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I Can't Reach It

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Options not presented: making waves, throwing rocks, using a stick, climbing into the pool...
"If I had the slightest inclination to strain myself, I could probably reach it. However, I'm sure I can drag this out into a longer, yet more satisfying experience."

The combination of Insurmountable Waist-Height Fence and Informing the Fourth Wall, found primarily in puzzle/Adventure Games. A character is incapable of doing something which would theoretically be possible in the real world for somebody in the same situation. Common manifestations of this occur while reaching for and taking objects, or while attempting to use non-useable objects.

This trope can overlap with Moon Logic Puzzle, Solve the Soup Cans, and Alphabet Soup Cans, where a player cannot advance until a particular puzzle is solved. Compare You Can't Get Ye Flask for the text-based equivalent. There is no taking a third option. The player must solve the problem as the developers intended or simply go somewhere else.


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  • This trope is named after Maniac Mansion, where a chandelier hangs just inches above your head, yet you cannot jump or climb up on a sofa to grab the key up there. The playing character's response is always "I can't reach it!" This also happens when a character dies.
    • When you attempt to grab the stain on the tablecloth, the character says "I don't do table cloths." When you try to use the stove, he/she says, "I'd rather use the microwave."
    • Nobody can ignore the "STAIRS OUT OF ORDER" sign in the library.
  • Day of the Tentacle:
    • Hoagie will not look inside a drawer inside Ben Franklin's room, saying that he doesn't "look inside other people's underwear"
    • If Bernard puts the sweater inside the washing machine without setting it, and Laverne in the future picks it up, she will say that it is not her size and she will immediately put it back in.
  • The Secret of Monkey Island:
    • Guybrush cannot pick up the rat belonging to the Low Moral Fiber Men. No explanation is given beyond "I can't do it".
    • When he speaks to Otis, Guybrush doesn't want to speak to him because he has bad breath.
  • Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge, when Guybrush is back in the dark alley on Mêlée Island (with the circus poster), he doesn't want to move the traffic cones blocking his way because it'd be breaking the law.
  • Special mention to the treasure hold at the start of The Curse of Monkey Island: There are tons of items scattered about the screen, and Guybrush will come up with a different excuse to ignore each one except the two items you need to take. Most amusing is his objection to a purple, horse-shaped children's floaty: "No self-respecting pirate would be seen wearing that!" Guess what he's wearing two minute later...
    • Curse also has a variant of the Idol puzzle mentioned above. You enter a new area, and there's a bunch of stuff for killing snakes. Before he has time to pick up anything, Guybrush is eaten by a snake. He then can't reach any of the snake-killing stuff, due to well, being inside the snake. (He can still comment on all of it, though.)
  • In Grim Fandango, Manny doesn't want to take some painkiller from Naranja's bottle (in Toto Santos' tattoo parlor) with his pipette because he has "enough booze at home", even though he is going to leave the city.
  • Sam & Max Hit the Road has an amusing example: while trying to get a book from a shelf that's just barely out of reach, Sam says that he could just about reach it if he felt like exerting himself. Which he doesn't.
    • Later, there's another item that's easily within reach even without stretching, and Sam says that he could just take it, but he's sure if he thinks really hard he can come up with a really complicated way to do it, and refuses to take it.
    • Parodied brilliantly with an Easter Egg that triggers if the player messes with any objects without a specific "I Can't Reach It" response. If you direct Sam to pick them up, he says "I can't pick that up". Do it again, he says "Really, I can't pick that up" Do it again, he gets irritated and says "Are you dense? I can't pick that up!", then "Read my lips! I... can't... pick... that... up!", then he just says "I give up," and whimpers forlornly. Then Max chews out the player for messing with Sam.
      Max: Now you've done it! You've broken Sam's spirit with your stupid attempts to pick up that silly object! In fact, if I didn't find his pitiful sobbing so amusing, I'd come out there and rip your limbs off!

