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A puzzle can be recognized as a challenge, where there is no active agent against which the player is competing (Crawford), i.e. a puzzle is static. Typically, it will have at most a few correct solutions, requiring problem-solving skills (Rollings and Adams) rather than good hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes.

Perhaps the clearest form of challenge segmentation is the puzzle. However, it is a rare form of segmentation in early arcade games. The static nature of puzzles coupled with a slower pace and emphasis on problem-solving rather than reflexes probably limited the commercial potential of puzzle games in the arcade. Therefore, it is not surprising that this form of segmentation flourished with the advent of home computers.

Games that use puzzle segmentation present the player with a series of puzzles, which must be solved before the next one is available. At times the progression through puzzles of increased difficulty need not be strictly linear. A puzzle can be recognized as a challenge, where there is no active agent against which the player is competing (Crawford), i.e. a puzzle is static. Typically, it will have at most a few correct solutions, requiring problem-solving skills (Rollings and Adams) rather than good hand-eye coordination and quick reflexes.

This form of segmentation is commonly seen in adventure games. For instance, if the player must re-arrange items to open the fulcrum to a door, there is a clear instance of puzzle segmentation. In adventure games, it is usual for the game to be organized as a series of puzzles whose solution allows the player to progress through the gameworld.

Some questions that, if answered affirmatively, can strengthen the notion of challenge segmentation are:

  • Are the entities the player must manipulate static (vs. dynamic entities, such as enemies)?
  • Does the puzzle depend more on coming up with the response to a problem, rather than having good reflexes?
  • Is the player ‘stuck’ if she does not solve one of the puzzles (i.e. cannot advance to the next one)?

Strong Examples


The aim of this classic logic game is to place items into their correct position within a closed space, with as few movements as possible. The boxes can be moved one at a time, pushed, but not pulled. Only when all the items (boxes or balls) are in place, the puzzle is solved and the player can advance to the next one.

Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo

This timeless puzzle game features the simple aspects of combining puzzle gems and destroying them with power blocks in order to overwhelm their enemy and achieve victory. The uniqueness of this puzzle game is the simplicity of the learning curve, but the difficulty of mastering chain combos. The objective of the game is to keep your playing field as clear as possible while making your opponent's playing field fill over the top with gems.

Bust-A-Move 4

In the Puzzle Mode of this game, the player has to get rid of all the bubbles on the screen. The difference with the other modes of the game is that the player has a limited number of bubbles to throw. Aiming well is not all in this case, since choose carefully where to aim—strategy is key in these levels. Only when the player has cleared all the bubbles on screen, she can go on to the next level.

Grim Fandango

This entire game is based on its puzzles. You are given an open environment and have to locate items and properly apply them to the situations presented to you to progress through the game. You are given the freedom of a large area with multiple puzzles so you can do them in the order you want, but to progress to the next area all the puzzles of the current area must be completed.

Trace Memory

An adventure game, Trace Memory (Nintendo GBDS) exemplifies the concept of the "Puzzle" in game-sense. Narrative is progressed through a series of challenges (puzzles) which require problem solving skills, and cognitive reasoning versus player reflexes, and hand eye coordination. Puzzles are used as a means of exploring the world in which the main character exists, unlocking cut scenes and text which progresses the mystery based storyline. Interestingly, as a game on the innovative Nintendo DS consol, Trace Memory uses actual player interaction (movement/action) to solve unique puzzles in the game. For example, in one instance, the player must blow into the speaker to extinguish in-game candles. In a similarly interactive puzzle, the player must physically shake the consol, to remove dirt from an image in-game, thus solving the challenge.

The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages

Most of the Zelda games have elements of puzzles within each dungeon or level. There is a consensus that Oracle of Ages is very puzzle oriented, especially when compared to its sister game, Oracle of Seasons. In this Zelda title, the player uses a harp to travel back and forth through time to correct an imbalance in the present. Some of the puzzles have an added dimension to them. Advancement in a puzzle is dependent on what is done in the past. This creates a new challenge to the puzzles.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

As stated above, most, if not all of the Zelda games contain strong examples of puzzle challenges. In Majora's Mask, the player must manipulate different timeframes, interactions, instruments, and physical forms in order to progress through the stages efficiently. This provides a good example of a puzzle since everything must be done within very specific bounds, and at very particular times, with very little help. Along with the generaly gameplay within the gameworld, the player also encounters smaller puzzles and miniquests within dungeons and pre-dungeons which are necessary to complete in order to advance.


This is a one player puzzle game in which the player is given simple rules and a goal. They must use logic and problem-solving to find one of very few, and often only one, solutions to the puzzle, and achieve the goal.

Resident Evil 4

While not centered around the puzzles, Resident Evil 4 contains many of them. Some are necessary to complete to finish the game, but not all. They add fun to the game by changing the pace, so that the player doesn't become tired of the central gameplay of shooting zombies.

Devil Dice

Devil Dice is a puzzle game in which your character stands on top of a dice in which you navigate in order to numerically match up with the other die. For example, you have to match up 3 die that have the number 3 facing up. Once you match up the die, they disappear. The obect of this game is to beat the clock or an opponent. There is also a puzzle mode in which you are given a limited number of moves to match up the die.

Weak Examples


In WarioWare the whole goal is to figure out what each mini game requires you to do and complete it in ten second. The goal of the game is to quickly solve the puzzle. For example, stick a finger inside a nose by fitting it just perfectly before the time runs out. This is a weak example because of the timed nature of each challenge.


Each level in lemmings is a puzzle, in which the player must select certain lemmings, and assign them a task. The aim of the game is to bring as many lemmings as possible safely to the exit. Lemmings are active agents, many puzzles require timely intervention of the player, so it’s not a static puzzle, as required in the prototypical example. Each level in Lemmings presents a dynamic puzzle, which makes the challenge segmentation by puzzles weaker

Final Fantasy XII

There are simple puzzle segments scattered throughout this game, as in previous iterations of the series. For example, while in the palace in Rabanastre you must lure guards down hallways in a particular order to create a path by which you can navigate the halls without being seen. This puzzle exists outside of the game's normal rules (usually guards would just attack you) and serves to pace the game by taking a break from the action, but moments like this are exceptions, rather than rules.

Donkey Kong Country

Although there are certain hidden bonus stages within the game which can be viewed as puzzles themselves, clearing these stages are not required for success in the game overall. Furthermore, the difficulty of these bonus stages are more skill oriented than thinking oriented, meaning that one does not really have to think too hard to clear these stages so long as one is moderately deft at manipulating the controls.

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom

Lufia and the Fortress of Doom is an RPG for the SNES. It is largely based on its storyline and characters. The dungeons in the game often include mini-puzzles to solve rather than a maze of corridors, but the game is not puzzle-based. The mini-puzzles challenge the player beyond the skills of combat, but are not extensive nor present in the majority of gameplay, and thus qualifies as a weak example.

Quest for Glory II: Trial by Fire

Although this game requires the player to solve puzzles to progress the game and storyline, the puzzles are not static, and require the player to duck, grab and manipulate objects at certain moments in specific "puzzle" segments of the game to stay alive.

Relations with other elements of the Ontology



Crawford, Chris. Chris Crawford on Game Design. Indianapolis, Indiana: New Riders Publishing, 2003.

Rollings, Andrew, and Ernest Adams. Andrew Rollings and Ernest Adams on Game Design. Indianapolis, IN: New Riders Publishing, 2003.

Sokoban. Ascii Corporation (1984) Spectrum Holobyte: Apple II

Lemmings. DMA Design (1994) Psygnosis Ltd. 1991: PC