Design Quick-Thoughts: Optional Puzzles in Metroidvanias

I just finished playing through Super Metroid, and a thought occurred to me.  Something that is both a strength and weakness of the “Metroidvania” style of game is that sometimes you see an object out of reach, and don’t know if you can actually get to it with the items you currently have, or if you need to come back later.  In many cases it’s obvious: there’s a colored door or marked block that you don’t have the weapon to open, but many times it’s not as obvious, and you have to solve some sort of navigation puzzle to reach the item.

Why I think this is ultimately a strength is it creates the possibility, but not a certainty, of an unsolvable (for now) problem, which is a rarity in games.  Games are designed around the player, and thus every problem is made to be solved.  There’s no reason to give up on a puzzle because you know there’s a solution.  But with this, you get ambiguous situations where there is a chance that the problem is insoluble for the time being.  Giving up could be the correct option, and because of that, it means more when you figure out that a problem can be solved and you don’t give up.

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