Gaming

The 10 most fiendishly difficult puzzle games we’ve ever played

By Jack Yarwood

They don't have fancy graphics, they don't have heaps of multiplayer modes, yet point-and-click puzzle adventures can offer some of the most rewarding experiences in the world of video games video game experiences.

However, not all puzzles are created equal. Some defy all basic logic with their tricky puzzles, putting the player at an immediate disadvantage when attempting to solve them.

Whether it’s throwing in a new gameplay mechanic unseen elsewhere in the game or using some phrase you've never heard of, these puzzles are weighted firmly against those playing, leading to some rage-inducing moments.

For posterity, we’ve decided to recount 10 of the most infuriating puzzles from adventure games that had us screaming at our computers for longer than we'd like to admit...

  • The 10 most fiendishly difficult puzzle games we've ever played

    King’s Quest V – Saving The Rat

    King’s Quest V was full of irritating puzzles, but it’s safe to say none were quite as maddening as those that left your save file completely unwinnable.

    Case in point, you’re walking past a bakery when suddenly a cat appears on screen chasing a rat. This may seem like an innocuous event, but failure to act in this situation will prevent any future progression and ruin your save.

    What you need to do is throw an old shoe from your inventory at the cat before it reaches its prey. Obviously. This will allow the rat to enter the story later on and chew through your bonds when you’re tied up in the basement of the Swarthy Hog Inn.

    We can imagine many players slammed their keyboard in disdain over this puzzle. We certainly did. 

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    Broken Age – Wire Puzzle

    The first act of Broken Age was a breeze, so when the second part launched a year later many were expecting a walk in the park. What they didn’t expect was a convoluted wire puzzle, which required players to switch between the two main characters, Vella and Shay, for the answer to become clear.

    The main problem with this puzzle is that its solution is illogical. It assumes that Shay and Vella are sharing information, which they aren’t at this point in the story. This makes it easy for players to overlook the correct answer, in favour of a more sensible approach. 

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    Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge – Monkey Wrench

    The next puzzle on this list may have been easy for American players to figure out, but it stumped European audiences upon release. Yep, the monkey wrench puzzle from Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge.

    This puzzle relied on the player having a rudimentary understanding of American slang, specifically knowledge of the phrase “monkey wrench”.

    In the game, you come across a water pump you need to switch off, but the obvious tools you have in your inventory aren’t working. Clueless Europeans must have searched everywhere for a new piece of equipment they might have neglected, but the answer was right under their noses the whole time.

    To turn the water pump off, you’re expected to hypnotize Jojo the Monkey with a banana metronome, before using him as a “monkey wrench”, the American slang for an adjustable wrench.

    Most European players found the correct solution by trial and error, and when faced with the answer were still left scratching their heads. It’s a case of the developers at LucasArts not having the foresight to anticipate the international response to the game. Bitter? Us? Nah...

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    Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy – Babel Fish Puzzle

    Difficult beyond belief, the Babel fish puzzle in the text adventure of Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy has earned a reputation as being one of the most frustrating in video game history.

    Boarding a Vogon ship after Earth has been destroyed, the player is expected to make a Babel fish fall from a dispenser and go into their ear. There are numerous problems, however: the Babel fish can fire across the room and through a hole, it can fall down an unnoticed drain, or tiny robots can clean it up and take it away.

    The solution to the puzzle, therefore, is this: place your gown on the hook by the hole, position a towel on the drain, and put a satchel and some junk mail by the robot dispenser. This will cause the Babel fish to fly up into air, out of reach of the robots, and land in your ear.

    To arrive at this solution, you have to experiment with the different items in your inventory to learn the necessary steps. This is a massive nuisance, and may require you to reload your old save files over and over, as the puzzle is time sensitive and it demands items you’ve likely missed. We hated it.

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    Grim Fandango – Ticket Printing Puzzle

    A benchmark in the adventure game genre, Grim Fandango isn’t short on ingenious puzzles, but it also doesn’t lack some annoying moments too. The most unrelenting of these has to be the ticket printing puzzle presented to players in the second year of the game.

    This puzzle requires players to find out the details of a famous race, with subtle hints spread across Rubacava. But, stumbling about the city, it’s easy to miss these hints, due to the extraordinary size and scope of the area and the amount of characters you have to interact with. Devilishly detailed, this puzzle took many players (well, us) weeks to figure out upon first playing the game. One that needed a knowing friend to help you along.

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    Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned – Cat Hair Puzzle

    Another infamous example bound to still produce groans from all who've played it: the cat hair segment from Gabriel Knight 3: Blood Of The Sacred, Blood Of The Damned.

    To progress, you need a bike to travel, but the rental shop is only giving them out to members of a tour group. The game, therefore, demands that you construct a costume to pose as one of the members of the group, Franklin Mosely. This is where things get weird.

    To form part of the disguise, you need to construct a fake moustache out of cat hair, despite Mosely not actually having a moustache. You then have to draw a moustache on Mosely’s stolen passport with a marker.

    It’s vague, irrational, and extremely annoying. The rest of it was great though...

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    The Longest Journey – Rubber Duck Puzzle

    The Longest Journey is a great title, but there’s no mistaking that it has some huge flaws. One of these is the obtuse duck puzzle from the first half of the game.

    Spotting an iron key on the subway track, you try to grab it with your hand, but you can’t quite reach it. What do you do?

    The answer turns out to be anything but simple.

    To be successful, you have to combine the clothesline found outside of the Border House with a clamp and a steadily deflating rubber duck. This will craft a makeshift fishing pole, letting you retrieve the key. Only then can you breathe a sigh of relief, and collect up all the hair you'd been pulling out.

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    Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars – Goat Puzzle

    Revolution Software’s Broken Sword: The Shadow Of The Templars baffled players when it was first released, including a puzzle that adheres to rules not previously established elsewhere in the title.

    In the game, you’re trying get past a goat standing guard over a castle in Ireland. But if you try to approach it, you’ll get charged at and forced back.

    In this situation, it turns out what you have to do is time-sensitive, unlike all other puzzles in the game. It requires you to get charged at, before running over to the plough iron and moving it onto the goat’s rope. This will restrict the animal’s movements, giving you the freedom to travel as you see fit. Obvious really.

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    Codename: Iceman –Dice Game Puzzle

    One of the few Sierra Adventure games not to spin out into a franchise, Codename: Iceman is notable for having complete contempt for the player. Don’t believe us? Read on.

    In typical Sierra fashion, you progress in Codename: Iceman through solving puzzles and collecting items. But some of these puzzles rely heavily on chance rather than on a demonstration of intelligence or skill.

    The most notorious example of this is the dice game puzzle, where you have to play against a drunken crewman to get essential items that are needed to progress.

    During this segment, you’re limited to one restore, allowing you to load an old save file only once. Should you try again, the crewman will instead accuse you of cheating and break your save file.

    Mean-spirited and infuriating, it’s unsurprising that this game never got a sequel.

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    King’s Quest – Gnome Puzzle

    You didn’t expect there to be only one King’s Quest entry, did you?

    Sierra’s original King’s Quest game had many nonsensical puzzles, yet none were quite as brutal as the incongruous gnome riddle that asked players to guess a character’s name.

    To arrive at the answer, the game somehow expects you to associate a letter found in the witch’s hut with the gnome. This tells you to think backwards. Though rather than simply spell Rumplestiltskin back to front, it expects you to write out the alphabet in reverse and find the corresponding letters that are present in the fairytale name.

    We can only assume Sierra’s helplines were crammed with callers, crying out in anger over the difficulty of this puzzle.