Today I want to talk again about puzzle games. After all it is the theme for this month. Now puzzles have always been something I have enjoyed ever since I was a kid. I have worked through many different types of puzzles as I grew up and completed many different puzzles while playing games either by myself or with friends. Yet, today I find myself wondering what it means for a game to be a puzzle game. I know that sounds a little weird, but I don’t think anyone would disagree with me that many games that have puzzle sections in them would not be considered puzzle games. Puzzles are meant to just be another challenge and not the main focus of the game. That shouldn’t sound weird to anyone. So as puzzle become a more important feature of the gameplay, that is when we start to see the inclusion of the phrase “puzzle game.” Now you may hear it referred to as a “puzzle platformer” or a “Metroidvania,” but those are just different ways of classifying a game that incorporates a lot of puzzle elements into its core gameplay. The difference in naming sense is just to give a better sense of the main focus of the game itself. Puzzler platformer should be self-explanatory, Metroidvania focuses more on exploration, deception games focus on deduction, and point-and-clicks focus on clicking every last little thing hoping you don’t spend a hour searching for just one piece of the puzzle. What I want to ask though is what makes a game transition from a puzzle game to just a string of puzzles?
Now I established earlier that the games that have certain special names allow for different ways of looking at puzzle games. they each have there own unique way of being considered a game. However, what if the game has nothing but you searching for puzzles. There is this game I play pretty casually every now and then called The Witness and your task is to find puzzles of varying difficulties throughout the island and eventually finish them to beat the game. as of time of writing, I have not beaten this game. I might do it one day though. The thing is that I walk around and find puzzles and don’t do anything else during the game, so does this mean that I am playing a game. In most puzzle games, in order to solve a puzzle you need to use your skill set to interact with the environment as a way to move forward. However, things work a bit differently in this game. You do have to use the environment in order to find the solutions to the puzzles, but you don’t gain anything from doing this except for more puzzles. The only real sense of progression you get is through the beacons you light up at the end of each section. So I am wondering if I am really playing a game or if I am just solving puzzles? It is possible that I am thinking too much as usual, but I feel like there is a distinction between the two. The environments are interesting, the puzzles are challenging, and the game itself is quite clever in its approach to exploration, so why do I feel like something is missing?
Let’s go to another series I have mentioned before to see if we can resolve this issue. The Room series is a point-and-click puzzle game series that I mentioned in the previous post. Each puzzle section is broken up into chapters and you have to use the environment to solve the puzzles at hand. Granted the puzzles are more involved than the ones in The Witness since you are not just trying to draw a path from point A to point B in various different ways each time. What matters though is that you spend time interacting with the environment in a way that makes you feel like you are there. The missing piece of a puzzle should always be you, the player and so naturally when there is progress is the game, you should see it as part of your direct actions. If I am playing a game, I want to feel like I am playing with something. Even if I don’t know the destination or end goal, I want to feel the little victories along the way. I guess if I were to boil down my thoughts on the matter I would put it like this: a game should be something you play rather than experience. I don’t have any problem with good experiences with puzzle or narrative story-telling. I just want to feel like playing a game feels like more than just doing the daily crossword. Well, boing honest I am more of a Sudoku man, but the point still stands. So in the end, I want to be the missing piece to the puzzle, not a guy who wanders around and finds puzzles on the floor.