Whatever Happened to the Puzzle Genre?

Is it wrong to enjoy a video game that doesn't rely on graphics, but on a solid story that requires mental aptitude to puzzle out? Is it wrong to be disgusted at franchises that pump out the same title year after year, yet deliver only a few superficial changes in each rendition? Is anyone else as angry as I am that all the big titles in console games these days are First Person Shooters? As you can see, I am one seriously disgruntled consumer. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy Call of Duty as much as the next guy, but the same type game gets old fast.

I can still remember the golden ago of video games, back in the 90's, when the adventure genre offered so much promise. Game series like Kings Quest and Monkey Island were spectacular. The unique puzzles were all so much fun to figure out, and best of all, they were actually popular! Today, we can still see descendants of the old puzzle/adventure games, but there isn't even enough content to call it a genre anymore.

For you newbies out there who came too late for the adventure games heyday, I must urge you to go find some of these games. You can even use Xbox Live to download the first two Monkey Islands, but I wouldn't stop there. While the puzzle genre may not be as glorious as it used to be, there are a few recent titles that do it justice.

For the Xbox, Braid is a beautiful and harrowing game that uses time manipulation as the basis for its puzzles, and it is quite possibly the best bang for your buck you can find. An independent publisher called Telltale games has also been releasing adventure games in episodic format, most notably Sam & Max Save the World, and Tales of Monkey Island.

Today, we face a crisis. The emphasis on visuals has created a plague of superficial games that look amazing yet deliver none of the intellectual stimulation that we so desperately need. What is worse is that this mentality is being reinforced by consumers buying these products at face value. They see a game that looks stunning and assume that it must be as fun as it looks. For the adventure game, the graphics have always been one of the lowest priorities. Emphasis has always been on a quality story with puzzles that help immerse you in the experience.

Compare this to the priorities seen in a FPS like Call of Duty: graphics and more powerful physics engines are generally all that changes from one game to the next. Perhaps this is why the FPS has come to dominate the market; it is so much easier to tweak and enhance appearance and game mechanics than it is to create a storyline that involves you. A quality-rich unique title is infinitely harder to make than adding simple engine modifications, a few new levels, and calling it a sequel.

Pushing the envelope has become reduced to refining already existing processes, not creating new ones. And why bother when the public barely even notices when you do achieve greatness by putting your heart and soul into an adventure game? This is what happened to Grim Fandango, the last and greatest foray into the adventure game by Lucas Arts (who helped kick start the entire genre with Maniac Mansion back in 1987). Please, do not go gently into the night, adventure game aficionados! Rage, Rage against the dying of the genre!

Here is a list of puzzle games you all should check out:
Braid
Portal
Grim Fandango
World of Goo
Escape from Monkey Island

- Drew Jaques

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