Games of the Year: Attack of the Puzzle

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My two games of 2011 are actually from a genre that I usually scoff at–the puzzle adventure.

Most puzzles in long games disappoint me. Ever since the Zelda franchise lumped 3D switch-hunting quests into maze-like labyrinths, I've loathed a wide variety of block-shifting stumpers. Catherine changed my entire mindset, though.

Rather than pushing me through a cumbersome "find the switch" task, Catherine presented me with a tower of blocks that I had climb. This game from Atlus was still insanely hard, but it was actually fun. I could craft my own bridges to cross some seemingly impossible gaps.

Catherine gameplay

The epic Jenga-like adventure had a twisted romance horror story that kept me hooked for hours on end. Catherine is just as much about the intricacies of infidelity as it is about solving block problems. I especially enjoyed the final battle of wits with a psychotic demon at the very end of the game.

Catherine even included a boat-load of extra features. The achievements/trophies alone are worth everything, because they can unlock extra songs on the jukebox in the Stray Sheep bar. My character could learn random tidbits about alcoholic beverages if he drank three glasses at the bar. He could collect juicy pictures on his cell phone. He could even play a fun retro arcade machine next to the jukebox.

Portal 2 gameplay

Catherine wasn't the only puzzler that kept me hungry for more. Portal 2 immersed into one of the best franchise sequels in recent years. Portal 1 was good, but the sequel blew it out of the water with a single-player mode that lasted more than 10 hours.

The story alone was worth experiencing. Rather than presenting an ordinary test chamber atmosphere, Portal 2 took me through one of the more horrific journeys through a post-apocalyptic underworld. It included Wheatley, an especially unforgettable British eyeball robot who could ramble endlessly. The voice actors even poked some random inside jokes involving potatoes, coffee chemicals and combustible lemons.

The puzzles were probably the most magnificent achievement of this sequel. The journey showed off some amazing 3D liquid effects in the second half of the game. The bouncing physics allowed for entertaining experiments with turrets and companion cubes.

I wish that the entire series could have extended for at least 11 more sequels. I suppose all these 3D concepts would tire out the developer of the game, Valve. Still, I would have liked to play Portal 13, so that I could say that it was better than Final Fantasy 13.

Other developers should take notes from Catherine and Portal 2. They made puzzles fun again. There should be no reason why other companies shouldn't take their inspirations from clever block-shifting tasks or portal gun mechanisms.

I'd especially love Battlefield 3 if it allowed me to shoot portals around the maps.

What other games could use block-shifting quests or portal guns? Could Valve possibly manage to slip a third sequel into the Portal franchise? Write any thoughts and concerns about the future of puzzlers in the comments below.

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