So you're storming the Temple of Doom in search of the Big Bad's Cosmic Keystone that is the lynchpin to The Empire's World Domination plans. And then mightiest force that the Ancient Precursors and The Legions of Hell can produce shows up: Sliding blocks.
That's right. Blocks.
Well, there's the whole "hordes of monsters" thing, but the real stumbling, um, blocks in your journey are roomfuls of fiendish Block Puzzles. In the course of many quests to save the world in a video game, you're going to run across a warehouse, a factory, or sometimes even a random nondescript cave full of crates, boxes, boulders, or featureless cubes which can only be negotiated by pushing them around until you push them into a slot or a door opens or you form a bridge or something. Sometimes you simply need to get them out of your way, because for some reason you can't climb over them.
Sometimes you can push them wherever you want, in which case the puzzle is how to get the blocks to their goal without other blocks getting in the way. Other times, the floors are covered with Frictionless Ice or some other slippery substance and whenever you push the block, it keeps moving until it hits a wall. In those cases, you have to bounce the block in a convoluted path around the room, hitting various pillars set up in the middle to get the block to its goal. If they really want to be nasty with these, they'll have more than one block in the puzzle, only one of which actually needs to get to the end; the rest have to be pushed to create additional walls for other blocks to hit. There are also dark rumors of block puzzles so fiendish that they actually require ALL blocks to get to the end, while using each other as walls to get there and Bottomless Pits that eat the blocks and/or you, forcing you to start over. Blocks are usually heavy and so pushing or pulling them is a vexingly slow and tedious process.
Other variations on the formula include:
- Blocks with different properties, such as Destroyable blocks, Frictionless Ice Blocks, Mirror or Prism blocks, or blocks that interact or react with each other
- Enemies that pursue the player and must be trapped or crushed by the blocks
- The ability to pull blocks as well as push them.
The Block Puzzle shows up in many genres, though Action-Adventure and RPGs are well known for their propensity to stick giant boxes in your way. It serves to break up the action, in most games, intended to give the players a moment to breathe and think, even if they don't look forward to do that and instead just want more action.
Block Puzzles will show up in Puzzle Games too, of course. Also, in any game where you are accompanied by an ally (NPC or otherwise), you will almost always encounter a block that won't budge unless you and your allies all shove away at it together. If they can figure that out, of course.
This occasionally crosses over with Solve the Soup Cans, when the block puzzles really don't make any sense, and coupled with a particular variety of Unexpected Gameplay Change. With the push towards realism in environments, the Block Puzzle does seem to be on the decline, but is far from dead — you never know when you'll find yourself near a ledge you can't quite reach, in a room filled with Crate Expectations. The advent of physics engines have also given block puzzles a new lease on life, as they allow for more flexible manipulation of blocks.
Remember that Tropes Are Tools.
- The Legend of Zelda games have them in spades, even in places where it doesn't make sense. Evidently the ancients enjoyed lugging thousand-pound blocks around to negotiate their temples; and in some games, Link can also pull them where they need to go (despite the lack of any visible features to get a grip on). Specific examples of blocks used for puzzle solution include:
- The giant granite blocks in the Spirit Temple of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, as well as the picture block puzzle in the Forest Temple of the same game.
- Block puzzles rarely turn up to block progress in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, typically being reserved for optional Heart Pieces and rewards, or to screw you out of mid-dungeon refills. There's also the Cane of Somaria in this game and in The Legend of Zelda: Oracle Games, an item whose purpose is to actually create blocks.
- The gravity-twisting room in Stone Tower Temple, in The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, where Link has to move a block through the floor as well as through the ceiling (the gravity can be changed by shooting at an emblem with the Light Arrows).
- Block puzzles in The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker have different characteristics that change depending on where they are. The floating crate puzzles in the Tower of the Gods have water whose level rises and lowers periodically. The lowest floor of the Earth Temple combines this with Light and Mirrors Puzzle in order to get the key to the boss' room, as the "blocks" are huge mirrors. In the last room of the Wind Temple, there are blocks that can only be moved while wearing Iron Boots, as there's a strong wind blowing from huge fans. And in the optional Angular Isles, there's an underground cave with a pile of blocks Link has to climb by pulling some of them; but if he pulls one too many his Mirror Shield won't be able to catch and reflect the light that activates the treasure chest (luckily, the puzzle can be resetted by exiting and re-entering).
