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Control Room Puzzle

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A video game puzzle which presents the player with an array of toggle switches. Usually, only one configuration will let the player proceed past some obstacle or series of obstacles.

At best, the game will only give you cryptic clues as to the proper way to set the switches. Many players rely on Strategy Guides just to get them through these puzzles.

Among the caveats to keep in mind when dealing with this kind of puzzle, we have:

  • The obstacle(s) affected by the switches may be located really far from the control room, so that a lot of tracking back and forth is needed to solve the puzzle.
  • It isn't obvious which obstacle(s) might be affected by the switches, though this can be coped with some experimentation (as long as the error doesn't mean the brutal waste of one of your precious extra lives).
  • The game may becomes Unwinnable by Design if you mess up once in the control room, either because you can't return to the control room, or the switches can't be reversed once triggered.
  • If the room really was a Control Room you could reasonably assume that the switches and what they would do would be at least labeled and perform some sensible task.

Sister Trope (and, in practice, an opposite) of Toggling Setpiece Puzzle.


Video Games

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    Action Adventure 
  • Castlevania: Dawn of Sorrow has a Control Room 15 Puzzle: fifteen rooms in a 4X4 grid, each with exits in certain parts, which you had to shuffle around to reach various paths that led out from the puzzle. Luckily, there wasn't just one "correct" solution, and the paths were easy to make with a bit of thought; it also came with a handy Puzzle Reset button in the control room.
  • Goof Troop introduces switch plates in Stage 3, where there are two rooms in a row requiring pressing four in the correct order. In the first room, it's not hard to figure out that the order should spell O-P-E-N, but the ones in the second room don't have letters.
  • The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass and The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks: The games have areas with multiple switches within. They usually include stone tablets with the proper switch sequence written on them in cryptic form.
  • Palace Midas in the first Tomb Raider I game had a room with four doors, each with a code on them, corresponding to the positions of five switches on a structure in the middle of the room. Fortunately the acrobatics required to get to the switches only had to be done once, as there was a Door to Before next to them.

  • In The Dig there was one of these. You had to use some unlabeled alien controls to pick up a focusing lens at the bottom of a pit. Problem was, it was unclear what you needed the control panel for rather than how to operate it.
  • Full Throttle has about two close-together control panel puzzles featured near the end. There are only about two commands that really still work somewhere in the maze of options. An earlier puzzle involving projectors also applies.
  • The Myst series is practically built on this, although without the possibility of getting killed. And, thankfully, trial and error, or extensive trekking. This does not prevent them from being mind-bogglingly hard.
  • Zork: Grand Inquisitor had one of those when you were escaping from jail, where you have the ability to open or close any cell block in the prison. As one of the last major puzzles before the end of the game, the solution is quite obtuse, and requires reading a map, watching camera footage , tracing air vents, and realizing the map is a side view instead of a top-down. Any wrong answer leads to death. Flood Control Dam #3 has a subversion of the puzzle, as no combination of switch pressing would open or close all the gates at once; instead, you needed to use magic.
  • Syberia has several of these.
    • In the Valedilene factory, you have to activate the machine that makes a leg for Oscar.
    • In Komkolzgrad, launching the cosmonaut's plane requires you to figure out how the controls work first.
    • In Aralbad there is a cocktail machine with piano keys. After finding out the recipe for the required cocktail, you need to figure out how the machine works.
    • The second game has one in the monastery, where you have to light a series of candles in the right combination.
    • Also in the second game, there are multiple puzzles with the crashed plane. First, you have to figure out how to turn on power. Then, set the radio to the correct frequency to communicate with the pilot who is stuck on a tree. Finally, aim the ejector seat to reach the train. The latter two requires you to walk between the plane and a nearby radar station, possibly multiple times.
  • The Walking Dead has one in episode three to start the train.

    Arcade Game 
  • The Glider PRO scenario "SpacePods" had four control rooms with eight switches each. In each one, you had to toggle the correct four switches, with only cryptic clues to guide you. Players of the scenario "Sky Links" by the same author were relieved when, in the part recalling the environment of "SpacePods", they were directed to just hit all the switches on the control panel.

