”People… seek out novelty and challenges, to extend and exercise their capacities, to explore, and to learn.”
– Edward Deci
We love to face and overcome challenges. This is part of human nature, and a major driving force behind invention, engineering, and many creative activities. That is why puzzles are such an important part of most games.
Some game puzzles are pretty simple – Defeat the boss monster by avoiding its special attacks and by using yours at the right time. Others can be downright diabolical, requiring a precise sequence of actions, and sometimes inspired guesswork.
For the Love of Puzzles
I loved “brain teaser” books as a teenager. These books had a mixture of logic, graphical, arithmetic, and word puzzles designed to taunt and challenge the reader’s mind. Some of the puzzles required careful work and step-by-step logic, while others needed an “Ah ha!” sort of inspiration.
Certainly I had brain teasers on my mind when I proposed Castle of Dr. Brain to Sierra. I had this great idea about getting some puzzle books, and including variations of some of the best puzzles into my game. I also had fond memories of Cliff Johnson’s, The Fool’s Errand. How hard could it be to make my own puzzle game?
As it turned out, the answer is “Very hard.” Most of the puzzles that worked in those books fail miserably as videogames. Still, designing Castle of Dr. Brain was the highlight of my time at Sierra. Creating a new game from the ground up was challenging and fulfilling – I guess you could say that I spent a year solving an exciting puzzle.
A Wolf in MacGuffin’s Clothing
It’s been quite a while since I played a true puzzle game. Most casual games seem to be more about hunting the right pixel or recognizing patterns. I prefer puzzles that really make me think, and I wasn’t finding any of those… until recently.
Back in 2010, I played a point-and-click adventure game, Jolly Rover. Think of Secret of Monkey Island with dogs as the characters. It was a lot of fun, as well as pretty funny.
Andrew Goulding’s development group, Brawsome, created Jolly Rover, so naturally I decided to try their new release, MacGuffin’s Curse It’s a puzzle game, and completely different from Jolly Rover, except that it is also a very funny game.
In MacGuffin’s Curse, you play an out-of-work stage magician who accidentally becomes possessed by a magical amulet. There is some actual story explaining all this, but the real point of the game is that the amulet allows you to change into a Werewolf – or back – in moonlight.
As a Werewolf, you are strong, but not very dexterous. Much of the game play revolves around pushing and pulling heavy objects to trigger pressure plates. In human form, you can push buttons, open doors, and swim. Over 100 puzzle rooms present you with challenges involving both sets of skills. This has definitely been fulfilling my “intrinsic need to solve puzzles.”
More Than Just a Pretty Puzzle
As fun – and challenging – as I found the moving block puzzles, they are all variations of the same type of puzzle. That might be fine – My favorite live game is bridge, which involves solving “partial information” problems formed from the same 52 cards. I’ve been playing bridge for a long time, and still come across situations I’ve never seen before.
But there are many more layers to MacGuffin’s Curse, as I gradually discovered. In some ways, it plays more like an adventure game. There are several interesting characters with branching dialogue. There is a real story that develops as the game progresses, and even a “comic book” version of the story that you illustrate by finding scraps of the comic pages.
You collect money that can be used to buy useful items from the pawn shop; apparently MacGuffin never wastes any of it on paying his rent. MacGuffin’s Curse even features adventure game puzzles such as collecting objects and trading them to other characters. Then there’s the gypsy fortuneteller who gives you cryptic clues to secret areas of the game.
MacGuffin’s Curse has lots of other nice features, including a simple but elegant user interface, a map you can use to travel quickly to areas you’ve previously explored, and an achievement system. It’s a very well-thought-out game with challenging puzzles and intriguing use of story and dialogue to support them.
All of these elements work together to make me feel immersed in the game world. It’s been a few years since I last played a game from start to finish, but I feel certain I will be doing that with MacGuffin’s Curse – I’ve currently completed 70% of the game, as it kindly informs me.
If you enjoy teasing your brain, I highly recommend MacGuffin’s Curse. It’s available for PC, Mac, tablets, and even the iPhone.
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