Given the state of technology during the inception of digital gaming, it is no surprise that many games relied heavily on puzzles. The limited resources on screen need to be used in conjunction with the player’s mind to create the largest, most engaging experience possible. Some of these games used the limited visuals paired with action gameplay, like platforming in Super Mario Bros. or sword-fighting in The Legend of Zelda, to create a challenging experience. Other games, however, used the limited visuals to present challenges, or puzzle the player.
Games like Lemmings and Tetris both present easy premises to the player, but put obstacles in the way to make the task difficult. In Lemmings players simply let a group of lemmings walk forward until they get to the gateway at the end of the level. This simple task of watching lemmings walk to the end of a level becomes much more difficult, however, when obstacles are put in the lemmings' way, like tunnels, cliffs, or even pits of lava. At that point the player must think of a way to safely advance beyond the obstacle, whether that be by building a platform for their lemmings or using a lemming to point others away from danger.
Similarly, someone playing a game of Tetris is given a simple task. The player is tasked with guiding falling blocks of different shapes towards the bottom of the play area, a tall rectangle. They need to make a horizontal line all the way across the play area to break that line of blocks, and cannot let the blocks stack up past the top of the play area, or they lose. This is easy at first, but as more lines are broken the blocks fall faster and faster making survival impossible. Even the best players will eventually run out of time to get their blocks into the proper place.
With only very limited resources, and through extremely different means these games challenge the player’s mind to create a difficult experience that can be enjoyed by people regardless of skill level, but has the depth that allows players to master the game. This concept allowed puzzle games to be a huge part of early gaming by appealing to not only those who played early home consoles but also the high score chasers in arcades used to the likes of Pac-Man and Ghosts ‘n Goblins. If it weren’t for the hardware limitations of the past puzzle games would likely have been significantly less common, and the modern puzzle gaming landscape could be a much more barren one.
Mitch is an avid player of role playing games, first person shooters, and retro classics. Running NES to PC and everything in between Mitch loves looking into what makes games great, and how that has and will change from the past to the future. Console, handheld, puzzle, or adventure, it’s all about the game.