Loving puzzle games used to be easy. Even though there are very few commercial games that are actual for-real puzzles (as opposed to blocks-a-falling and/or match-the-colors), that empty space in my heart used to be filled by Flash games. Puzzle games don’t need cutting-edge visuals or novel interfaces… they just need to be a single solid idea re-arranged in a few dozen different ways. It was the perfect spot for an amateur designer to cut his teeth.
Then some asshole went and implemented “realistic” physics. If I could vote to have that dude drawn and quartered, I would.
The purest form of puzzle, to me, is one that has a logical solution and clear rules. The rules need not be clear at first, but you should be able to figure them out by playing with the puzzle and interpreting its feedback. Once you know the rules you should be able to work the puzzle itself, each move logically derived from the last. If you make a mistake and have to start over, you should see progress being made in each new attempt.
I mentioned that I’m playing Exit on PSP. Aside from the odd bullshit death where my guy didn’t jump when I tell him, I would call it a pure puzzle game. Your little man runs and jumps on platforms but it is not a platformer. Your position, height, momentum, and even the direction you’re facing are all important puzzle elements. You move pieces around the game world. You are unraveling something.
These physics puzzles, or “phuzzles”, are different. You don’t make logical moves based on some simple rules. Instead, you make nearly-logical moves based on some extremely complicated rules. Rules that you, the player, can never fully understand.
Remember that scene in Jurassic Park where Jeff Goldblum put two drops of water onto the same spot on his hand, each in turn, and they drained off in different directions? He was demonstrating chaos theory, and that’s why phuzzles fall apart.
You can understand, intellectually, that you need to remove the square block to make the round block roll down the slope, knocking the triangle block off in such an arc that it lands on the platform that wins the level. You could execute this maneuver ten times and get ten different results, though. If your cursor is a pixel off, you might fail the level by one pixel. That’s not a mistake you can learn from. You don’t make progress between failures, you just rack your brain trying to remember which goddamn pixel you clicked.
Some phuzzles are so poor they actually have subjective solution states. You’ll know you’re playing one of these because there will be an onscreen timer that counts down three seconds before it lets you win. In these games you don’t win by finding the solution; you win by finding a configuration that looks like a solution for three consecutive seconds.
Look up a cat named Tasslefoot on YouTube. He uploads walkthrough and solution videos for phuzzles almost exclusively, each one more pedestrian than the last.
So I have Exit to finish, and I have Picross 3D waiting after that, and then I don’t know what. Nobody’s designing solid Flash puzzles anymore, and why would they? They can just implement the same physics engine everyone else is using and then draw cuter faces on the blocks than the last guy did.