I’ve tried to write this column in a few different ways, but every time I think of the first puzzle game I played or the most impactful game I played, I always think of another. One of those games, between the many video games and board games, was “I Spy Spooky Mansion.” If we want to get into the nitty-gritty, I truly loved all of the early 2000s “I Spy” computer games, but “Spooky Mansion” was undoubtedly my favorite, and it later led to my love of RPG puzzle games and puzzle platforms.
In “Spooky Mansion,” the player has to solve a series of I-spy-style riddle games in various settings to collect scraps of paper, which the player then assembles into a piece of paper with another riddle written on it. These games were amazing when I was a child and were my introduction to video games. I would sit at our family desktop PC for hours, playing through the “Spooky Mansion,” and then through the “Treasure Hunt” and “I Spy Fantasy” miniworlds. After playing through nearly everything, it was difficult to remember what I had to search for in the other games, so I would start at “Spooky Mansion” and play them all again. I was fairly easy to please at 8 years old.
The “I Spy” games and books were my introduction to the world of puzzle games. I liked to solve the riddles, to have the satisfaction of being correct at a logic puzzle. When all the pieces fell into the correct places and I finally escaped the mansion with Ghost No. 7, I knew what victory tasted like. And those feelings of satisfaction never faded away.
When I was a freshman in high school, I got very attached to an RPG call “OFF,” which had recently translated from French. It was about a character named The Batter going through different “zones” and trying to purify the world, and while there were combat elements mixed in with every level, the basis of every “zone” was a puzzle. There were locks with combinations, mazes, memory puzzles — you name it. Even plot-theorizing was related to puzzles in some way because there was a library where the player could flip through some books and get some foreshadowing or backstory, and it was the player’s job to figure out what these books meant. What was foreshadowing, what was backstory and what was a retelling of the events happening right now? And what was gibberish? It was my job to parse it all and, once I had a hunch, I had to see if I was right.
“OFF” is one of my favorite games of all time, definitely, and my love of “OFF” led me to other video games that I thoroughly enjoyed — “Undertale” is a puzzle RPG that is very close to my heart, both because of its impactful story and for its puzzle-y mechanics. I was also a very big fan of “Portal” and “Portal 2,” and I’ve been considering replaying both recently. Even puzzle phone games tickle my fancy, as my time spent on “Flow” and “AO” attest to. I’ve been branching out of the digital realm recently as well, filling out The Daily Californian’s sudoku puzzles in every issue I pick up.
Often I finish the sudoku, because what’s one to do with a puzzle if not finish it, but sometimes I don’t. Some puzzles are too hard, and that’s OK. With enough practice, one day I might have the logical processing power to complete every sudoku or every “I Spy.” Just like with the combat parts of “OFF” or “Undertale,” I improved at my puzzle-solving after every puzzle, learning little strategies for the next time I’d have to solve one, adding up to even more self-satisfaction once I could complete hard-level puzzles.
Recently, I remembered “I Spy” again. I don’t remember what brought us to the topic, but my brother and I rediscovered these old puzzle games at our Thanksgiving dinner. They were a magical part of both of our childhoods and, after talking about them, I found a few playthroughs of them online. The nostalgia connected to the puzzles was one large pull, but another was to test myself. Could I find all of the items before the person playing the playthrough? Sometimes, but not always. It was a fun, challenging twist on a game I’d long since forgotten.
Truly, I love puzzles. It’s hard for me to understand all of them — you will never catch me doing a crossword in pen, while I use pen in nearly all of my sudoku puzzles — but I will always cherish puzzles and the haunted place they hold in my heart.