- The blocks on ice in The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, where the low friction makes the puzzles more difficult.
- The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks has sliding block puzzles and rolling block puzzles (the latter ones can only be moved by using the Sand Wand). Also, one floor of the Tower of Spirits has a block puzzle maze reminiscent of Sokoban.
- The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword cuts down on these considerably, but they're still present in some select areas of Lanayru Desert.
- Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver was stuffed liberally with these. For a vampire/ghost being, Raziel spent a remarkable amount of time shoving blocks around. Legend has it that the developers were told to come in with a different puzzle design each week or so. Everyone happened to show up with some kind of block puzzle, and the rest is history.
- Tomb Raider was fairly dependent on these. Some were extremely, extremely tricky nightmares of the Guide Dang It! variety.
- In Little Big Adventure, Twinsen needs to arrange a bunch of crates in a storeroom, which looks exactly like the first level of Sokoban.
- Goof Troop is mostly based on this. Curiously it's slippery sand/grass. It gets tougher in later puzzles where some blocks turn into time bombs after being pushed once.
- La-Mulana has block puzzles all over the place. The 7-block puzzle in the Inferno Cavern for the Flare Gun is the first really tricky one. The Infinite Corridor has a long series of them on the fourth level (which completely averts this in the remake), surpassed in trickiness only by the ones in Hell Temple. Interestingly, it even subverts this at one point; there's several blocks and plates in one room, but the puzzle is actually a Red Herring, because it's unsolvable. Thankfully, there is an item that greatly increases the speed at which your character pushes blocks.
- Lost In Shadow enjoys having block puzzles that span both the shadow and living realms.
- Legacy of the Wizard: Xemn and Meyna have to deal with these in their areas. Lyll can just break blocks once she finds the Mattock.
- Surprisingly, the LEGO Adaptation Games only have a few of these puzzles apiece, if any.
- Star Fox Adventures frequently has block puzzles, and Fox not only can push or pull them, but also move them sideways, which actually makes the puzzles more flexible to solve. Specific examples include:
- After feeding a SnowHorn twice in SnowHorn Wastes, a block floating in a geyser will fall so Fox can use it. He has to take it to an edge he can't reach otherwise.
- In Cape Claw, one room locks you in and some blocks move, releasing poison gas in. The "challenge" is to move the blocks back before the gauge empties, or you start losing health. Once you do it, the door opens, and the air becomes breathable again. And the point of that exercise? It also releases the Queen Cloudrunner, who is needed to forward the plot.
- The Ocean Force Point Temple has two block puzzles in which you must maneuver a block by Fire Blasting it. If it hits an exterior wall, you have to start over; getting it where you want it to go involves making it run into the internal walls.
- The Walled City has a pair of block puzzles in a pit. There are four blocks. Your job is to push the blocks around until they run into the floating sun or moon symbols (depending on which side of the city the puzzle is on). Of course, this is the kind of puzzle where the block keeps going until it hits something. If one hits the wall, the puzzle resets. And inside one of the structures, there's a T-shaped groove in the floor, with a block at each end. Your job is to move them around so that all the blocks have the face with the moon symbol facing out.
- Ittle Dew consists primarily of these. The items you obtain can be combined in various ways to assist with the puzzles.
- Sanity: Aiken's Artifact is half action game, and half block puzzle. To its credit, most puzzles are more complex than just pushing rocks around. Still, it's perhaps the best example of Guide Dang It! game, as finishing it without external help is a real test of patience.
- One of these shows up in Guardian of Paradise, with a slight twist in that it's the blocks that are ice instead of the floor. It makes no conceptual difference in the puzzle, though.
- God of War had a few of them. One was basically an Escort Mission where the escort was inanimate (and respawned if destroyed), one was a Timed Mission to get it into the right spot before the floor killed you, and one was a genuine "complete the wall" puzzle.
- Broken Sword 3 had an unreasonable number of these popping up in all sorts of disparate locales. Glastonbury Sokoban puzzle, enemy base Sokoban puzzle, ancient temple Sokoban puzzle, Paris "what, another Sokoban puzzle?".
- Zork III contained a very early example; also noteworthy as most of the challenge was realizing that there was a block puzzle present (all the more so due to the rarity of the puzzle when the game came out).
