Every Puzzle Games is Better than Halo
I’ve got good news and bad news. Let’s start with the bad news, because when more people stop reading after the first few sentences I don’t have to worry about proofreading as much:
Puzzle games are the best kind of games in the industry—all others are provably inferior.
…now that I’ve lost most of my audience, I can share the good news: every game is a puzzle game.
Let me elaborate.
First, I’d like to expand on my first point, that puzzle games are the best in the industry: the reason I say this is because the video game industry by and large have three ways to reward people for playing their game—Content, Discovery, and Achievement. The “Content” reward is basically the least satisfying, where a game will reward a player with content and other in-game items for competing in-game tasks. While it can be cool to get a new sword or a nifty new hat, the novelty is quickly dissolved when you see the item is either A) entirely useless, B) eventually going to be replaced anyway or C) Is the best weapon/item the game can offer you, indicating you’re effectively ‘beaten’ it and it can offer you nothing more to discover. Diablo is a prime example of content-based rewards, or any MMORPG you might pick up.
Discovery is the next best reward system, because it’s neither useless nor replaceable. It’s when a player discovers something in a game—be it a new area, or a new chunk of lore—that widens the scope of the game and/or helps them understand just what it is their virtual avatar has been working for. It’s a great feeling that can be really engaging, but it’s also one of the hardest to get in a game because it requires a player to be invested enough in the world and story of the game to care about unlocking more of it.
This leads us to the third reward system: achievement. This is when the player does something that makes them feel proud of themselves simply because they DID it–when they kill a really difficult boss, or when they solve an 80-Picarat puzzle in Professor Layton, they feel good because they overcame a real challenge that would have been easier to just walk away from. They WIN, basically.
Now, most games generally offer a version of all three rewards: When you beat a big boss, you usually get a new item, access to a new area, and a feeling of having done something awesome. But what puzzle games do (far better than any other game I can think of) is offer us a distilled and utterly pure version of the third and final system. Going back to Professor Layton, when you’re presented with a puzzle, it isn’t a virtual challenge to a virtual character—it’s a very REAL challenge, designed for you, testing skills you use in everyday life, like critical thinking and logic. So when you complete it, you don’t need to see the professor do a little happy dance to tell you “NOW IS THE TIME FOR CELEBRATION”, because you already feel good about yourself. It’s one thing to see a character overcome something with your HELP—You may guide Nathan Drake through those ruins and the waves of enemies within them, but he’s the one doing all the running, jumping, shooting, ect. With a puzzle game, it’s always only about you and your brain power: you may not be doing all the jumping in Braid, but the jumping isn’t the POINT in Braid: The puzzles are. And Tim has no hand in solving those.
And that’s the best feeling gaming has to offer. Think about what gaming is ABOUT—empowerment, and putting yourself in the shoes of a virtual protagonist. Puzzle games don’t have that, because you are the very REAL protagonist. No imagination necessary.
Now, for my second point: EVERY game, in some capacity, is a puzzle game, and I think you already know how. No matter what game you play, from Call of Duty to Elmo’s Number Journey, there is always an element of problem solving that will allow a player to feel a similar rush when they overcome a challenge presented by the game. To continue using Call of Duty, consider playing any old level—while reflexes and accuracy are the most important qualities any good CoD player will need, you’ll need a lot of quick thinking and clever ideas to make it out in once piece in many situations. Do you shoot the soldiers behind the cover across the room, or do you throw a flash grenade so you can focus on the soldiers about to attack you from behind? How about Multiplayer? Do you team up to kill the player who’s dominating the game, or do you try to catch up by picking off his significantly weaker n00b teammates?
Dark Souls is another example, because I think I’m required by law to site it every time I write an article. The whole game is one big puzzle—you have to learn where the enemies are, how they attack, their behavior, and you have to figure out how you can use your stats and what you have in your inventory to get through to the next bonfire. Use the wrong weapon the wrong way against the wrong enemies? Say goodbye to your humanity, buddy.
My ultimate point is this: in this writer’s humble opinion, the best kind of rewards don’t lavish your virtual avatar with bling or cash, but reward the person holding the controller. And puzzle games do this better than any other genre of game I can think of, because there’s no ‘middleman’ between the player and the problem they’re presented with—just raw, uncut challenge for the player to overcome.
If you can think of another kind of game that does it, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.