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The Puzzle Games of Yore

Article posted on 6/4/2020

I’ve been thinking a lot about video games that have lots of puzzles in them lately. Maybe it’s because we’re approaching Father’s Day in a couple of weeks and I have fond recollections of playing things like Monkey Island and Myst in the den with my grandfather, or maybe it’s because the long days in quarantine are starting to force me into comfort through nostalgia. Either way, today we’re talking about puzzle games!

Honestly, “puzzle game” is a fairly broad term. You’ve got your literal puzzle games like your Match 3’s (Bejeweled, Candy Crush, etc.) or your “piece it all together” games (like Glass Masquerade), but then the concept of “puzzle” game widens with games like Myst, Portal, Monkey Island, and a huge host of others.

Ah, Guybrush Threepwood, you precious nerd, you.

The games that had puzzles woven in throughout their stories are what really gripped me as a kid and inform a lot of my opinions on what games I like and which jokes I tell even today. Sure, I still love a good game of Peggle now and then, but it doesn’t hold my attention for long. When I was young and played games with my grandfather, we spent months on some of them, painstakingly piecing out puzzles and sometimes taking week-long breaks when we had over thought it so much that we needed to walk away and come back later.

Mind you, this was well before the days of the Internet and being able to just look up an answer to a puzzle - we had to solve everything on our own! Honestly, I was either a lot smarter as a kid or just a whole lot more stubborn. When I played Professor Layton a few years ago I remember having to give up on a puzzle and look up the answer. My grandfather would have teased me for that, I’m sure.

I appreciate how well a lot of these games have aged, too. I missed a few good ones in my childhood like Maniac Mansion, Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and I was afraid that I wouldn’t enjoy these as much as an adult without the lens of nostalgia to aid me. I was pleased to be proven wrong, at least on Maniac Mansion - it was hilarious, the puzzles were clever, and I’m excited to play through some others that I’ve missed.

Even though it's not really a "puzzle" game, I feel like I should mention that I have Star Control II on my list of older games to play someday. I had started playing it awhile ago but - and this is sort of common for me - I got distracted with other things and never got back to it. I've sunk near 200 hours into Star Control: Origins, but that's really neither here nor there. Anyway, I include that game in this list because, while it didn't exactly have puzzles, it didn't provide you with a lot of guidance and left you to solve things and make decisions for yourself. It also contains a lot of the same kind of humor that charmed me in games like Monkey Island and Loom. 

Such a pleasant image, isn't it?

Now that I'm thinking about it, I guess the puzzle games I've mentioned are also point and click adventure games. Eh, what can I say? Sometimes genres blend.

While doing research for this piece, I found myself down plenty of nostalgic rabbit holes. It freaks me out a little bit that I consider Portal "nostalgic" (can you believe that it's been out for 13 years?), but I feel like I can't write a piece about puzzle games without mentioning it. It is definitely a leap from the point and click adventures of my childhood, but the cheeky humor was still there in abundance as I struggled to be "big brain" enough to get through the challenges with ker-splatting myself on a wall somewhere. Or ending up on the business end of a turret which, I'll be honest, happened a lot more often than I'm comfortable admitting.

My friend, the cube. Why, cruel world? Why?

Do you have any favorite puzzle or point and click adventure games? Or maybe you have a favorite puzzle within a game that you remember and won't ever forget - share that with me, too! I have to say, it astonishes me sometimes that I can remember every single solution to all of the Monkey Island games after 25 years, but I can't remember what the heck I had for breakfast this morning.

Have a suggestion for a blog or a topic you'd like to see discussed? Let me know in the comments!