- This is the real point behind Dawn's Light. A Christmas Tale, one of the games in this series consists almost entirely of these.
- Half-Life is chock-full of puzzles with the traditional non-descript metal blocks. Half-Life 2 gives the block puzzles a more modern look, with a gravity gun and physics objects replacing the old-school blocks. In other words, first game: block puzzle, second game: block puzzle WITH PHYSICS.
- Some of the last few levels in Dark Forces II: Jedi Knight, taking place in the Valley of the Jedi have a few of these, but these are implied to be part of what the ancient Jedi set behind themselves.
- Nitemare 3D required you to push blocks and tombstones around occasionally to clear a path... or block one.
- Kirby & the Amazing Mirror has instances of "use your allies to move a block". There are large, gray, stone blocks that need multiple Kirbys inhaling in unison to pull them out of the passage they're blocking. These same blocks can also be shaken out of position by using Stone or Hammer to shake the ground, but in some cases this moves the block in the wrong direction, hence the need to inhale. The ease of getting the CPU Kirbys to cooperate varies, though...
- Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time has some simple ones. Usually just dragging a single crate or statue onto a pressure switch, or under something you can't reach.
- The primary gimmick of Flower Tower in Something Else. Luigi has to push giant pots around obstacle-filled courses in order to reach the end of the level.
- In Muppet Monster Adventure the main purpose of the "Ker-Monster" powers is shoving blocks around.
- Sokoban consists entirely of this sort of puzzle; gameplay consists entirely of self-contained box puzzle levels, where a warehouse worker had to move shipping crates into specific places to complete each level.
- Same goes for each and every of Quadrax games, where the different blocks are the most manipulated object in the game. Most of the game consists of moving and assembling a various blocks with various properties to get an access to the level's exit or that damned crystal.
- The Puzzle Boy series of games by Atlus (localized for the Game Boy as Kwirk and Amazing Tater) featured blocks of varying shapes and sizes. Some blocks just had to be pushed out of the way; others were needed to fill holes.
- The Professor Layton series loves this type of puzzle. The early one aren't so bad, but by the end of the game they get pretty difficult, but still doable. But then, you get to the postgame puzzles.
- There's the very definitely last puzzle of Diabolical Box, which is named The Diabolical Box. It takes a whopping seventy-seven moves to complete at the very least.
- The final puzzle of Curious Village is a version of the Klotski, which takes eight-three moves to be completed.
- The final puzzle of Last Specter is a two-part Marathon Puzzle in which the goal is to get two blocks into two corners. Do it once, and Layton points out that the player isn't done yet, and the player is taken to a second puzzle to do it again, with no breaks and no extra hints. Altogether, under the best circumstances, the whole puzzle will take at minimum 178 moves to complete, but unless one looks at a guide, it will take more. Hope you didn't make any plans tonight, or you feel like keeping one DS plugged in and unable to play anything else until you finish it.
- In Miracle Mask, chapter 6 is a long top-down view dungeon adventure, with plenty of rolling boulder puzzles, with possible goals ranging from making a bridge to destroying some crystals that are in your way to mowing down enemies.
- The Eggerland series (which includes the Adventures of Lolo trilogy) is a series of Sokoban-style block-puzzle-and-collection games.
- These make up about a third of Chip's Challenge, the other two-thirds being mazes and avoid-the-monster levels, or combinations of all three. The Fan Sequels and custom levelsets have even more and they're formidable.
- Kickle Cubicle was largely based on turning Noggles into ice blocks and pushing them across the ice into water to form bridges, aided by bouncing them off springs and swinging hammers. Kickle could set up ice pillars to keep blocks from sliding too far.
- The Private Garden series are block-puzzle echi/hentai games.
- Castlequest has lots of block puzzles, some of them quite elaborate and involving pulleys to raise/lower blocks. It's often useful to balance a block on the edge of a lower block, which possibly inspired the similar mechanic in La-Mulana. Blocks will kill enemies when pushed on them or even against them, which helps a good deal.
- In Flappy, the player is immune to gravity, but blocks aren't. Each level has a blue block which has to be shifted onto the goal pedestal. There are also brown blocks for other blocks to be pushed over, which can also be destroyed if they get in the way.
- MacGuffin's Curse: In order to progress through the story, the character must push crates around. A few rooms are even nothing but crates!
