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what game has the absolute best puzzles?

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Joined 2006-03-25

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I am like a heroin addict with adventure game puzzle design. I feel like I’m on an eternal quest for the most satisfying, intelligent, adult, creative, challenging problem-solving, and very few games live up to it. Almost all games, especially recently, even if they are “puzzle rich” really do not require much true thought to solve. You are more or less given everything you need within one or two scenes and you just put the things together, or you just trial-and-error until an item works. On top of that, a lot of games really hold your hand through it, and let the characters on screen more or less tell you exactly what you need to do. I want more layers than that, I want to feel like I figured it out on my own. I feel like 99% of games are at grade-school level with their puzzle design, when it’s totally possible to have college level. I’m not talking about 7th Guest style chess-puzzles either, I mean in-world, narrative problem solving.

Besides the 2-3 obvious choices like Monkey Island and Gabriel Knight which we’ve all played, I’d love a list of some of the games with the best, most satisfying and creative puzzle solutions I might have missed. I love all eras, but it’s always extra nice when it’s something recent so it feels fresh.


EDIT: I’ll try to update the list here…I’m going to leave off obvious choices for me and try to prioritize ones that I’m most intrigued by, so this might be very biased. If it’s * it’s just a reminder to myself I’ve already played it lol.


Deathgate
Hadean Lands
Discworld Noir
Memento Mori 2: Guardians of Immortality
Memoria
Police Quest III
toonstruck
primordia*
Blackwell Epiphany
donna avenger of blood
dead synchronicity
heroine’s quest
Keepsake
Cognition
Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav
Resonance*
Ghost Trick*
Edna & Harvey - The Breakout

Obvious picks:
Monkey Islands series
Day of the Tentacle
Gabriel Knight series
Broken Sword (I disagree but fine)
Myst series (these are less the puzzles I mean but great games)

     
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Welcome. Wink

     

Recently finished: Four Last Things 4/5, Edna & Harvey: The Breakout 5/5, Chains of Satinav 3,95/5, A Vampyre Story 88, Sam Peters 3/5, Broken Sword 1 4,5/5, Broken Sword 2 4,3/5, Broken Sword 3 85, Broken Sword 5 81, Gray Matter 4/5\nCurrently playing: Broken Sword 4, Keepsake (Let\‘s Play), Callahan\‘s Crosstime Saloon (post-Community Playthrough)\nLooking forward to: A Playwright’s Tale

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Joined 2010-11-16

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its reaaaally subjective. That feeling of layers and natural unfolding can execute perfectly for one person and not at all for another.
But that is my preference too: games that rely on multi-tasking and story to create an active puzzle atmosphere. 

Some more recent games that effectively do what GK1 does for puzzle immersion:
primordia
donna avenger of blood
dead synchronicity
heroine’s quest

     
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Total Posts: 2613

Joined 2004-08-02

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The games that spring to mind right away are:

- Toonstruck (I am currently involved in a community play through, and I think the puzzles so far have been really clever.)
- Day of the Tentacle: The whole time travel thing lent itself to some really ingenious time bending puzzles.
- Monkey Island 1 and 2: There are some really memorable innovative puzzles in the Monkey Island series. Insult sword fighting, the spitting contest, the whole voodoo doll recreation at the end of the game by utilizing the knowledge you had from before but in a different way. . Okay except for a couple of outlandish play on word ones *cough* Monkey Wrench .

     

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Joined 2004-01-06

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When I think about “best puzzles” in a game I think of something like Riven, Obsidian, Schizm, RHEM,...
But that doesn’t seem to be the type of puzzle you’re after.

     
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Joined 2011-03-14

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By far the most difficult game in recent years is Memento Mori 2: Guardians of Immortality .

It also have a very high variety in puzzle types, ranging from classic inventory puzzles, to reconstructing a crime scene, to shooting at items with your gun, to ... basically every single type of puzzle you can imagine, is somewhere in the game.

There is also Keepsake with a whole bunch of difficult logical puzzles. Cognition with it’s cleaver use of different supernatural abilities, and Dark Eye: Chains of Satinav and Memoria with a couple of clever puzzles, though the last three games is more what I would call medium difficulty.

     

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Joined 2011-10-21

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It’s not exactly what you’re looking for, since it’s mostly about individual puzzles and not about games filled with them, but this thread might interest you…

     

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Joined 2004-08-01

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I’d advise against keeping a list in the first post. Judging by how things work in this forum, pretty soon you’ll have a list of most computer games ever made.

For the TLDR audience, I’ve bolded the game titles.

To me, what makes a puzzle good is the feeling you get when solving it. It’s an “aha” moment of connecting the dots. To get there, a puzzle usually needs to be multi-layered and often requires clever re-use of something you’ve had lying around.
The obvious candidate is Grim Fandango - it has several situations where what’s stopping you isn’t Manny being stupid (unlike Cognition) but rather some assumption you (the player) are making without realizing it. To overcome them you have to think outside the box, which is quite satisfying.

A less known example is Death Gate, by Legend Entertainment. That game has probably some of the best-designed puzzles I’ve seen. My favourite is how they threw in something for flavor which becomes essential very late in the game - it’s basically what Grey Matter wishes it was.

     
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Joined 2005-08-12

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RockNFknRoll, I’m with you here. I was actually thinking about starting a thread similar to your own, and so I’ll be following this one closely.

