We’re all big into video games, and that means we’re likely very good in at least one particular puzzle game. We’ve been challenged, or made our own challenges, and we emerged victorious. Some of us may have won with a bit of smack talking (“take that, NES computer!”), and some of us may have been more polite (“sorry, Mom… you started out good!”), but what this round table concerns is learning just what our personal best puzzle games are– and if they’re actually our favorites.
This one’s a toughie– for one, there are so many puzzle titles I want to say I’m good at, when I actually really, really suck. And even though there may actually be a few puzzle titles I’m good at, I also don’t want to put my fellow staffers to shame.
Personally, I’d say I’m best with the best, which would be Tetris. For as long as I can remember, we’ve had that game in some way, shape or form in the household, so being raised with it probably helps. And now with the Nerfing of the classic with the allowance of ghost pieces, seeing the next five Tetriminoes that come up, and the infinite rotation of a piece, I can easily whomp 200 levels to “beat” the game.
Another title I can say I’m (relatively) good at is Yoshi’s Cookie, an understated gem of a title. And while I would love to say I rock at Dr. Mario and any of the Panel de Pon titles, the simple truth of the matter is that those can really kick my ass.
My puzzle love is relatively new. For the longest time, it was my absolute least favorite genre. I got into gaming because of 2D fighters and platformers, so I was mostly an action gamer back in the day. I remember playing some Tetris when I was a kid, but I was never good at it and got bored quickly. Puzzle games lacked cool characters, stages, items and other elements that I loved in other genres.
It wasn’t until around 2006 that I discovered Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and while I never became genuinely good at it, I was instantly addicted to the gameplay. Being able to beat the first couple of bosses was enough for me to have a lot of fun. Later I learned the core game was called Puyo Pop, and I started playing free PC clones and eventually got Puyo Pop Fever for Nintendo DS. I fell in love with puzzle games.
Whole console generations later, I decided to give Tetris a second chance. The result? Tetris DS is one of my most played games right now. It’s fun, addicting and competitive, I can almost relate it to my love for fighting games in that aspect. Now I know how to play it, but the truth is, I’m still not a remarkably good player. I get consistently owned by more experienced players, but I still have a lot of fun playing.
You want a puzzler that stands above the pack? There are a ton. Tetris is an obvious choice, but it’s obvious because it’s so fantastic and set a standard that has yet to be surpassed. I’m going to mention something else here because Tetris is going to see plenty of praise this week. I’m going with Donkey Kong ’94. The original Donkey Kong was an action game, pure and simple. You had to be quick, but thinking took a back seat to quick reflexes. Not so with the Game Boy remake. Mario had several of the powers he would have in 3D, like the triple jump, and finding ways around obstacles required use of Mario’s abilities in inventive ways.
Even elements from Super Mario Bros. 2 showed up, like lifting items and using keys. Fighting DK himself was a chore for the brain, as you had to figure out what to do at certain times, like climbing vines around Donkey Kong Jr. or standing Mario on his head so that he could kick falling barrels away. And who knew the secret to beating Donkey Kong was just finding a Fire Flower all along? A priceless game; one that has yet to see its equal.
While I enjoy puzzlers, I’m not really that great at any one franchise or game within the genre. Maybe if there were a competitive mode in either of the two Professor Layton games released in the U.S., that would change.
But, pressed to pick one game, I would dig up Tetris for NES and lay down a line challenge. You may beat me at first, but ultimately, my undying desire to have you lay beneath my feet in pity would help me become champion. Yes, you could say I’m a bit competitive.
Add to that my love for Tetris games. While entranced with Tetris DS for a couple of months in college, I remember seeing the falling tetrominoes magically appear before my eyes in class. I couldn’t concentrate on anything. If I focused on the chalkboard or whiteboard, they would slowly fill with pieces. Maybe I’m a bit crazy, but I believe this is a sign of a truly great puzzler.
I may be wrong about this, but I’m guessing most of the staff grew up with Super Nintendo. But not me. I grew up with Sega Genesis. That’s why my all-time favorite puzzle game is easily Columns. It has extremely addicting music and challenging gameplay. I would rather play Columns than Tetris any day.
Some people think that they’re amazing at Columns when all they play is the single player mode. Truth is, the arcade mode is much more difficult. In arcade mode, my high score is over 200,000. When Columns hit the VC, it was an instant buy for me. I also bought Columns III: Revenge of Columns when it hit the VC, but even though the game featured more modes, I felt it was inferior to the classic. I have spent more time playing Columns than any other puzzle game out there, and I would argue that it is one of the best puzzle games of its time. It was Sega’s Tetris, and the series is long overdue for a new title.
Oh my, Tetris has been talked to death, hasn’t it? But then, I think “Tetris” and “puzzle” are two synonymous words within our culture. However, and this is the thing, although I loved Tetris, I never found myself able to play it for long. Tetris 2 was… well, not a great game per se — more of a rip-off of Dr. Mario, but I liked it. Looking back, I do remember playing a lot of Yoshi’s Cookie and the original Yoshi, though; decent games, nothing spectacular. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the Super Scope Six and Columns.
Recently, or perhaps not so recently as I think about it a bit, I had heard of fighting games that seem incomplete, or rather, that they seem to draw upon one small aspect of a game and try to sell it as an entire experience. While great, I feel much the same way about puzzle games; they’re sort of a loose game, something you would expect as a mini-game. I feel that all of the games I’ve already mentioned can be categorized this way.
One game that I have played somewhat recently, however, has taken the seemingly mini-game-esque nature of the puzzle genre and turned it into something that, to me, felt like a whole or else complete game: Puzzle Quest. Not any of the newer ones mind you, but the original. Seriously. This game is so… amazing. You’re battling to the death by moving gems over a board. Beyond that, the writing is hilarious without sacrificing intelligence. I have honestly put 40-60 hours onto my Puzzle Quest save and I do not regret a moment of it; it’s a fun, long game that hooked me from the start and kept me playing.
M. Noah Ward
What I want to put here is Tetrisphere, because it was so unique, had great Neil Voss music, and was just darn fun. Or I’d put the original NES Dr. Mario, as I had a great time challenging my friends, my eyes glazing over as I dropped red, yellow and blue pills in a near trance-like state. Then there were the shouting matches and playful shoves during victories and losses in N64’s New Tetris. But to call out those favorites would be to deny the hours I spent playing multiplayer against strangers around the world in Tetris DS. How I thrilled to get the “all line pieces” power-up in 4-player versus, or turn the tide of an extra-long Push Mode battle against a super-savvy Japanese gamer. Like with so many other games, playing real people– whether I knew them or not– was so much more exciting than challenging the computer. After months of this divine after-work routine, I now expect, nay, demand every puzzler with a competitive versus mode have online play support, because I can’t always get my friends together for split-screen madness at the drop of a hat.