I played Patrick’s Parabox

It’s been a while since I played a really good puzzle game. The last really great one was The Witness. The central mechanic (tracing paths through mazes) was simple to understand, but presented a lot of possible variations.

I appreciated how the pacing of the game gives you time to build mastery over the various puzzle elements. Generally, each puzzle is based on one key insight. Once you solve that puzzle, you’ve learned something new about the game. Subsequent puzzles could then build on that understanding, giving a steady sense of progression without overwhelming the player. On top of having some very challenging, delightful, and satisfying puzzles, The Witness has great aesthetics too.

Ever since I played through The Witness a few years ago, I hadn’t gotten into another puzzle game. It’s not for lack of trying. I’ve started a number of them, including Snakebird, Baba Is You, and Stephen’s Sausage Roll. Each time, I would enjoy it for a while (I think they’re all good games), but eventually I’d get stuck on a hard puzzle and rapidly lose interest.

I don’t think I bounced off these games because I’m bad at puzzles. I was able to solve every puzzle I encountered in The Witness, which has some pretty tough ones.* However, most if its puzzles are static screens you can take in and reason about in one eyeful. These other games feature puzzles that take sequential turns, so the state of the puzzle changes over time. So for a while, I thought I might just be bad at turn-based puzzles.

Fortunately, I recently had a great time playing a turn-based puzzle game: Patrick’s Parabox. The game is a Sokoban-style game, which means you push boxes around a grid. The twist is that some boxes have smaller worlds inside of them that you can shrink down into and enter. This is only the first twist of many. The game does a great job of keeping things interesting with a small set of simple mechanics.

It also does a great job at pacing, teaching you important insights as you go, just like The Witness. I think that pacing is the key to keeping my interest in a puzzle game, because I need that sense of mastery. When I got stuck on a particularly tough puzzle, I was confident I already had all the tools I needed to solve it, so I would persist, rather than lose interest.

My favorite unexpected thing about the game is just how funny many of the puzzles are. It’s not that there’s some additional comedy element. I mean that the actual logic of the puzzles made me laugh. There are all these wonderful surprises in the solutions, things that seem crazy or goofy, but actually work according to the rules laid out. That was a delight I had not had in a puzzle video game before.

Have you played Patrick’s Parabox? What is your favorite puzzle game? How is its pacing? Let me know your thoughts at my Ctrl-C email: gome ​@ ​ctrl-c.club.

* I’m particularly proud of how few tries it took me to beat “The Challenge”.