    First-Person Shooter 
  • Doom 64: The 23rd level (Unholy Temple) features some obstructing bars in specific areas that can only be removed when the color-coded switches found in a lava room from the second floor is pressed in the order shown next to the bars themselves. For example, the bars obstructing a cache in a wide yard with Barons of Hell in the second floor can only be removed when the aforementioned switches are pressed in this sequence: Red, Blue and Yellow. Removing all such bars is necessary because their guarded caches each have in turn a switch that removes one of the obstructions leading to the exit. Pressing the switches in a non-existent combination will seal shut the control room and lock the player into a fight with a Hell Knight, though defeating it will revert this.
  • Duke Nukem 3D has a lot of these, in the form of doors (or other objects) which can only be activated by a "combo lock" that is composed of three to five big switches. Opening the lock is just a matter of pressing the right combination of switches, which can be easily brute-forced (and it's the only way to open them). The only exception is on the secret level of episode four, where, to finish the level, you have to find out a ten-button sequence; you've got to find one of the two places in the level where the sequence is shown.
  • Marathon had a lot of these, but the one that sticks in everyone's craw is the platform puzzle in Colony Ship For Sale, Cheap!. Several platforms need to be adjusted to the correct height using switches so that you can jump atop them and reach a high alcove, but all of the switches are far away from each other and the platforms, and you must use grenades on each try. Or you can Take a Third Option and bypass it.
  • REKKR: Two of the puzzles present in the Secret Level of the second episode are Control Room Puzzles. All the puzzles, including these two, are completely optional, but solving them will unlock passageways with lots of goodies to gather (and will also spare the player the need of facing hordes of enemies which appear in case a mistake is made).
    • In the first, there are five blue switches placed respectively in five columns, which in turn surround a 3x3 grid that displays special drawings, and in turn those drawings are also represented by the aforementioned columns. In the east and south sides of the grid are purple-colored luminous chevrons. Each drawing in the grid represents a number, and the chevrons displayed at the end of a line of drawings represent the sum of the numbers provided by the drawings. This effectively results in a system of equations where the player can figure out the value represented by each drawing, and therefore the number of times each switch associated with its column's displayed drawing has to be pressed.
    • The second puzzle makes use of a solution that can be figured out in a previous room that is otherwise unimportant. In that room, there are eight switches, and each one turns on a specific number of purple chevrons in the wall. It turns out the amounts are not random, as they're powers of two, going from 1 (2⁰) to 128 (2⁷). The player has to memorize how many chevrons are lit by each switch, because this indicates the order in which the eye switches in the room with the actual puzzle have to be pressed.
  • Star Wars: Dark Forces had one of these in its Coruscant mission. It consisted of a spiral corridor, divided into sections. Each section had a switch, and you had to flip each switch in a specific order as you worked your way through the sections. Flip too many, and everything behind you would seal off, and getting that last door to open was maddening. One might reasonably ask how the stormtroopers manage to successfully use this thing every day. The sequel (Jedi Knight) had two similar puzzles involving systems where you have two blocks or two containers of liquid, and you can adjust the level of one (which adjusts the other). Both are quite simple if you know which button to push, but getting it right without a guide means a lot of running around while getting shot at.

    Interactive Movie 

  • RuneScape has a very difficult Control Room Puzzle in "Ernest the Chicken", one of the earlier quests available. To make it worse, the old installment didn't even give any indication whatsoever of when a switch the player pulled locked or unlocked a specific door, forcing the player to just try and brute-force the whole thing through trial and error. There's also Elemental Workshop 3, where strategy guides quickest routes involve about 100 or so steps. Screwed up? There's only 5 points to continue from.

  • In Alex Kidd in Miracle World, as the final puzzle to get the crown and beat the game, you have to step on five tiles in the correct sequence.
  • Another World has the Tank stage. Lester and Buddy have to figure out how to eject from the vehicle they've been encased to within the execution arena. To do so, they have to manipulate the buttons present in the tank's panel. The ejection takes them to the game's final stage.
  • Hocus Pocus was rife with these. It was a technically considered a puzzle platformer where the puzzle was "Get key X" where X was the colour of lock in front of you, or a random array of switches in the line of a Control Room Puzzle.
  • Monster Sanctuary: The Sun Palace contains many puzzles where the player must switch the right combinations of levers to raise and lower barriers that block their way.
  • The medicine puzzle in La-Mulana is a Control Room Puzzle in disguise: here, the room is actually a corridor, and toggling switches is replaced by casting spells at fairies. If you get it wrong, you have to go all the way back to the sage before trying again. Another Control Room Puzzle, lying in the second level of the Endless Corridor, is so cleverly disguised it doesn't even look like a puzzle at first.

  • Chip's Challenge has Level 45, Monster Lab. In the exit's room, there are multiple buttons pressed by the walkers which clone monsters across the whole level; in turn, the cloned monsters press buttons which clone new walkers, making this a perpetual cycle. Chip has to jam the cloning of the monsters across the level so no more walkers are produced, allowing him to reach the exit safely.
  • A common type of puzzle in Deadly Rooms of Death confines the player to a small part of the room, allowing them to use game elements (orbs, fuses, mimics, fegundos...) that affect the rest of the room from a distance. Fortunately, DROD is a perfect-information game (e.g. you can click on an orb to see its effects), so these tend to be puzzles that demand logical analysis, not just trial and error.

