hope for a third unfortunately). The two games in this line up are: Hotel Dusk – Room 215 and Last Window – The Secret of Cape West. Another game in the mystery genre, Hotel Dusk and Last Window is essentially a Professor Layton game that has: less puzzles, swearing and it doesn’t hold your hand quite as much. This is quite similar to a point and click adventure (except you only tap the screen of your DS when investigating) where you find clues, question the people you encounter and solve a few puzzles along the way. The puzzles in this game require you to think a little more outside the box however. One example is when you have to perform mouth to mouth for someone (not spoiling who) and it is done by closing your Nintendo DS Screen and re-opening it. Like I said, out of the box. I’d also recommend this series to anyone who enjoys games like these.

These games are some of the gems of the puzzle and mystery games.

(As stated before) The reason why puzzle games are so great is because you get this satisfying feeling when you complete a puzzle and you know that you managed to do it in the end (Unless you cheated). It’s this moment of triumph, this “Ah hah!” moment that can make puzzles so addictive. The thing about these games is that they give you all the information you need to solve the puzzle before you start solving it (Professor Layton’s games has the info in the puzzle’s description and Kyle Hyde’s games make you use all the info you have gained to reach the end goal). In this scenario, you have all the information you need to solve the puzzle and the only thing in your way is yourself. If you are unable to solve a puzzle, it’s your fault. And not the fault of the game. It all comes down to comprehension skills, problem solving skills and logic.

But many Game Devs manage to fuck up this simple formula for success. For example: 3d Legend of Zelda games are culprits of this. There are certain puzzles that you need to zolve in this game in order to advance the story and complete dungeons. Some are easy but there are some puzzles that do not give you all of the information. If you walk into a room and see an obstacle in your way, you’ll try to get around it in some way. Eventually when you can get past it, you’ll start backtracking through the dungeon you just went through (to see if you missed something). Lo and Behold, you missed something that you were supposed to shoot with an arrow or some bullshit. Anyway, doing this will give you some kind of item that helps you get past that obstacle and, boom, you’re done.

And here is where we reach the crux of the problem. If you’re missing a piece of the puzzle then it’s not entirely your fault. You just didn’t have all of the information. So instead of the moment of triumph, the out loud exclamation of “Ah hah!” you’ll probably yell something along the lines of “Well shit!” or “Goddamnit!” or my personal favourite “Fucking really? What the Hell was that?!”

Anyway, the point is that all of the satisfaction that would come from solving the puzzle has been replaced by the use of minor profanity. Because you just spent the last fucking half hour going back through the dungeon that you had fought your way though just to shoot an arrow at a switch and now you’re on half a fucking heart. GREAT! THIS IS THE BEST FEELING! ‘Ahem’

Using puzzles in a game is an art. Just like verbal abuse, sarcasm and random outbursts… This says a lot about me doesn’t it? My point is, it has to be done right or it just turns out shitty and ruins the fun.

Well that’s about it for today. I hope you enjoyed reading my post on puzzles that actually make me use my brain for something (Not entirely used to it but whatever). If you have anything to say to me about this then please leave a comment and I promise to take the time out of my sad and miserable life to answer.

Thanks for reading!

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