Annoying Game Mechanics – Flooding Puzzles

What are Annoying Game Mechanics? They’re those that when you find them you can’t help but groan. You’ve seen them at their best and worst and now they just annoy you on principle!

If you find the series name familiar, then you might remember it from its 1001Up days. But now, after careful and hard negotiations (not really, the 1001Up crew are lovely people), AGM has made its move to The Mental Attic. Is it permanent? Who knows, but in the meantime I hope you enjoy it here as much as you did before and make sure to visit AGMs former home as well!

For this relaunch of Annoying Game Mechanics, I’ve chosen one that I’ve recently seen while on my Classic Play series: Flooding Puzzles.

You’ve seen them in almost every game imaginable. Those sequences where you have to raise or lower the water levels to open new areas or to make puzzle-related objects float. Exactly what the puzzle entails depends on the game but it’s almost become a staple of adventure games, especially action-adventures.

My problem with the mechanic is there are so many things you can do with water: you can alter its states, shifting from gas to ice and back to liquid in a fantastic chemical puzzle; you can use water levels to fill containers for weight-puzzles; you can have a fire & water puzzle, where you use one against the other; piping puzzles to direct the flow of water in the direction you want, among others.

Yet despite those examples, and the many more I can’t even begin to imagine, the implementation we most often see in video games is using flooding. Now every time I see this mechanic, I instinctively sigh and think “not this again.”

The staple of an annoying mechanic is that it’s seen both good and bad days. The following are some of the best and most disappointing uses:


  • The Water Temple from The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time defined this puzzle for the modern era. A sprawling labyrinthine dungeon where you must raise and lower the water to open new areas, reveal treasures and gain access to previously impossible to reach ledges and doors. The Water Temple is famous—or infamous depending on whom you ask—and is one of the hardest Zelda dungeons to date.
    • A close second is the 2nd Dark World dungeon in A Link to The Past, which also featured levers to raise water levels.
  • The Tomb Raider series loves this mechanic, but no other game does it more often than Tomb Raider Anniversary, with almost back-to-back water-level puzzles.
    • The first one is in Greece in the Poseidon room. A vertical shaft where you must raise and lower the water a few times to get a raft to the exact place you need it to reach a ledge. This one also involves a fair dose of box pushing, pulling and underwater levers.
    • The second one is the previous example on steroids, this time not a vertical room but an entire ancient sewer/waterway. With long drops that will instantly kill you and checkpoints at the most inconvenient locations and times, this is a pain in the arse to play to be honest, but it is well designed and has a right way to do it…and the way I did it the first time around.
    • The third one involves flooding an entire room, then lowering the water to shoot some scarabs to open grates and then re-flood the area to escape. It’s not really complex but flooding plus platforming make it interesting.


  • The Resident Evil series is famous for using these,notasbrainteasers but time-wasters. Simple crank puzzles to flood or drain areas.
    • Resident Evil 2 has the perfect example: Go into a canal, arrange boxes in a straight line, raise water level and go through.
    • Resident Evil 4 is another perfect example. The sewers under Salazar’s castle have a flooded section and the challenge of it all is making it through the area and its many one-hit-kill enemies to the crank you need to drain the water.
  • Wet-Dry World in Super Mario 64 is not one of my favourites. The initial height of the water depends on how high you jumped into the level and you raise or lower the water with coloured crystals, seven of them in total and spread throughout the environment. It’s a pain to find the exact one you’re looking for and if the water level’s high enough, it’s going to be a long swim down to the crystal you need. Hope you don’t drown!

There are many more examples of this annoying mechanic at work, but I can’t list them all. Do you have a favourite flood puzzle, or one you just can’t stand? Let me know in the comments and be sure to come back in two weeks for another issue of Annoying Game Mechanics!


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I love everything readable, writeable, playable and of course, edible! I search for happiness, or Pizza, because it's pretty much the same thing! I write and ramble on The Mental Attic and broadcast on my Twitch channel, TheLawfulGeek

11 thoughts on “Annoying Game Mechanics – Flooding Puzzles”

  1. I may be wrong but I think the original Tomb Raider makes more use of water puzzles than Anniversary does (they cut out a whole level, the Cistern, for TR:A). TR2 also makes liberal use of them in the Maria Doria levels. I wonder if they’ll bring back this particular type of puzzle in Rise of the Tomb Raider now that we know that she’ll be able to swim again. 😉

  2. I’ll keep an eye out for this when I get to TR2, because my memories of the title are foggy at best.

    The Cistern IS in Anniversary but it’s been considerably simplified turning it into just ONE room. If you look at Part 3 in my Classic Play, you can see the modified cistern. The only thing they left was the main room with the water puzzle.

    It’s the sewer/waterway I mention in this post. I didn’t remember the level’s name.

  3. Wet-Dry World…oh man, I cringe at the thought of that level. Actually, water levels in Mario games, any Mario games, make me cringe. I hate swimming in Mario games.

    On the other side of the coin, there’s some great water/flood levels in Bayonetta 2. They’re fun and dangerous to traverse…and there’s no swimming.

    1. I usually don’t mind swimming in Marios, because it handles really well, but I loathe Wet-Dry world and its how labyrinthine it can be even without the water-level crystals!

      Can you link up a video of the Bayonetta video? I’d love to see it!

      1. Here’s one example, maybe not the most exciting one. (And I misspoke. There *is* swimming in Bayonetta 2, just not your run ‘o the mill kind. 🙂 )

    1. If it were based on fluid motion and physics I’d agree but these puzzles are quite simplistic in how they use water.

      1. Hmmm, true. For the longest time the easiest way to boast new graphical prowess was to show of your pretty water, perhaps therein lie its roots.

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