Puzzles vs. Phuzzles

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.

6 comments to Puzzles vs. Phuzzles

  • Uhh,really, there’s so many puzzles (on DS) that you won’t be able to finish them all even if you’d had 9 lives.

    From the top of my head:
    There’s a fairly solid Lemmings DS port, with touchscreen controls and the ability to load custom levels (and there’s, like, half a gazillion of them available).
    Hudson’s Puzzle series is a good thing to look at. There are some that uses wordplays, or need extensive kanji knowledge, but go with vol. 04 – Kakuro, vol. 05 – Slither Link, vol. 06 – Illust Logic (Picross), vol. 10 – Hitori, vol. 11 – Nurikabe, vol 12 – Akari and Illust Logic DS & Colorful Logic (Picross and colour Picross) for hundreds of hours of brainteasers.
    There are few others Picross games, but the interface on them is shit, really. Well, Puzzle Mate DS – Oekaki Mate is passable.
    Pic Pic is another good choice, as well as Prism: Light the Way.
    I guess you finished both Layton games already. Good thing there’s a third one coming. 🙂
    Square Enix’s Yosumin. DS is kind of interesting if you’re looking for a match-3 game that doesn’t feel like a rehash (because it’s not a match-3 game :)).

    Plus the GBA side of things (in alphabetical order, get Guru Logic Champ and Denki Blocks if you want just two):
    Chu Chu Rocket, Denki Blocks, Guru Logic Champ, It’s Mr. Pants, Kurukuru Kururin and Kururin Paradise, Lost Vikings, No no no Puzzle Chailien, Polarium Advance.

    And if you don’t abhor PC games, I’d highly suggest
    Deadly Rooms of Dead (http://forum.caravelgames.com/viewsitepage.php?id=90294) – three games, literally thousands of puzzles plus user generated content.
    And maybe Pixelus Deluxe if you happen to like Guru Logic Champ (shameless knock-off)

  • Nicola Nomali

    I bought Mole Mania for the O.G. Game Boy a few days ago, and it’s incredibly satisfying. Each level is a grid of self-contained screens in which you simply have to fling an iron ball into a stone blocking the exit, and the puzzling comes down into getting the ball over there from its starting place. You only have a few moves (push, pull, throw, reverse throw, and dig holes), but there are mitigating factors (balls revert to their starting position if they fall into any of your mole holes) that require you to carefully consider your actions from the outset. Likewise, each level introduces new objects that complicate the picture, but the small scale of each puzzle and the well-defined properties of said objects (weights that can be pushed but not pulled, barrels that plug holes but become roadblocks to your burrowing, etc.) keep the action fluent and logical.

  • RT-55J

    I like how The Incredible Machine games never had really complicated physics. Pity none of its imitators learned from that lesson.

  • DFalcon

    The only Flash physics puzzle I can recommend is Fantastic Contraption, and even in that you sometimes have to position-massage to see if a strategy’s going to be effective.

  • Metal Man Master

    I totally know what you mean by phuzzles there, because I’ve been stuck at this point in World of Goo’s third chapter where one stage has you climbing some spinning gear formations with one hard-to-climb one being placed near spikes, and with the other you have to time an explosion/drop sequence just right to blow up a pair of walls and then make a bridge from one side to the other without having the structure topple into the flames below. I adore World of Goo, but those Goo Physics can make some of those puzzles real nightmares.

    Of course, I could always choose to skip those stages for now, but that’s not as satisfying as conquering them.

  • Nick

    You might not know this yet, but you want to play a game called Catrap for the old faithful brick-shaped Game Boy. In this game you are one or two mysteriously-cat-ear-adorned persons who navigate a series of 100 grid-based vaguely platformy puzzle rooms.

    The goal is to defeat all of the monsters. The monsters sit there motionless, doing nothing particularly threatening or even ill-mannered. Indeed your task is to massacre these harmless creatures, juking into them from the side and causing them to explode and fall off the screen.

    There are ladders, boulders that fall, flying monsters which don’t, and a few other puzzly trappings. Interestingly you can use the A and B buttons to rewind and replay back through the state of the current screen, giving you licence to experiment with whether pushing that boulder off that ledge or digging through that square of dirt is a good idea or not. This ability will see much use if you play the game through its later levels.

    The first twenty are cake, the game showing you what it expects of you. The next thirty or so start to get interesting as these simple set pieces are put together in clever ways. The last quarter had me wracking my brain for many entertained hours.

    The tweedly-deedly-doos of the music don’t really hold up the hours of play available, so when they wear thin I recommend muting them and putting on your favorite smooth electro-jazz. There’s something magical about the combination of this game and a Ronald Jenkees station on Pandora radio.

    Thanks for the videos, and peace.

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