A Guide to Puzzle Games
In a world where the gaming industry largely focuses on first-person shooters, role-playing games, and strategy games, puzzle games and the gamers who play them are often marginalized. In reality, however, puzzle games have the broadest appeal of any genre. In this genre guide, you’ll find out what they are, where they came from, and what kind of players will like them.
What Are Puzzle Games?
Though there are many different kinds of puzzle games, they all have one thing in common: they require good problem-solving skills.
Most puzzle games fall into the “casual gaming” category, though there are some exceptions. This is because they often have uncomplicated story-lines and mechanics, and don’t require a significant time commitment to finish.
There are four major types of puzzle games: action, hidden object, matching, and traditional.
Action puzzle games require quick thinking and timing in order to complete them. This sub-genre plays host to a diverse assortment of games, ranging from simple block puzzles like “Tetris,” to complex, graphical, story-based games like “Portal 2” and “Shadow of the Colossus.”
Hidden object puzzle games are essentially virtual scavenger hunts, where players must find and click on an object or objects in a given area.
Matching puzzle games involve matching objects with the same symbol, shape, or color in order to clear them from a board. Some matching puzzle games are known as Match 3 games, for the obvious reason that players must match three of the same items in order to clear them. The Bejeweled games, by Popcap Games, are a good example of this type of game.
Another type of matching game is called a “Chain-popper.” Chain popper games require a player to clear chains of objects, usually by launching objects with the same symbol, shape, or color at them. These chains are continually produced, so the two-fold goal of the game is usually to eliminate the chains entirely and prevent the chains from filling up the screen. Zuma, also created by Popcap Games, is a prime example of a chain-popper.
Traditional puzzle games are derived from types of puzzles that predated computers. This sub-genre includes computer versions of jigsaw puzzles, solitaire, and many different word and number puzzles.
The History of Puzzle Games
Many early games contained puzzle-related elements. One of the first true puzzle games, however, was 1982’s “Atari Video Cube,” a game that featured a simulated Rubik’s Cube. Nearly all of the early puzzle games, including this one, were originally developed for consoles, and were not incredibly popular.
In 1985, Alexey Pajitnov created “Tetris,” the puzzle game most often credited with popularizing the genre. It was originally a PC game, though Nintendo eventually released a Gameboy version and Atari released a version for their console. Today, Tetris remains not only one of the most popular puzzle games, but also one of the most popular games of all time, and is available for many computer operating systems and game consoles.
Several other important games emerged during the late 80’s and 90’s. In 1989, The Assembly Line developed a unique puzzle game called “Pipe Dream,” where players set pipe tiles to control the flow of toxic waste. A Windows version was released in 1990, packaged as part the “MS Windows Entertainment Pack,” along with “Minesweeper,” another puzzle game. A similar game to “Pipe Dream” called “Troubled Souls” was released for Mac computers in 1994.
“Lemmings,” widely considered to be one of the best puzzle games ever created, was released in 1991. “Lemmings” was a computer game where players were required to herd a group of mindless creatures to safety through many dangerous areas. Its popularity encouraged the development of several sequels, including “Xmas Lemmings,” “Oh No! More Lemmings,” “Lemmings 2: The Tribes,” “3D Lemmings,” and “Lemmings: Revolution.”
The 2000s saw an upswing in the development of internet-based puzzle games. Popcap games was and is one of the most successful and well-known online game studios, having produced the wildly popular “Bejeweled,” which was entered into the Computer Gaming World Hall of Fame. Popcap has produced many other games as well, including “Zuma,” a chain shooter, and “Alchemy,” a matching game.
Big Fish Games has been another important developer of online puzzle games during the 2000s. The Mystery Case Files games are some of their most well-known, and mix features of adventure games and hidden object games.
Many recent puzzle games have been and are being created by independent developers. In 2008, Kyle Gabler and Ron Carmel released World of Goo, a physics puzzle game for several different computer operating systems, including Windows and Mac OS X. The object of the game is to overcome terrain challenges using structures made from goo balls. It has garnered prestigious awards from many media sources in the gaming industry, including IGN, Gamespot, and Eurogamer. Other recently developed independent titles include “Braid,” a time-defying puzzle platformer created by Jonathan Blow in 2008, and “Osmos,” a biologically inspired action puzzle developed by Hemisphere Games in 2009.
Though many puzzle games are available online, developers continue to produce these games for traditional platforms as well, though most of these tend to be action puzzles. “Portal,” and its sequel, “Portal 2,” released by Valve Corporation in 2007 and 2011, are both good examples of timing-related action puzzle games. Both games were extremely successful.
Who Would Like These Games?
Puzzle games are perfect for people whose idea of fun is sitting down with a cup of tea and a sudoku pad. If a gamer gains satisfaction from solving problems, he or she will probably enjoy puzzle games.
While some of them require decent critical thinking skills, most puzzle games don’t require a significant time commitment. They also don’t generally require the same amount of hand-eye coordination that many first-person shooters and RPGs do. This makes many puzzle games, especially the online ones, also perfect for people who just want to sit down and distract themselves for a little while without the complications of paying attention to a storyline or keeping track of a character’s statistics.
Players who prefer to unwind by shooting people and blowing things up will likely not appreciate puzzle games, since most of them have very little to do with combat of any kind.