  • Sierra adventures loved these to make you carefully eke your character as close as possible to some deadly peril in order to perform an essential action.
    • Worst of all was when in King's Quest VII, Queen Valanice goes, "Blast! I can't reach it!" if you try to get her to retrieve an object a foot away from her in a calm, two-foot deep fountain. Well, not as much of a "fountain" and more of a "decorative pool of still water". the solution requires Valanice to get a shepherd's crook to fish it out; the animation that shows her doing this only shows her using the curved end, but not the actual length of the stick, to get it out. Evidently she just didn't want to get her hands all icky.
  • In Laura Bow: The Colonel's Bequest, Laura cannot reach the rope that rings a bell inside a belltower. Instead of just jumping, she is supposed to use a cane to do it. That fire poker that could serve the same purpose with its hard curved tip? Nope. Ain't gonna do it.
  • In Leisure Suit Larry 7: Love for Sail!, Larry cannot do a lot of things just because the narrator doesn't want him to.
  • In Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of the Sacred, Blood of the Damned, Gabriel doesn't want to pick up a red cap in a "lost and found" box in a museum because he finds it ugly. And yet, the player is supposed to pick it up later when he wants to rent a bike, and make a disguise. This time, Gabriel will pick it up. How many players could guess that? Not only that, but it is part of the infamous "cat hair moustache" puzzle.
  • In Quest for Glory IV, the Thief can find a mug in one of the houses he can rob, but the game won't let you steal it because 1) it's the ugliest mug you've ever seen, and 2) there's nothing you can do with it anyway.
  • An amusing example in Conquests of Camelot: if you try to kiss Guinevere but are too far away, Merlin helpfully informs you that her lips aren't that long. You have to walk over to her if you want a smooch, despite this and many other Sierra games having the characters automatically move to perform certain actions.

    Coktel Vision 
  • Gobliiins game series:
    • The first Gobliiins game is particularly hindered by the fact that the heroes do not jump and Dwayne (the only character that can pick up items and use them) can only take objects if they are on the ground, right under him. Several puzzles in the game could be avoided if he could just stretch out his arm to pick something.
    • In Gobliins 2, Fingus and Winkle will often just do "No, no" while shaking their head and fingers when attempting some action.
    • In Goblins 3, the main character is at one point turned into a giant and yet, he still has troubles getting to things which should normally be easier to do when in giant size.
  • In The Bizarre Adventures of Woodruff and the Schnibble, the main character (Woodruff) has to go past an acid liquid river but is barefoot. If he has one boot (which is acid-resistant), he says that he can cross it by hopping on one leg. But not being the sharpest pencil in the drawer, he hops in the acid with his bare foot and is forced to go back. He could simply try again and hop on the booted foot this time, learning from his mistake (even an idiot can think this), but no, he will repeat the same mistake again and again. The player is meant to find another boot so he can cross the river full-booted every time. But then, Woodruff is an Idiot Hero.

  • In the first Discworld adventure game, several times will Rincewind say "That doesn't work!" for any action he can't perform, without giving any explanation as to why (which could give you an idea to the difficulty of the game).
    • By the way, the other Discworld adventure game Discworld Noir referred Rincewind's "That doesn't work" with Lewton thinking at some point - when trying an ineffective item use - "I resisted the temptation to say 'That doesn't work'".
    • In Discworld II Rincewind graduates to actively hindering the player, saying "Good idea... but not just yet" whenever the player tries to do something that is part of a puzzle solution, but not the next part.

