8 Cliche Puzzles That Are In Every Goddamn Adventure Game

By Andy Hughes in Daily Lists
Friday, April 11, 2014 at 6:00 am


As a card-carrying fan, I'll be the first to say that playing adventure games means putting up with a lot of bullshit. Why bash adventure gamers, you may ask? All they want to do is wander around empty houses and be told "I can't use that here" 50 million times in peace. But now that Telltale Games and Broken Age are flying high, I think the genre can handle a bit of a ribbing. We'll survive.

Many moons ago, Old Man Murray did a classic and hilarious takedown of us'n adventure folk that gets at something you can still see today: the idea that adventure gamers are more "intelligent" just because they'd rather pretend to be a depressed rabbi or suicidal middle-aged widow than a burly grimacing dude toting a gun. Some of this superiority has translated into certain sense of inclusiveness, which extends to puzzles and concepts that seem to always show up, despite the fact that we all know about them by now or they were never great ideas to begin with. Back in the day, some of them made have been novel, but in the 21st century using one of these creaky old saws makes it seem more like a developer's spent too much time camped out at TV Tropes.

I used to stick to the whole "adventure games are more realistic" argument when I was younger, but you're not really any more likely to wind up in most of the following situations than you are to be mowing down zombie aliens in a blood city made of explosions. If you don't like adventure games, here's more ammunition for your arguments, and if you do, then enjoy your tortured flashbacks.

8) The Copy Protection Puzzle

Not as common anymore, but back in the day these babies were a dime a dozen. You could be in the middle of a game, getting immersed in the experience, when all of a sudden a text box would bust in and be all like PLEASE ENTER SYLLABLE 2 OF WORD 43 ON PAGE 57 OF THE GAME BOOKLET (it's only slightly better than the tutorial missions in games from the early 00's, where characters would say things like "We have to get off this ship! Press the action button to exit this menu, now!"). Some games were cleverer than that, but the result was almost always just as drudgeful as looking stuff up and typing it in.

I have no idea whether these were statistically effective tools in blocking piracy at the time: my guess is a no since, as the video from LGR points out, there have always been ways to circulate the feelies and get past these annoying question prompts. Probably the most important effect of these tedious mini-research exercises was helping kids figure out early on whether they were fit for a career in law, which is essentially one long copy protection puzzle after another. Or so I imagine.

7) Impersonating Someone/Making a Disguise

Identity theft claims thousands of people every day in the modern United States alone, and yet pretty much every adventure game hero has had to pretend to be someone they're not at least once, sometimes multiple times, usually to gain access to private information.

It might be a a photo pasted on a stolen ID, or an expert disguise, or even a full facsimile of a person, but you know Jason Bateman weeps every time you make a mockery of this very serious crime. He doesn't weep when you have to make a mustache out of cat fur, though: he just gets very confused.

6) The Old "Knock the Key Out of the Other Side of the Keyhole" Trick


Have you ever had that sinking feeling that you left your keys in your front door? That must happen to a lot of people in the shared multiverse of gamedom, because this puzzle is so old they were probably whispering it around the campfire during particularly boring paleolithic creation myths.

Basically, as Jim Dale would say, the facts are these: you find yourself in a room with a locked door. The key that you need is still in the lock, but on the other side. What do you do? If you're reading this and have no idea, then your life is even sadder than the people who do know the answer, but those people are probably already hardened alcoholics anyway. Suffice it to say it involves something pointy, something flat, and a willful ignorance of the variables that would make this frustrating if not impossible in actual practice. Thank the gods that most (but not all) adventure heroes live in a world of either flat keys or entrances that are weirdly high off of the ground.

5) The Awkward Fight Scene in a Game That Isn't Supposed to Be About Fighting


Not really a puzzle, I guess, so much as just something I've noticed time and time again. As I said above, there's a fallacy that adventure games are more "lifelike " in that you don't usually find boxes of ammo scattered everywhere in meatspace or use them to fire rounds into everyone you encounter. IRL, it would more likely come down to you and the things in your pockets, provided those pockets were prodigious and could allow you to access them instantly. Violence is, therefore, highly illogical.

Well, if these games are all so hippy dippy, then why are some designers so quick to throw in moments where you suddenly have to act as if you're Charles Bronson or something, and fast, to boot? The Obligatory Fight Scene usually feels desperate and insecure, as if the game really believes that punching people for a few seconds will make up for the previous frustrating hours we've spent clicking on random stuff for no reason.

David Cage at least doused Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain with enough quicktime events that we kind of knew what buttons to jab when the time came, but The Last Express all but guarantees you will get stabbed many, many times by angry rotoscoped Serbians as you figure out where to click and when (not knocking that game though: I tease because I love). I guess this is one case where the genre really does prove realistic, because the unfortunate scene pictured above is probably more or less what would happen to me in any kind of katana-based situation.

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