In 2007 Valve Corporation released a first person puzzle platform video game called Portal. Bundled into a package called the Orange Box, the game reached the hands of an unsuspecting public and the response was nothing short of spectacular. Heralded as the one of the most original games not only of 2007, but of all time, Portal achieved cult classic status almost immediately.
The gameplay centers on the Apeture Science Handheld Portal device, a teleporter that creates portals between planes. The player is then tasked with solving a number of puzzles in the Aperture Science Enrichment Center using the Apeture Science Handheld Portal device by an artificial intelligence named Glados. The game was praised for employing a peculiar physics system and notable for its high level and engaging puzzles. As gold standards go, Portal sits atop the puzzle platform genre.
What made Portal so much fun was the incredible implementation of the Portal device combined with the game’s physics system and puzzles that were not only challenging, but also encouraging and progressively scaled. So many puzzle games become bogged down in their own complexity, forgetting that the chief aim of these puzzles is fun. Portal never lost sight of this aim and its puzzles, while certainly complex and challenging, maintained the fun factor. Luckily an enterprising puzzle solver doesn’t need to rerun the Aperture Science Enrichment Center’s puzzle gauntlet over and over again endlessly, there are many other games to satisfy even the most bored of minds.
First developed in 2010, the Ball bears a striking resemblance to the original Portal. Developed by Teotl Sudios, the Ball began as a mode for Unreal Tournament 3, utilizing the now wildly popular unreal physics engine. Much like Portal, the Ball relies on its unique physics engine and ranging potential for environmental interactions to develop puzzles with multiple solutions. The premise of the game, unsurprisingly, starts with a Ball. Like Portal’s Portaling device, the Ball plays the central role in the game.
The ball is an enormous, metallic object uncovered in a hitherto undiscovered network of caves. Your task is simple: get the Ball out of the caverns. Only, the task is complicated by deadly dangers and enemies intent on keeping the secrets of the Ball and its ancient civilization secret. Combat is clunky at times and the functionality of the game isn’t on par with Portal. But the puzzle sequences are nuanced and the potential for solutions elegant.
You can use the ball in a wonderful assortment of ways and the sense of accomplishment when guiding it around a particularly ghastly danger is absolutely worth the effort. Most importantly, the Ball has logical solutions to all its puzzles. Just as Portal avoids the pitfall of unnecessary frustration with its puzzles, so too does the Ball. This is critical feature in any puzzle based game. Sadly, also like Portal, the game is brief and the adventure feels much too short. While you can always return and try to solve a puzzle in a new way, the experience, while rewarding, is short lived. You can find the Ball for only a few dollars on Amazon.com.
If Portal wasn’t challenging enough for you, there’s a game that asks you to use your brain… a lot more than normal. Antichamber is a mind-bending, puzzling (see what I did there?) and deep psychological experience. While Portal may test your mettle, Antichamber will test your imagination, creativity and ability to apply logic to complex puzzles. It may also, at times, test your patience. Unlike Portal, Antichamber doesn’t have much orientation to its mechanics or game world. You are dropped in and are solving mind-bending puzzles within minutes of turning on the game.
There’s no tutorial and no real plot development, just high level, challenging puzzles to be solved. An overarching narrative does begin to unfold, but it’s entirely ancillary to the puzzles. You aren’t playing this game for the story; you are playing for the puzzles.
Much of Antichamber’s puzzles are premised on your inability to fully appreciate the scope of your surroundings and environments. You are given a relatively limited field of view and are left in a first person perspective throughout. You deal with moving hallways, doorways that change and seemingly random changes to your environment.
It’s an entirely different beast from Portal, but the fun remains comparable. It’s hard not to fall in love with the ‘nothing is at it seems’ aspect of this game, even if it can frustrate at times. Antichamber also makes interesting use of clues to help you not only solve the immediate puzzle, but develop the skills for future puzzles. The foresight involved in this game’s design is truly astonishing. As the game progresses, you’ll find new ways to interact with the environment, new patterns for thinking about its puzzles and a new appreciation for the nuance and subtleties of a compelling puzzle.
While Portal definitely has more polish and is a likely a better game, Antichamber may have the more sophisticated and intriguing puzzles of the pair. If you are into this type of game, check out the site.
For a subtler touch, the charming Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask will appeal to many Portal devotees. In Miracle Mask, you’ll be exploring a bustling holiday town trying to solve the mysterious attacks committed by the Masked Gentlemen. The game has far more interactions than Portal and is less strictly a puzzle game. The story matters here and this could be described as much as an adventure game as a puzzle game.
Nevertheless, you’ll find plenty of puzzles to keep you occupied and keep your brain guessing. The puzzles are exceptionally designed and the variety is refreshing. Puzzles range in difficulty and are diverse enough that they feel fresh throughout. Hints are littered throughout to ease your passage and the relaxing nature of the game makes the puzzle solving a soothing experience.
Much like Portal, concepts aren’t constantly rehashed and the game builds on previous puzzles to increase the complexity of challenges. And while the puzzles are the main reason to play this game, unlike Portal, the game’s adventure and story portions add serious appeal to the play experience. It’s not as good as Portal on pure gameplay, but as overall experiences go, Miracle Mask is absolutely worth a play through. This is a Nintendo 3DS game and it is a bit of older classic, but you can find it over at Amazon.
The combination of puzzle and adventure is an effective recipe for a game, but it’s a rarer combination than one might expect. Perhaps the best game to do so recently comes from an independent developer and lacks 3d graphics. Braid has become a cult classic in the same conversation as Portal. Many games include puzzles, but what sets Braid and Portal apart are its unique tools that are utilized in radically different ways to solve those puzzles.
In the case of Braid, you are given the ability to manipulate time. But the various ways you decide to use this function are nearly limitless. You can slow time to crawl past an enemy, reverse time to fix a mistake or speeding up time to be in two places at once. The options are so impressive and allow for so much flexibility in solving the games various stages. Multiple solutions to a single problem allow for a gamer to assert their own playing style over the game, rather than being vice gripped into the developer’s preference.
Most notably, Braid’s unique mechanism enables even the dimmest of gamers to have “Eureka!” moments. It’s impossible to not have an experience of inspiration as you figure out a way to utilize the time manipulation mechanic to solve a particularly challenging stage. This was one of the most compelling features of Portal – its ability to make you feel inspired and struck by genius.
Braid capitalizes on this and turns a simple looking game into one of the most compelling games of the past few years. It’s undeniable and ought to be on every gamer’s playlist. You can pick up Braid for instant download to either PC or MAC on Amazon.
Most obviously, if you’ve played and loved Portal, you should pick up Portal 2. Take the same premise but give the developers more time and money and you get a vastly improved game. Portal 2 was one of the best games of any genre. It improves on many aspects of the original and brings some fresh new content that makes for a really wonderful playing experience. But assuming Portal 2 has already crossed your screen, these other games are all worth a try. Puzzle platform games get a short shrift in modern gaming culture. And it’s entirely undeserved. These are some of the best made games and can provide hours and hours of mental stimulation and fun.
Why play Gears of War when you can struggle through the puzzling world of Antichamber? The resurgence of this genre has largely been propelled by independent developers, but the big boys are starting to take notice of the demand for well-crafted puzzle games. For now, though, pick up one of these games and get puzzle solving! Thank me later.