What is a puzzle game?
Why am I asking this? And when am I going to stop asking questions relentlessly?
Right now. The reason I’m bringing this up is that, well, since we’re focusing on puzzle games this week, I figured it was worth exploring. What constitutes a puzzle game? This is starting to sound abstract, but there’s a purpose behind my hammering away at the concept.
You might say that Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a puzzle game. I mean, “puzzle” may well be the most-used word in the script. But isn’t it an adventure game? That’s what all the gallivanting around remote British towns is all about. I’ll give you that Professor Layton’s outing can be classified as puzzle games due to their extremely high puzzle content. But what about something like Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney? That’s not completely dissimilar from what we’re talking about, and using your brain is definitely a part of the whole experience.
Usually, when I think of something as a “puzzle” game, I’m thinking of Tetris or Dr. Mario. Something that involves moving or falling pieces. Columns or Qix. A game that’s about completing a specific goal in a specific amount of time. Meteos or Pokemon Trozei. I might also make room for something that’s not time-based, something that simulates a regular mind exercise, like crosswords or Sudoku.
But then things get muddy. At what point do we draw the line? The Zelda games have puzzles in them, but I don’t think anyone’s going to argue that they can be termed as puzzle games. There are literally dozens, if not hundreds, of games that contain puzzles that do not fit into the genre. So, yeah, I think we can allow that stuff like Resident Evil 4; games that have puzzles within them but do not primarily consist of them.
There are other games that toe the line, though. I’m talking about A Boy and His Blob or Donkey Kong ’94. Those two games definitely fit in to the category of what you might call “puzzle-platformers,” And yeah, you’re guiding Mario or the Blob around the landscape, but a great deal of what you have to do is… ahem… puzzle out exactly how to do it.
There are even games that I would consider puzzle games that creep into other genres. You could say that ChuChu Rocket! is more of an action game at times, especially with its quick-paced multiplayer face-offs (in which each player tries to direct the “meeces” into his or her own rocketship). Wario’s Woods even has platformer elements, as the game is played by guiding Toad amongst the columns of monsters and bombs.
All in all, it’s evident that being Tetris, or something very similar, isn’t necessary if a title wants to be called a puzzle game. That being said, merely containing puzzles isn’t enough to merit the title, either. The truth is, whether or not something is a puzzle game is somewhat determined by the eye of the beholder, or, perhaps, the player. I’m glad we were able to get all this sorted out.