- The bulk of actual gameplay in Catherine ultimately consists of a variety of Block Puzzles that must be solved across three dimensions so the main character can climb a tower. This might not sound especially enthralling, but the addition of a de facto countdown timer, Atlus Hard puzzles, and the very human fear of falling can make for some rather gripping gameplay. That's before you get to the trapped floor panels, icy floors, and very angry sheep-men.
- Clogger for the BBC Micro has you assembling a picture in each level by pushing its 21 pieces around so that they fit together properly.
- The Puzzpack application for the TI-83+ contains a whole game consisting of block puzzles. Some blocks negate others, some blocks are wildcards. It's the most fun you can have with a calculator!
- Vagrant Story is notorious for the prevalence of its block puzzles, in which nearly every other room has some block-pushing that needs to be done to traverse it. It even keeps records of how fast you can clear each room. To their credit, the developers pushed the block puzzles to their limits, with blocks ranging from boxes you can pick up and chuck around to heavier crates you can only push, rocks you can only roll, and more complex versions like magnetic and frictionless blocks.
- The Baten Kaitos: Eternal Wings and the Lost Ocean dungeon Tower of Zozma is entirely composed of this type of puzzle. To get to the top of the tower, you have to solve five increasingly difficult 3D block puzzles. Just to top it off, this is the only place in the game where you're going to have trouble with the camera. And if you do Mizuti's sidequest near the end of the game, well!
- Shin Megami Tensei III: Nocturne has one as a Game Within a Game. As per company tradition, it's not particularly easy.
- Xenosaga had at least one of these per game, and the justifications were almost always asinine. The first time, you had to destroy blocks to reduce the weight on the elevator, determining what floor you go up to.
- In every Pokémon game, there will be a level where a Pokémon with the Strength move is needed to push boulders. Some places you just had to shove a rock out of the way to show you had Strength, but there's always at least one block puzzle going on. Moreover, several areas featured multi-level block puzzles, where you had to push rocks through holes to land in the level below. But here's the catch - if you didn't correctly push all the necessary rocks through the holes before descending to the next level (say, by accidentally falling through the hole after the rock you were pushing), the puzzle reset itself. In the Generation 4 games, the sliding block puzzle in the ice-type gym is That One Puzzle. This section is easily the hardest, puzzle wise, in the entire game. But it's subverted in Black and White, as most of the HMs (including Strength) are no longer required to complete the main game. There are still a few points where moving a boulder can create a shortcut, but even those aren't as common as they used to be.
- Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals featured an enormous amount of block puzzles, ranging from "push the same-colored blocks together" to "push every block into a particular position, then bomb them in a very specific order while pressing certain switches". Surprisingly, these were almost never cases of Guide Dang It!, and perfectly workable on your own (if a bit frustrating at times). There's even one that is actually (correctly) called the Hardest Puzzle in the World by an NPC, but it's optional
- Paper Mario had a few: On Yoshi Island, in order to clear a boulder, you had to push blocks around to cover holes that sprayed water until the pressure under the rock was big enough to force it out of the way. Some places within Mt. Lavalava had you push blocks around to form bridges over lava. One has you make a partial bridge, and then you have to be flown the rest of the way.
- Every dungeon in Golden Sun has at least one of these. In fact, there's more than one spell in-game dedicated to aiding one in solving block puzzles. In the sequel, Lost Age, has one that is random by cartridge leaving most Walkthroughs saying, "yeah, sorry, can't help you here" on the off-chance you get stuck on the circuit board.
- In the Wild ARMs series, nearly every single dungeon in all of the games contains a number of block puzzles and other environmental puzzle tasks.
- Rogue Galaxy employed what has to be the most epic block puzzle in the history of the galaxy. Ominous Latin Chanting and everything.
- Final Fantasy Mystic Quest has a few of these - which, since most Final Fantasy dungeons are straightforward get-to-the-end kill-the-boss areas, was rather innovative for the series.
- Tales of Symphonia has one in almost every dungeon. Notably the first one, in which they're actually Golems, and so have to be beaten into submission before you can use them. In Tales of the Abyss the four most egregious were optional, albeit rewarded with one of the most useful titles in the game. In Tales of Legendia, every dungeon has one, explained as malfunctioning transport systems that need to be fixed, but you can ask another party member to jump in and solve it for you if you don't want to bother. Solving them all on your own unlocks a pair of Bragging Rights Reward titles for Senel.