As an obvious answer to your question, two words: Hadean Lands. I used to avoid text adventures, (mistakenly) thinking they were still stuck in the days of Zork, with dead ends and unfair puzzles, but the glowing review here convinced me to give it a chance, and it was a revelation. As you were saying, it takes puzzle design from grade-school level to college level. And it does it very cleverly, without ever feeling overwhelming or obscure (except maybe for one or two unfair puzzles). Solving the final puzzle was one of the most incredible experiences in all my years of gaming. If I were to describe that final puzzle, it would seem horribly abstract and complex, but the game has prepared you so well and carefully for it that it makes perfect sense when you get to it.

(However, be warned that it may ruin other games for you. Once you’ve solved puzzles at that level, going back to “pick up item, use it in the next room” feels a bit unsatisfying. It’s frustrating that, while they have made huge strides in storytelling, adventure games have progressed so little gameplay-wise. I mean, Colossal Cave introduced most of the genre’s tenets, Ron Gilbert modernised them with Monkey Island, and then there’s been almost nothing new for a quarter of a century. Except of course for those games that equate innovation with blending in extraneous elements (logic puzzles, platforming, QTEs…), but that’s not what this thread is about. The genre’s lack of innovation and experimentation gameplay-wise, even among indie games, is dispiriting.)

All right, more ideas: Resonance! Now there’s one game that is innovative. By allowing you to collect, use and combine ideas and memories just like you’d with inventory items, it opens up lots of new avenues for puzzle design. It doesn’t fully push its new mechanics to something as brilliant as Hadean Lands does with its own, but it’s still a very engaging and satisfying game to play. (The story’s interesting too, which is always welcome.)

I’ll second Antrax’s suggestion of Death Gate. That one doesn’t really innovate much (though it has a spell system that adds a little bit of variety), but its puzzles are just perfect. I can’t quite put my finger on what makes them so great and satisfying, but they are.

Ghost Trick (on NDS and iOS) is great as well. Letting you play as a ghost who can manipulate his environment and rewind time, it has lots of very clever puzzles that encourage experimentation and can get pretty complex as the game progresses. Great story and characters too.

     

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Joined 2008-07-05

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Kurufinwe - 22 March 2015 04:02 AM

Resonance! Now there’s one game that is innovative. By allowing you to collect, use and combine ideas and memories just like you’d with inventory items, it opens up lots of new avenues for puzzle design. It doesn’t fully push its new mechanics to something as brilliant as Hadean Lands does with its own, but it’s still a very engaging and satisfying game to play. (The story’s interesting too, which is always welcome.)

Definitely 2nd this. Resonance’s puzzles had such variety, were of excellent level of difficulty (tough at times, but never unfair - you always felt it was doable, rather than wondering if it’s just totally outlandish and unfair), and really well intergrated into the story (which as Kurufinwe says, is also very well told) as a whole. Definitely the best puzzle design I’ve seen in years…indeed I don’t think many of the old classics can hold a candle to it in this regard.

Others which haven’t been mentioned yet:

Blackwell, especially Epiphany. Not quite at the same level of puzzle design as Resonance, but there’s decent variety, sensible difficulty, and fit well into the story.

Whispered World for some I guess - I wasn’t a fan of the game overall, story bored me & I found the puzzles felt like deliberate road blocks all the time, but there’s certainly decent complexity in there.

 

     
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Joined 2005-11-29

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In terms of traditional adventure gaming puzzles, I have to put Day of the Tentacle way up there. Clever, challenging, but seldom outright frustrating. Very well designed.

     
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Joined 2003-09-16

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I am like a heroin addict with adventure game puzzle design. I feel like I’m on an eternal quest for the most satisfying, intelligent, adult, creative, challenging problem-solving, and very few games live up to it. Almost all games, especially recently, even if they are “puzzle rich” really do not require much true thought to solve. You are more or less given everything you need within one or two scenes and you just put the things together, or you just trial-and-error until an item works. On top of that, a lot of games really hold your hand through it, and let the characters on screen more or less tell you exactly what you need to do. I want more layers than that, I want to feel like I figured it out on my own. I feel like 99% of games are at grade-school level with their puzzle design, when it’s totally possible to have college level. I’m not talking about 7th Guest style chess-puzzles either, I mean in-world, narrative problem solving.

Funny, we were just talking about the dumming down of Casual games in that thread. The whole reason I started playing adventures was for the puzzles and exploration. I like logical and math based puzzles, but especially spatial quandaries - thinking in 3D, exploring a world, mechanical cause and effects, etc. My tastes are different than yours, but the end result is the same. Recent challenging adventures are hard to find.
While my list of great thinking games incudes old games like Riven, Schizm, Black Dahlia, Rhem, Obsidian, etc., I don’t think those would appeal to you. I’m going to suggest you try Machinarium and Botanicula.

     

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Joined 2004-08-01

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I’m actually afraid of Plotkin. I tried something of his a while back and it was way, way, way too difficult for me. That being said, you sure know how to recommend games.

     
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Joined 2005-09-29

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Broken Sword 1, from plaster of paris to buzzer hand.

For the most part , all the puzzles made sense with narrative and nature of the game.
And very creative.

Others,
Machinarium, Potal2, GK3.

     
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Joined 2012-07-11

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nomadsoul - 22 March 2015 12:54 PM

Broken Sword 1, from plaster of paris to buzzer hand.

For the most part , all the puzzles made sense with narrative and nature of the game.
And very creative.

You good sir, are in my good books. Grin

     

Recently completed: Game of Thrones (decent), Tales from the borderlands (great!), Life is Strange (great!), Stasis (good), Annas Quest (great!); Broken Age (poor)

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Antrax - 22 March 2015 12:51 PM

I’m actually afraid of Plotkin. I tried something of his a while back and it was way, way, way too difficult for me.

Yeah, Plotkin’s text adventures are notoriously difficult, although I think he made one for beginners that was doable.

     

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