I might regret that title, but let me talk it through. Are Breath of the Wild’s puzzles better than Portal 2’s puzzles? I love the puzzles in Portal 2! It’s almost a perfect game and now I’m questioning how good it really is? How did I get here?
Core to the enjoyment of solving a Portal puzzle is the satisfaction felt at the end of a level. At the outset, everything you need to solve the level is in front of you. The tools are dead simple: two portals. You, your portal gun and your wits (and maybe the occasional Companion Cube or two). As you go along, additional tools are added, but they only serve to enhance the portal principle. Pure satisfaction is yours when you reach the end, feeling like you’re the only person that has ever solved this puzzle in the way you did. It really taps the brainzone where pleasure and satisfaction is registered. As the levels progress, the ideas and solutions build upon themselves until (spoiler alert) you’re opening a portal on the moon. Each step along the way is another accomplishment, success building on another success until you finally make it to the end.
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild has tapped into that same brainzone for me, to the point that I’m wondering if BotW’s puzzles are better than Portal’s. But why?
In BotW, you have a few more tools at your disposal. The runes on your Sheikah Slate give you more options for solving a particular puzzle, along with your weapons. It’s up to you how you use them, as most puzzles can be brute forced. But solving a puzzle with an elegant solution feels infinitely more satisfying.
Case in point: there is a puzzle where huge metal balls are tumbling down a sloped surface that is interspersed with blocks and obstacles that impede the descent of the metallic balls (think a giant pinball machine, and you’re half-way there). There is also water falling over the back wall and down the slope. You, being a brute, could use magnesis (the rune that allows you to manipulate metal objects) to freeze one of the pinballs and force it near the end of the slope. But you’ve got to maneuver the huge pinball while avoiding the other pinballs that are tumbling around you. One false move and your precious pinball is going to miss the last obstacle and tumble over the side, with no other pinballs left to manipulate. Brute force is doable, but not easy (and I would assume, not as satisfying). I know it’s not easy because I tried it. Over and over again.
The elegant solution is to use crynosis (the rune that allows you to create up to three pillars of ice out of water) to deftly guide the ball to its destination, gently moving it down the slope into the awaiting receptacle. The solution presented itself to me as I was about to give up after the fiftieth attempt to brute force my way. It was an “a-HA!” moment of the highest order. Elegance in and of itself is a reward. There’s an added satisfaction that you figured out what the level designer had in mind. He deemed you smart enough to eventually figure it out and rewarded your superior intellect with an extra satisfying ding at the end. Your brainzone was touched. You didn’t get an extra spirit orb for doing it “right”. You didn’t get a rupee bonus. The feeling of accomplishment is a reward all its own.
This experience happens over and over again. Some puzzles are easier, some are less elegant, but all end in a feeling of accomplishment.
And that’s not even mentioning the puzzles contained in each of the four Divine Beasts. Not only are you manipulating the physics around you but you are also physically manipulating the level, rotating it or turning it on its side. It’s an added layer that magnifies the difficulty and demands more of the puzzle solver. But again, elegance is found in the solution.
So why am I feeling like BotW’s puzzles are better than Portal 2? I think part of it is the variety. Puzzles in Portal are the game. They are the means that lead to your escape. The puzzles in BotW are both essential (solving the Divine Beasts) and superfluous (you could ostensibly finish the game without completing every shrine). There are also hours of the game spent not solving puzzles. The crafting, exploring and fighting space out the puzzles at a reasonable pace that allows for puzzle satisfaction to come at regular intervals.
So maybe I’m saying The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is just a better game than Portal 2. Because it is. But in the end, I think the puzzles are superior, too.