Game Puzzles and Why Modern Games Fail to Engage

    I think one of the most misunderstood pieces of games is puzzles. Most people know about puzzle games like Tetris, Dr. Mario, and Eggman’s Mean Bean Machine. All classic puzzle games can test you with the complex puzzles found in them. I think most forget that puzzles are smaller parts of bigger games. For every Professor Layton game, you have a Spider-Man PS4. Almost every modern video game has some puzzle mechanic, and today I want to discuss why I don’t like them. These games give puzzles a bad name, so let’s dissect exactly why they just don’t work.

    Resident Evil 4 has easy puzzles.

    What Are Puzzles?

    Just so we are on the same page, let’s define what I am referring to when discussing puzzles. Most modern video games generally have three ways to present puzzles to the player. The puzzle can be a straightforward puzzle, such as Tetris, where it tells you to fit the pieces in specific ways to earn the most points. Exploration can be a puzzle in games such as Resident Evil and Silent Hill, where the tricky part is finding the pieces in the environment to figure out where to go. The third way a puzzle can be presented is when dialogue and evidence are utilized to solve logic puzzles, like Phoenix Wright or LA Noire. All these puzzles are valid and can be very engaging when done well.

    The problem arrives when games take one of these puzzle mechanics and don’t make them engaging or interesting. For example, in most Resident Evil games, the puzzle is exploring a vast mansion and figuring out where to go or which items you need to proceed. Resident Evil 4, for all its amazing qualities, has a very barebones puzzle, as the game rarely asks to explore or make decisions for the sake of solving a puzzle. The game is linear and always gives you the key item to solve puzzles very quickly. Since Resident Evil 4 was designed to be a linear action game, this isn’t a problem, but most people agree that the puzzles are subpar.

    Pipe Puzzle?!?

    Why Should I Bother?

    One of the most crucial missteps a game can make is when it presents a mechanic that the player is not interested in engaging with. If you have so little faith in your puzzle that you give the player the ability to skip it, then why is it in the game? The most recent example is Gotham Knights and their investigation gameplay. They dedicate sections of the campaign to moments where you solve a puzzle using your big, massive brain. You have some pieces of evidence you can read, and the game gives you a pretty simple mystery to solve. Most of these puzzles can be solved pretty easily, but the games give you the ability to skip them. With a press of a button, you can skip an entire gameplay section in the video game you bought with money.

    I cannot fathom why you would code a gameplay mechanic and then repeat that mechanic throughout the game and give the player a skip button. I’m sorry, but if you put puzzles in your game, make me complete them. They did the same thing in Spider-Man PS4 with pipe puzzles.

    puzzle video game

    Solving the Riddle

    Don’t put puzzles in the game if you don’t expect the player to solve them. No one would complain if you took out the puzzles in God of War Ragnarök. If you put puzzles in your game, do not let the NPC solve the puzzle, and please stop putting pipe puzzles in your video game. There are so many interesting puzzles to engage the player, and I don’t think I have ever failed a pipe puzzle in my life. Puzzles should be used to enhance the experience, not add another thing to the to-do list. Uncharted used puzzles very well as a means to break up the action set pieces. They also required map knowledge and the ability to traverse the play space.

    The gameplay shouldn’t be skippable!

    A Puzzling Conclusion

    While I don’t believe that puzzles should not be removed in their entirety, puzzles need to be reworked in modern games. Micro puzzles are perfectly fine and are more than welcome if utilized correctly. Breath of Wild had these micro-dungeons all over the open world, and most of them had these small puzzles to complete. They utilized the physics-based mechanics that the game had been teaching you and allow for creative solutions. Even modern single-player movie games can have great puzzles, such as the rats in the Plague tale game that came out this year. The main takeaway is, don’t put in token elements like stealth takedowns and puzzles if you aren’t going to make them engaging and interesting. No segment of your game should be skipped by the player if it might make them say, “why should I even bother”. Creative use of puzzles is welcomed and should be incorporated properly to engage the player.

    Bolt9236 loves video games of all shapes and forms. Some of his earliest gaming experiences was playing CO-OP games with his Dad. Believes that video games are the best art form and loves to explain the complicated history of video games. His opinions are his own even if their not popular.

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