Nuzzles: Not a Puzzle

CODE FOR DOOR C489 Kia or Welcon 58880

The Legend of Zelda and its imitators, Okami, Darksiders, God of War 2018, Beyond Good and Evil, Legacy of Kain: Soul Reaver, have a particular style of “puzzle”, where you need to notice a switch somewhere and activate it. The developers of Darksiders coined a term for this, “Nuzzle”, short for “Not a Puzzle”. Nuzzles can be useful for teaching a player how to use a puzzle mechanic for the first time. Zelda style games tend to have items or abilities that you unlock which can be used to flip switches that cannot be flipped by any other means. When you get a new ability, it helps to have a simple example of what it can interact with and how it works. The Witness does this in each area that introduces a new puzzle symbol, by having a sequence of 5-10 nuzzles that demonstrate how it works in the simplest way possible, expecting you to learn how the puzzle symbol works via induction so that you can reason out puzzle solutions with deduction.

A nuzzle can be broadly identified as a 1-step puzzle, or a riddle. Nuzzles don’t test critical thinking skills, they simply test if the player is paying attention, or remembers what the switch operating mechanic is at all. Of course this is critical for tutorial purposes, new or inexperienced players need guidance to know how to solve puzzles, but the trouble comes in when Nuzzles are deployed broadly long after the basic puzzle mechanics are understood, as a replacement or filler for puzzles, which is what Zelda-like games tend to do long after puzzle mechanics have already been introduced (such as when you’re asked to light 2 torches in the final dungeon of the game, or hit a sequence of switches in the order they tell you when there are no enemies in the room, and no other confounding factors, such as time limits, or additional puzzle mechanics).

At 4:09 in this video, Nuzzles are defined and explained,

At 12:51 in this video there is an example of a Nuzzle, with a brief explanation,

And here’s a parody video about a recent Nuzzle that became a meme:

From a development perspective, Nuzzles also represent wasteful and unintuitive design. To continue to add new nuzzles late in a game, they require unique scripting, either to introduce new puzzle mechanics that are swiftly abandoned or barely reused (like the 3d rotating boss keys in Zelda: Skyward Sword), or unique triggers that the player is supposed to intuit work with their abilities (like the staircase in dodongo cavern that requires you to bomb where the empty spot in the line of bomb plants is, but absolutely not hit the bomb plants on both sides).

Because nuzzles are the first time a player usually sees a given mechanic, and they are so simple that solving them is one step, and they frequently rely on unique scripted mechanics, nuzzles can usually be thought of as a riddle. Riddles inherently rely on induction/intuition, on interpreting hints without a logical system to experiment with and make deductions based upon. This can be more fair if it is more obvious (undermining difficulty) or if there is a reasonable logical framework behind it (like phoenix wright or papers please) and it can be less fair when it’s neither of those things, prompting player frustration as they have no clue how to solve the riddle and even more frustration when they look up the solution and it’s not obvious.

Here’s a Zelda puzzle from the SECOND TO LAST DUNGEON.

More successful Zelda imitators either evolve beyond nuzzles quickly and reuse and iteratively recombine their puzzle mechanics to create genuine puzzles (Ittle Dew, God of War 2018, Breath of the Wild), or they make nuzzles as minimal as possible and focus primarily on combat (2d Zelda, God of War 2018, Ys Origin, Devil May Cry). 3d Zelda games and their closer imitations rarely if ever evolve beyond nuzzles and devote a significant portion of their playtime to passing through nuzzles (usually accompanied by a patronizing unskippable cutscene that spoils the answer, however simple, and another one playing the “secret” jingle to indicate you progressed through something mandatory and utterly unimpressive).

Breath of the Wild deserves half credit here for having a lot of things that are not nuzzles, or introducing alternate solutions into the nuzzles it has. It still has a massive number of nuzzles/riddles scattered around the world in the form of the Korok seeds, but many of the puzzle shrines are actually surprisingly dynamic and do not have straightforward answers.

11 thoughts on “Nuzzles: Not a Puzzle

  1. Rondomi April 15, 2020 / 12:46 pm

    That’s not the second to last dungeon. That’s actually the last one. Exacerbates the problem, I know.


    • Rondomi April 15, 2020 / 12:52 pm

      Although, I would like to elaborate on how goofy that particular puzzle is, because that gif didn’t even cover half of it.

      After the camera shows you the candles, you are contacted by the King of Red Lions, who outright tells you to memorize them. Then, when you get to the room where you’re supposed to apply the puzzle logic (which, by the way, is only two rooms away and is easily accessible so memorization isn’t much of a problem), the camera makes the exact same movements to reveal the puzzle solution.

      I suppose the developers wanted to make sure the player opens a convenient shortcut to the overworld, but it felt very patronizing to me, even by Zelda puzzle standards.


      • Chris Wagar April 15, 2020 / 1:09 pm

        Depends how you count last, but yeah. I meant to post the full clip, I’ve updated the post to include the whole thing.


  2. main_gi April 15, 2020 / 11:41 pm

    Would you call it a ‘nuzzle’ when overworld ability mechanics are used for nothing challenging? Like the kind of abilities you obtain in a Metroidvania, or something like Mario & Luigi / Paper Mario series with the overworld abilities, sometimes even if the area you’re in would require some ability to get to, the game still requires you to use the overworld ability even though you definitely have it.

    The most common example I’ve seen is like, ice blockades in a world where once you get fire you can get rid of them easily, like having a blue key and getting faced with blue locks over and over.


  3. River April 17, 2020 / 4:01 am

    I remember in skyward sword there were some nuzzles in Skyloft, the central hub area of the game. At first it seemed halfway decent, because you would explore Skyloft, notice something you can’t do anything with yet (e.g. a pinwheel), and later on find an item in a dungeon that lets you interact with it (e.g. the gust bellows). But once you get the item and return to Skyloft, the game forces you to notice the the interactive object with a cutscene or dialogue.

    Letting the player make the connection themselves would have been a little satisfying, since you get the item away from Skyloft, which makes it not immediately obvious that the item would be used there. And it rewards players for exploring the hub area and keeping track of things they might be able to interact with later. But as it is implemented, it’s not much different than if they had just placed the interactive object in a room directly after you first get the item. It’s like there’s no point in having a structure of hub > dungeon > hub > dungeon > …. It could have just been dungeon > dungeon > dungeon > … and nothing would be lost.


  4. throw September 24, 2020 / 7:12 am

    There are also “seesaw” puzzles. Puzzles which are solved as soon as you see them, only thing left is to actually “punch it in”. Half Life 2 is full of them. Baby tier problems (like an actual seesaw where you push a barrel onto one end which makes door open), usually physics based. HL2 is also brim filled with destructible boxes and barrels that stand in your way, so you have to break them, making an illusion that you doing something and not just walking down the corridor.


  5. Malone September 29, 2020 / 4:13 pm

    The thing you are trying to argue that is not a puzzle actually is a puzzle. You should play some adventure games such as Zork, Ultima 4, Wizardry 1 to understand about it and stop saying ‘Old 3D Zelda sucks and they don’t even have a puzzle’. Those so called ‘nuzzles’ are key parts of adventure games such as 3D Zelda, Metroid, 2D Super Mario(1, lost levels, 3, world) and 3D Super Mario(64, Sunshine).


    • Chris Wagar September 29, 2020 / 4:32 pm

      Okay. How are they actually a puzzle?

      What would I come to understand by playing Zork, Ultima, Wizardry?

      How are they a key part?


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