  • In Dragon's Dogma, killing bandits is like breathing. One quest totally ignores that fact. You have to catch a bandit running around your village and you're inexplicably not allowed to kill him. You have to hit him with attacks to stun him so he might stand still long enough for you to grab him but you're not allowed to target him the way you would other enemies. If he gets to the gate, he disappears even though there's no way he could possibly lift it to get through. You should be able to go out and catch him after he leaves but you can't. You should be able to hide inside one of the places he's there to rob and catch him when he gets there, but The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard. These kinds of things are to be expected since it's a quest about a "thief" who just runs around like a crazed lizard instead of stealing anything.
  • The titular hero in Nightshade was an early lampooning of this trope.
    JonTron: Nightshade's hard to impress, you take him to a museum and tell him, "Look at that giant bronze horse from the B.C. times," and he's like, "Nuthin unusual here." You take him to a future history museum and say, "Hey, look at that giant hologram horse from the distant C.E. times," and he's like (points with robotic arm) "Nightshade can't do dat!"
  • In the 1997 Blade Runner video game, trying to interact with an object on the other side of an impassable obstacle, such as a chasm, results in Ray saying: "That's.... impossible."
  • In Star Ocean: The Second Story, in the item creation mode, you sometimes get a mystifying message that says "couldn't do anything." Not, "It didn't work," or "Those don't go together," or anything else that makes sense. "Couldn't do anything."
  • Travis Grady wins a Darwin Award for refusing to leave an abandoned monster-infested hell hospital in Silent Hill: Origins until he checks on a girl who's almost certainly dead at this point.
    • In fact, the only thing stopping Travis from leaving Silent Hill altogether is a fallen tree. Not a thick fog, not an invisible wall, not a magically-appearing chasm with no visible bottom... but a fallen tree. He simply refuses to step over it, with no other explanation besides: "Looks like I can't go that way!"
    • This trope manifests itself in each of the Moon Logic Puzzles in the game. For example, in one, a character who is carrying no small number of weapons cannot bust a few bicycle locks with brute force; they have to search out a number of clues. Sometimes, the character with a crowbar, chisel, shotgun, and Big Freakin' Sword can't break down a simple wooden door; they have to solve obscure riddles or make a handle out of some wax, a horseshoe, and a lighter. No one brings bolt cutters with them in Silent Hill; everyone prefers to Solve the Soup Cans. Even alien blasters are no match for a door if the plot demands you solve a riddle instead.
  • Tales of Symphonia has the infamous Ymir Forest, where Lloyd cannot reach a piece of fruit that is three inches away from him in the water. Instead, you have to go around the whole forest, coaxing little fish into pushing the fruit onto the shore.
    • This is also despite having a character who can fly in the party, and another who can summon beings who can either fly or move on water.
  • Justified in the old The Hobbit text game, in which Bilbo must frequently ask for help from Gandalf or Thorin the dwarfnote , because he's a hobbit and therefore too short to climb out windows and the like.
  • Delphine Software's Future Wars has a point where you have to soak a robotic wolf with a leaky carrier bag of water before it runs dry, and you have to stand almost on top of it to do so. It's a good thing it's the world's laziest cybercarnivore.
    • Aggravated by rather clumsy controls (unless you use an optical mouse, which were not available back then) and by most other puzzles in the game averting I Can't Reach It.
  • Mass Effect: want to send your squaddies on ahead of you, but there's a waist-high box, corner of a wall, or one side of a doorway between you and the location you order them to? Steel yourself for a barrage of "I can't get there!" "Not without an airlift!" "Can't make it!"
  • In Peasant's Quest, attempting to "take plaque" gives the response "You have enough of that on your browning, rotten peasant teeth already," without saying a word about the engraved rectangular sign in front of Rather Dashing.
  • This happens to children in The Sims 3, who are too short to reach some things on countertops, like the goldfish bowl. This problem was avoided in The Sims 2 by giving the children a small footstool to use.
  • Die Hard for the NES has a rope you can rappel down the building with, but only after a certain part in the plot. Otherwise you get John saying "I'd have to be desperate to tie that and jump off. No thanks." The same character has no qualms about leaping out of a window to his death at any time.
  • Phantasmagoria: A Puzzle of Flesh: Early on, the hero of cannot reach his wallet, which has ended up under his sofa, so you have to get his pet rat to retrieve it. Fair enough, in a Solve the Soup Cans kind of way, except for the fact that despite heroic attempts by the actor to convince you otherwise, he can quite clearly reach the wallet himself.
  • Metal Gear Solid: In a cutscene in disguise. You're watching through the scope of your rocket launcher as the Cyborg Ninja distracts Metal Gear, so you can shoot it. You can control the camera just fine, but if you attempt to pull the trigger, Snake's response is "It's no good... I can't do it."
    • Unless you used up all your ammo prior, in which case it's a morally gray "It's no good, I'm out of missiles!"
