Humans are built to solve puzzles. The entire course of our evolutionary history has, at its core, been about solving various puzzles. Once upon a time, that meant puzzles like, “How do I kill things to eat them even though I am small?” and, “What should we do with all this poop we keep making?” Now, puzzles are fun and typically involve math, strategy, and logic. Call them brainteasers or mind games or shovelware, puzzles are a gaming genre unto themselves (in addition to being part of just about every other genre too).
But puzzle ubiquity wasn’t always the law of the gaming land. For years, most puzzle games used hopped-up board game mechanics where players did feats of memorization or organization. Puzzle games were often a static, two-dimensional experience that felt more like something you’d find in the back of a newspaper than inside the circuits of a Super Famicom. Great for killing time and a fun distraction, but far from an immersive experience.
Then, everything changed.
Arguably the most important puzzle game ever released, Myst is available now on Xbox Game Pass. Here’s why there’s never been a time to revisit this early ‘90s best-selling classic.
Myst was released in 1993 as the brainchild of brothers Robyn and Rand Miller, who spent most of their careers developing children’s titles. They pitched their creation to Sunsoft as something different.
This wasn’t your standard puzzle game. It was a new genre unto itself, as subsequent sequels, Kickstarters, and spiritual successors would prove. This puzzle game had story, setting, atmosphere — all the trappings of a roleplaying fantasy without the warriors and wizards. Instead, players were plopped onto a mysterious island with little direction and encouraged to explore and observe. There are no lives or fail states or timers in Myst. You either figure stuff out, or you don’t.
For many gamers, “don’t” was how they experienced Myst. Sure, it was popular. It was the best-selling PC game of all time until it was dethroned by The Sims. I remember being a child in the ‘90s and hearing parents (!) talk about playing this game. One of my classmates made a physical Myst notebook for tracking clues and shared it with my middle school history teacher Mrs. Biddle. It popped up on The Simpsons, which blew my mind.
Even now, Myst is freaking tough. As a point-and-click adventure, it doesn’t age especially well given how many breadcrumbs and clues game developers give us nowadays. If you’re looking for a ludicrous challenge, go in cold with no context and try to solve it all yourself. Let me know when you reach the Mazerunner so I can laugh at your tears.
There is another way, though. A better way, if you value your time and sanity. When Myst launched, the internet wasn’t a thing yet. There were no forums and no sites like Inverse to serve up tips, tricks, cheats, and walkthroughs. You had some gaming magazines, some word-of-mouth, and the occasional gamer tips hotline. That’s it.
Now, things are different. Now, you can dive into Myst and confront the game that daunted you for decades with YouTube in your back pocket. You can experience all the things that made it a bestselling phenomenon with the benefit of a little help every now and then (or a lot). You can play Myst on your own terms and maybe process some unresolved childhood angst. Remember, the real puzzle is the rage quits we had along the way.
Myst is available now on Game Pass, as well as for sale on Nintendo Switch, PC, and Playstation.