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Moon Logic

Or the way adventure games (used to) work

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Have you ever been frustrated by a certain puzzle that made no sense at all during an adventure gaming session? I have. Chances are you’ve bumped into what is apparently called “moon logic”! I didn’t know there even was a word for something like that, and I quite like both the sound and connotation of those two terms.

One of my first encounters with moon logic was in the Coktel Vision games, or more specifically, Gobliins 2, a now 29 year old French DOS adventure game where you control both “goblins” that are tasked to rescue the Prince Buffoon (ha!). The quirky characters are called Fingus and Winkle and have their own personality. One is talky, and the other is burly. One might be able to crack open a door for the other to slip through. One could keep a villager busy chatting away while the other could go and steal the villager’s sausage. Yeah, it’s a bit of a crazy game.

The later scenes require you to abandon all logical thinking pathways in favor of “Fingus and Winkle”-style logic: moon logic. I remember getting stuck quite often, and the game has a built-in hint system you can only consult a couple of times. This was the time before the Internet and Gamefaqs.com, so no peeking there. Apart from the puzzle difficulties, my English as a six-year old was non-existing.

Fingus in Gobliins 2 next to an angry-looking dog.

What’s the solution to moon logic puzzles? Brute-forcing your way through, of course! That is, randomly clicking on stuff and combining everything with everything until something works. Well, that might work for a game like Gob2 where inventory management isn’t that much of an issue due to the limited amount of things you pick up in the first place. But just when you think you’re an adventure game master and confidently boot up Simon the Sorcerer II, you’re about to get even more frustrated! Why? Simon I - and especially II - require you not only to “moon logic” your way through, but also to do something arguably even worse: pixel hunting. I remember something called a “green dye” that was picked up in a scene with… a green background. That made it pretty much impossible to detect unless you scanned every single pixel with the mouse until something was highlighted. Great!

Those where the days. You’d think. While indeed many older games have a lot of moon logic puzzles, PushingUpRoses shows in her video Did Moon Logic Kill Adventure Games? that it’s also a modern problem, although the video is mostly limited to Sierra’s starry logic. PC Gamer devoted a top 10 to the worst and most WTF puzzle moments in adventure gaming. I’m surprised neither Goblins or Simon made it to the list, but it certainly proves that frustrating puzzles are (1) not a lot of fun and (2) a common issue. For the curious, Reddit user llamastinkeye asked others to list their favorite examples of “moon logic” in video games. One of the first examples is Cave Story, by the way: a 2D platformer, not an adventure game!

Another weird term: Solving the “Soup Cans”. What? Remember the protagonist of the 7th Guest saying:

“I mean, what the hell kind of villain thwarts the hero’s progress with soup cans in the kitchen pantry?”

According to tvtropes.org’s Wiki entry, it’s just another way to serve as an (out-of-place) obstacle for the player. Is moon logic a way to arbitrarily increase the game’s length? Perhaps. It certainly introduces a level of difficulty, which ultimately end up prolonging the game time. It could also end up frustrating the play to such an extend that the ending scene is never reached…

Many NES and Game Boy games require a few hours of gameplay from start to finish. Go ahead and randomly inspect a title’s howlongtobeat time. Increased difficulty paired with a very limited amount of continues was, back in the day, considered good practice to keep the player busy. Remember the many stairs in Castlevania NES games? The Belmonts aren’t very swift in the first place, but if you get hit while on a stair, you simply fall through and die. Cool.

Stairs in Castlevania I: a shortcut to the Game Over screen.

Just looking at the screenshot sends shivers down my spine. I automatically hear the death tune in my head: “tududududu-dududuuuu”. Arrgh! I sometimes feel like the Angry Video Game Nerd in that respect. Check out his “angry” Castlevania video - skip to minute 2:44 for the lovely tune.

These fake difficulty modes nowadays are thankfully considered very bad practice. Well… Not really. Just like moon logic doesn’t really respect the player’s time, endless grinds in random battles of JRPG games do not respect the player’s time. Placing save points far away from each other or from extremely difficult boss rooms do not respect the player’s time (Hollow Knight, I’m looking at you!).

As a responsible adult (cough), I have to divide my time between family, housekeeping chores, work, etc. The little free time that is left could go to gaming, but my lowered frustration threshold, perhaps combined with my incompetence at gaming in general as I grow older, make it more and more difficult to digest moon logic games. I’d rather enjoy myself for 10 hours straight and finish a game than slogging through 40 hours of mediocre gameplay where I simply know I’m being fooled just to keep me locked in front of a screen. That almost sounds like an addict!

I do love adventure games (and Hollow Knight). I just can’t bring up the patience anymore and simply resort to an on-line guide when encountering a moon logic section. This allows me to continue enjoying the better parts of the game. Furthermore, it keeps my heart rate in check, thus reducing my cursing, and thus keeps my spouse happy.

Hey, did we just conclude that moon logic is a danger to a marriage?

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 36 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

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