    • Of course, given the funky logic the game runs on, it may very well cause a temporal paradox..
  • ICOM's Déjà Vu (1985), Shadowgate, and Uninvited featured this trope. Examples abounded, such as in Shadowgate, when a magic flute was in a fountain of deadly acid. Forget pushing it to safety with the butt of your spear; find the magic gauntlet hidden inside a well.
  • L.A. Noire's interrogations force you to choose one piece of evidence to catch someone in a lie. In some instances, multiple pieces of evidence in tandem could prove them wrong, but each one individually leaves doubt and thus don't work.
  • In Resident Evil: Outbreak, the first map opens with you in a bar that gets attacked by zombies. You are required to flee to the roof, jump to the adjacent building and fight your way down to the street from there. You are not allowed to simply walk out the front door of the bar, even when the game gives you a hard time limit to reach the street.
  • Early in Rule of Rose you must get scissors hanging from a rope just out of your reach. The only way to get to them is to find a crank in a locked room to lower the said rope, never mind that the room contains, among other things, a rubbish bin you could stand on to get your hands on them. However, this is intentional as the entire game is a fractured flashback, with Adult Jennifer taking the place of her child self,note  so it's understandable that a child couldn't reach.
  • The point and click adventure game Blazing Dragons was filled with this. Generally Flicker's objection to doing something not intended was; "No, that's not safe."
  • An early puzzle in Alone in the Dark (2008) has you balance a fire extinguisher on a wooden platform, then pull a rope to carry it to the upper floor where you can retrieve it and use it to clear out some flames. Because the game won't let you just carry it up the climbable ledges on the other side of the room.
  • In Sonic the Hedgehog (2006), Silver claims that he "can't stop lasers with [his] Psychokinesis". Normally it would make sense, because the lasers would be too fast to stop, but in this game the lasers move incredibly slowly, so it would be feasible for him to at least put something in front of it before it hits.
  • Dark Seed II has many of these moments, but the worst is when Mike Dawson won't move an anvil on an ice-box that has life-saving medicine in it, even though the person who needs the medicine is close to dying. The anvil is too heavy for Mike to lift, but he doesn't even attempt to push it or jimmy it off. Hell, even breaking the table's legs so that the anvil and medicine box fall down would have made more sense. Somebody ended up dying because Mike wouldn't even attempt to move the bloody anvil.note 
    • Let's not forget this: "I don't want to touch this crate, I might get a splinter or a spider bite."
  • Maniac Mansion Mania: If any of Bernard's family is main character and the episode is set in the home, that character will refuse to enter the store room, claiming that there is nothing useful.
  • Teenagent. You need an empty plastic bag. You find a plastic bag containing chunk of meat. You'd think you could simply leave the meat anywhere on the floor, or toss it into a trashcan, but nope—not in adventure game land. You have to dump the meat into one specific place, a pot of soup that you aren't going to use for anything else.
  • Played painfully straight in The Walking Dead, where the only way to grab a map that's next to where Kenny is sitting on the train is to first grab a bottle of whiskey from another car, then give it to Chuck to drink, then let Kenny know that Chuck has some alcohol to share so he'll get up and free the space. Asking Kenny to simply lean to his left a little is out of the question.
  • In LEGO Adaptation Games, a character will turn towards the player and shrug if they're told to interact with an object that they don't have the qualifications, tool, or spell to interact with it with. Taken further with some later games after they got Suddenly Voiced, where leaving the currently selected character idle for a bit will have them comment on whether they can or can't use something.
  • The moth room in Resident Evil 2 has a computer that's covered in giant maggots. Trying to interact with the computer will have the player character state "I can't reach the computer." Because using your arm to brush the maggots off is not an option, you have to shoot the maggots to get rid of them. It also reaches complete overkill levels if you use Leon's flamethrower or Claire's grenade launcher to roast or blow up the maggots. The computer comes out no worse for wear.
  • Taken to deliberately ridiculous extremes in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1984) text adventure, which, in addition to many straight examples of the trope, at one point tells you you can't enter the engine room because you've decided it's a bad idea. The solution? Just keep saying you want to go south until the game gives up and lets you. It will then pretend there's nothing there for a bit. Douglas Adams claimed the game went beyond "user friendly" by being "user hostile".
  • In one early Knights of the Dinner Table story, Bob (temporarily serving as Game Master) describes a ten-by-ten foot room with a small box in the middle. When B.A. announces that he's poking the box with his ten-foot pole, Bob tells him it won't reach.
    B.A.: I'm beginning to realize why you flunked geometry, Bob.
  • Strong Bad's Cool Game for Attractive People: In 8-Bit is Enough, Strong Bad can try to get Ye Flask while he's in Peasant's Quest. Unfortunately for him, Ye Flask is on a shelf that his stubby arms simply can't reach.