- In Dragon Quest III, the Dry Vase item needed to reach an underwater location is held in the basement of a castle in a room locked behind a rolling boulder puzzle. While the king informs you that "no one has ever solved it", the puzzle is remarkably easy, thus proving beyond the shadow of a doubt that everyone in that castle suffers from a terminal case of the Stupids.
- Subverted in the free RPG from Sensible Erection. At one point the party encounters a block puzzle in an ancient Pyramid. The pirate character of your party proceeds to whip out a bazooka and mutter: "I hate block puzzles."
- A few times in the Avernum series, most irritatingly in the second game's aptly named Test of Patience. Good thing they could almost always be skipped.
- Boktai has a way with these in all of its GBA incarnations. There are wooden crates and stone blocks to push around, some of which can be broken if you need that extra bit of help. There are also ice blocks which slide around until they hit something solid, and it can be a maze to get the block in the right position. And then there are blocks with symbols of the four cardinal elements (Flame, Frost, Cloud, and Earth) which have to be set on similar switches. For those who think two (or three) games is enough, Lunar Knights does away with them and has the blocks as obstacles only instead.
- The Final Fantasy series isn't known for these, but Final Fantasy X has several in the "cloister of trials" sections, which involve both pushing pedestals, and moving around colored spheres that activate doors, flames, mechanisms, or the pedestals themselves. The Macalania temple contains an instance of the "ice makes things keep moving and you have to provide a backstop" variant.
- Subverted in Okage: Shadow King. You're presented with one with much fanfare and warning about how hard it is... then it's solved for you in a cutscene the moment you actually try to interact with one of the blocks.
- Double subverted in MOTHER 3. There is a great big boulder in the way, and you need to give it some Encouraging Words. Turns out that the Encouraging Words was a bottle literally containing words. Then, it says the boulder feels much better about itself and moves out of the way. The real block puzzle is behind it.
- Star Ocean: Till the End of Time had a series of increasingly difficult ones of these in one optional dungeon. The catch? The blocks moved along set paths (traced out in their color), and of course occasionally you needed to block one of those paths with, you guessed it, another block. Also, there tended to be several exits from one block puzzle, and often also treasure chests within the puzzle that you might have wanted to get to.
- The Epic Battle Fantasy games have a few of these. Being an Affectionate Parody, the characters naturally comment on how much they dislike them.
- Undertale plays with this in an early puzzle where you have to push a few rocks onto switches, and one rock turns out to have a will of its own.
- Bangai-O Spirits has the "False Treasure" stage, found in the Puzzle Stages set. You need to fit a bunch of Boxes into Box Frames. If you push one into a corner, trap yourself, or otherwise render a Box unable to be moved into a remaining Box Frame, it's restart time. Later in that set you encounter a different kind of Block Puzzle, where you must bounce your shots in a maze to get it to a target. You use the boxes to alter the shots' trajectory.
- Lost in Blue and its sequel had a number of them, made all the more annoying for the fact that completing the puzzles take stamina, which is a very precious commodity in those games. It's improved slight by the interesting twist: some of the blocks will float when the player fills the room with water. The goal is to create platforms which can be jumped across (which, of course, also uses up stamina).
- Resident Evil 2 has one statue-moving puzzle with no logical reason to do it and another, more reasonable section where some crates must be moved to make a bridge to cross some water. Swimming might be out of the question if that water is sewage. This also holds true for Resident Evil, its remake, and Resident Evil 0, some puzzles of which had Deadly Gas deathtraps if you did them wrong.
- There are many levels in Disgaea 3 and Disgaea 4 that require the proper placement of Geo Blocks, to be used as steps, and/or to manipulate the Geo Effects in a way that allows you to win the map. Some of them are also timed, and will either make the map unwinnable, or give you an instant Game Over if you don't get the blocks into position quickly enough.
Non-video game examples:
- Perplex City manages to have a block puzzle card.
- Soul Eater: Troubled Souls: The third game on Cobra Island has Maka and company try to solve a puzzle on an extremely large platform. The puzzle consists of an intricate system of both sinuous and nonlinear pathways and is divided into sections by walls that must be taken down before you can get to the end. How to take down these walls? Push two boulders into specific locations. There are four walls, and it is implied those pushing the boulders can’t tell whether or not they are going in the right direction.