    Role Playing Game 
  • Child of Light has the puzzle to input the right combination of 3 symbols to open the vault. The left switch rotates the first and second symbol slots, the second rotates the second and third, each slot has the same possible symbols: crossed out circle, circle in circle, slashed circle from top left to bottom right.
  • Disney Dreamlight Valley has Aladdin’s Cave of Wonders with a variation where you have to locate mirrors and place them correctly and then arrange the switches so they’ll reflect correctly in order to remove the barriers between rooms.
  • In EarthBound (1994), to get into the Pyramid, your party has to step on the five Pressure Plates in front of the Sphinx in a certain given order.
  • Subverted in Eye of the Beholder- In one of the later floors, there is a room labeled "Combination Lock- Be Quick" with 5 switches and a group of items on the other side of a pit (by this point, the game has already established that pits can be moved or gotten rid of entirely). Each time a switch is hit, the party must move quickly to dodge a fireball that gets launched from the other end of the room. The player obviously thinks that they need to find the right combination to get rid of the pits; the catch, though, is that it's actually impossible to remove the pits, the switches do nothing, and it's just an excuse to frustrate the player.
  • Fallout 2 has an area where a "switches opens doors" puzzle is taken to its logical extreme - a surprise door maze. There are nine connected rooms in the Oil Rig area, and the whole setup has four exits. Each room has a console and using different consoles toggles the state of different doors. The objective is to move through the rooms, using different consoles to open different doors, to get to the four exits. The floor is frequently electrified.
  • Lufia II: Rise of the Sinistrals had quite a few of these (though thankfully, the switches directly affected whatever platform you were on, keeping the whole thing nice and self contained), often in two difficulty flavors apiece - "Required", and "Complete". Only a few switches were required to be turned in order to proceed with the dungeon, but most players would still try and complete the puzzle absolutely for the excellent loot.
  • Knights of the Old Republic has this on the Mannan Sith base, and an NPC remarks on what a pain in the ass these puzzles are.
  • Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga has two such puzzles: one at Woohoo Hooniversity, and the other when Luigi is alone in Guffawha Ruins.
  • Mass Effect has one where you need to set a bunch of switches to get a door to crush a geth ship's landing claw. This one is relatively sensible as a control panel, the switches are properly labeled and it's really a matter of simple addition to figure which switches to press for the right pressure. There's even a pressure gauge as such a control panel should. Needless to say it isn't much of a challenge as a puzzle.
  • Mass Effect 2 has the player have to do one of these during a side quest to unlock a door in the central room. It's insultingly easy.
  • Super Paper Mario has a room where you have to hit colored blocks in a certain order to first get to Flopside. While it can be tricky to figure out on your own, there's a sign elsewhere that indicates that you just have to hit each block once. As long as you hit each one only once, it doesn't matter what order you hit them in.
  • The hidden summons in Wild AR Ms 2 is protected by a switch puzzle. The player has to push some panels in the walls in a certain order with only a cryptic message about spirals for a clue. The puzzle is especially awkward because of a poor cultural translation. The Japanese original was based on the the names of weekdays. In Japan, these are linguistically transparent and well-known. When they decided to make the puzzle the same, but convert it to English, it ended up much more obtuse..

    Survival Horror 
  • The first two installments in the Five Nights At Freddys series are basically entire games built around this concept.
  • Resident Evil games do this quite often.
  • System Shock has one puzzle with a force-bridge that must be extended section by section, by hitting the right combination of buttons on a control board. This is not very difficult, since there is no penalty for getting the wrong combination, and the player can see the bridge from the board. Throughout System Shock there are also many doors opened by controlling the flow of power through little stylized circuit boards, where switching each of the elements the power passes through also changes other elements, making it easy to undo your progress. These puzzles range from very easy to quite difficult by the end, but a few single-use "logic probes" that can solve them instantly are scattered throughout the game.

    Wide Open Sandbox 
  • Minecraft seems to have a bit of a lever puzzle in its jungle temples. Granted, most players don't bother with it, preferring to mine out the block that retracts once the puzzle would be complete. What's more, depending on how unlucky you're with the randomly generated treasure hidden inside the secret room, the three sticky pistons involved in the mechanism that retracts the block may be more valuable than the treasure itself.

Non Video Game Example

     Real Life 
  • The real-life puzzler: There are three light switches. One controls a lightbulb in the next room, which you cannot see from the switches and can only enter to check once. How can you tell which switch controls the light? Turn the first switch on and leave it on for ten minutes. Then turn it off, and turn on the second switch before entering the room. If the bulb is off but warm, is #1. If it's on, it's #2. And if it's off and cold, it's #3.

  • The Altador Plot in Neopets did this near the end. If you failed, Altador would be flooded, and you had to restart.