Lock and Key Puzzle

One of the two fundamental Adventure Game puzzle types. This sort of puzzle is based on collecting an item or items from somewhere in the model world, and delivering them to some other place, where they can be of use.

The archetype of this puzzle design is an actual physical lock. The player must retrieve the corresponding key from somewhere else in the world, and bring it to the door. Another very common form is a non-player character who performs a task which alters the state of the game world when he is given the proper payment. Another variant uses a combination lock or similar that requires a code, and the player has to determine the right answer from hints in in-game documents.

In its simplest form, the player must do nothing more than bring the relevant object to the right place in order to solve the puzzle. Games with a more sophisticated user interface will require that the player use the "key" in some way specific to the nature of the puzzle, though in unskilled hands, this can lead to a Guess The Verb puzzle.

The Lock and Key Puzzle is one of the oldest and most common puzzle types across adventure games, especially Interactive Fiction. Its advantages include a tighter coupling with the model world than the Set Piece Puzzle. The setup is also easy to couple with plot developments, using the "key" as a Plot Coupon. The major disadvantage of this puzzle type is the possibility of Combinatorial Explosion.

See also Broken Bridge. If the "key" is something non-intuitive or ridiculous, you've got to Solve the Soup Cans. For examples that are literal locked doors that require a key, see the subtrope, Locked Door.


  • This one dates back to the dawn of Adventure: the goal of Colossal Cave is to deliver the various treasures in the game to a treasure room.
    • Zork has the same goal.
  • Ubiquitous in the Resident Evil series.
  • The ancient TinyMUD had a wonderful in-game language for constructing new puzzles. As long as they were lock-and-key puzzles. That was the only type you could build.
  • The two Detective Barbie PC games had this, although it wasn't always literal keys.
  • The NES game Castlequest was one gigantic version of this.
  • Several puzzles in the later Wizardry games ultimately boiled down to this, though quite often the nature of the item you need is only hinted at, and said item is hidden half a world away. Also common in reverse: you find the strange or seemingly useless item first, then much, much later, find the place you need that odd item.
  • In the first Megaman Legends game, you had to find starter keys hidden in dungeons in order to drop the shield that housed the refractor. In the second to last dungeon you had to find ID cards.
  • The Stoneship Age in Myst has a literal one, besides the fireplace panel in the library with over 280 trillion possible combinations.
  • This was the closest thing there was to a puzzle in Doom; there were three different keys (red, blue, and yellow, all three in "keycard" and "skull key" variants, but only one variant appeared per level), each of which opened matching-color doors within the same level. Which keys appeared (if any) depended on the level.
  • In The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, in the dungeons of Tel Fyr, there is an unmarked quest involving a series of locked chests. Each contains some minor loot and a key for the next chest. Get to the final chest and you can walk away with a few legendary weapons and the best Light Armor cuirass in the game.
  • There are at least two puzzle like that in Spellforce. While not mandatory, they offer nice loot. They reappeared in the sequel, as well.
  • The more plot-driven Mystery Case Files games all end with variations of this.
  • Almost all dungeon levels in the Dark Cloud series feature this. The dungeon item will invariably be dropped by one enemy on the floor upon defeat, which will be used to travel to the next floor. Occasionally, you'll find keys that will open up doors or bridges that block off parts of levels.
  • raocow refers to these as "item babysitting" in Super Mario World ROM hacks: finding a key and bringing it back to a lock you passed, finding a springboard and bringing it back to a high jump you passed, etc. He's not particularly fond of these puzzles, but it's about all the complexity and nonlinearity one can manage in the Super Mario World engine.
  • Eternal Darkness has many of these puzzles. One notable example is the "Staff of Ra"-style puzzle where the character finds a rod and a lens, puts them together and places the staff on a pedestal. The sunlight (or whatever it is) coming from above focuses through the lens into a beam, which must be rotated to reveal reflective panels before finally unlocking the door.
  • Pokémon has at least two of these. In Pokémon Red and Blue and Yellow, plus FireRed and LeafGreen, you have to find the key card for the Team Rocket hideout to get through it. In Pokémon Diamond and Pearl and Platinum, the key card is needed for the Team Galactic building.
  • Maniac Mansion is all over this. Finding all the keys (including keycodes), figuring out which lock they open, and getting things from the locked rooms comprises most of the game-solving puzzles
  • Randomly-generated Adventure Construction Set games consisted of nothing else. All but one of the dungeons would contain a locked door with an NPC demanding a specific item. The remaining dungeon would have the item that starts off the chain.
  • Very common in The Castles Of Doctor Creep. While not all the exit doors to the castles are locked with keys, all the castles require the collection and use of keys to proceed further in the level.
  • One of the stranger examples appears in Doom RPG, in which the 'lock' is a large database with a piece of vital information buried in it somewhere, and the 'key' is getting an NPC to loan you a Beginner's Guide to SQL so you can look up the right command. Regrettably, the limits of the game engine prevent players who already know the command they need from bypassing this.
  • In a rare non-Video Game example, the 'Tomb and Trap' chapter of Various Vytal Ventures features an exercise to gather relics of seemingly odd shapes that are later revealed to fit together... and act as a key to the only exit.