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The 25 Best Puzzle Games Ever Made

Mind Bending

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25: Bejeweled 3

Developer: PopCap

Publisher: EA

Yes, Bejeweled 3. It may well feel like one of the most trite examples of the puzzle genre, the sort of game your rubbish uncle likes to play while espousing his views, but nope. It’s actually a really splendid match-3 game.

Because of the scale of its popularity and success, it’s tempting to assume that the original Bejeweled was a clone of a smaller, quieter idea. But while Puzzle de Pon certainly first featured the concept in 1995, it really wasn’t until PopCap’s 2001 release of Bejewled that the match-3 as we now know it was formed. Yes, without Bejeweled we wouldn’t have Candy Crush Saga, and the world would therefore be 3.4% better than it currently is, but it also provided us with far more lovely pleasures like Puzzle Quest (see later), and indeed the best damned match-3 game of all time, ZooKeeper. Good with the bad.

So why Bejeweled 3? It’s because it was the first game in the series to make the mechanical change that had been holding it back: it allowed you to play your next move before the cascading results of the previous turn had finished. This was a huge part of what elevated the DS’s wondrous ZooKeeper to such heights, and any attempt to return to Bejeweleds 1 or 2 then felt stilted, slow and frustrating. In 3, the fast-paced fluidity met the progenitor of the genre, and the result – as much as your gran may play it – is pretty sublime. It’s over-packed with silly gimmicks, but the core game is still there to be relished. Sadly more recent versions have been dragged into the mire of EA’s free-to-play mobile attempts, but for the PC, Bejeweled 3 remains the row of three gems adorning the genre’s crown.

Notes:

Bejeweled has sold an eye-watering 75 million copies, and been downloaded over 150 million times. These numbers can safely be considered “quite big”.

Bejeweled 3 came with a “zen mode”, that was complete woo bullshit. At one point PopCap had even considered attempting to market it as a means to give up smoking.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Take a look at Puzzle Quest, further down this list. And definitely check out ZooKeeper, now on iOS and Android.

Read more:

Our review of the game.

24: The Bridge

Developer: Ty Taylor and Mario Castañeda

Publisher: The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild

The Bridge perhaps didn’t scream “SELLING POINTS”. A black and white obscure puzzle game, involving a mind-hurting combination of Escher-like drawings and a rotating camera, with a sad, somnambulistic middle-aged bearded man as its protagonist.

Of course, you’re here because you want to know about puzzle games, which means you’re brilliant, and therefore that description just had your hand unconsciously reach for your wallet. And as well it should. The Bridge’s biggest weakness is that it has too many good ideas, and never spends long enough on one of them. That’s a good complaint to have.

You’ll need to meddle with gravity, negotiate impossible pathways, and most of all, walk in looping circles around the surfaces of the visual illusion levels. It’s certainly too easy at the start, but come the midpoint of the game, it reinvents its original 25 levels, and has you attempt to navigate them in far more complex ways, with some proper stumpers along the journey. And most strange of all, play for an hour or so, then try to do any other task, and its rotating, mind-bending ways cause reality to start to act very strangely for a while. Which is quite the thing.

Notes:

The Quantum Astrophysicists Guild have a new puzzle game coming out some time this year, Tumblestone, which looks like a traditional block-matching puzzle game, but is in fact focused on competitive multiplayer.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could take a look at the free Shift series, and their monochrome puzzling confusion.

Read more:

Our review of The Bridge.

23: The Room

Developer: Fireproof Games

Publisher: Fireproof Games

Gimmicky little “room escape” puzzle games have been something of a plague on mobile, but out of this strange ether appeared something astonishingly slick, smart and well produced. The Room, taking this odd concept a lot less literally than many, features impossible clockwork mechanisms that you must meticulously explore, experimentally clicking here and there to learn their secrets, and gradually progress through its odd story.

Invariably this involves finding secret compartments, seeking out codes, rearranging switches, and so forth, to cause the astonishingly rendered contraptions to slide, swoosh and reconstruct themselves into the next stage. It’s oddly mystical, watching those transformations.

Where it shines the brightest in how it handles complexity. Rather than being difficult, The Room instead opts for involved. You don’t tend to get stuck – you just have lots and lots to do, always feeling like you’re progressing, making smart discoveries, and solving, solving, solving. So while it may not offer the depth of challenge that some seek from puzzle games, it disguises this by how entertainingly busy it keeps you. The story is utter nonsense and doesn’t go anywhere, but it matters little. You’re too busy hunting for tiny switches and revealing vital components.

Notes:

The Room was a remake of the original mobile version, rather than a port. Almost ever asset was recreated from scratch, to create an HD build of the game.

It took over two years to make it to the PC, which means we may hopefully see sequel The Room 2 reach us by 2016.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely pick up The Room 2 for your pocket telephone. It’s even better.

Read more:

Our review.

22: Mystery PI Series

Developer: SpinTop Games

Publisher: PopCap

Pretending that hidden object games are in some way inherently bad is very silly. Primarily because they’re often brilliant fun. A cluttered screen, perhaps a library littered with hundreds of objects, and you have to find the ones on a given list. It is, in that sense, an extremely pure puzzle, immediately seeming like something from a child’s puzzle book. But as much as people may sneer and pooh-pooh, sit them down in front of one and you can bet your bum they’ll spend the next twenty minutes furiously trying to find that damned umbrella.

However, there’s no doubt its a much exploited formula, with horrendous volumes of shovelware churning them out because they’re as cheap as the artist who draws them. The reputation isn’t entirely unfair. But one series that always did the job properly was SpinTop’s Mystery P.I. collection. While companies like Big Fish are still pumping out HO puzzles with voice acting, daft storylines, extra puzzles, and borderline point-n-click elements, the fine art of the hidden object was best mastered between 2007 and 2009. Why? Because they understood that it was more than just clutter – it was about wit.

In SpinTop’s various HO series, what was distinct was the smarts with which objects were hidden, often causing you to chuckle when you eventually realised how the fire hydrant had been so cleverly concealed along the side of the fire engine. And most of all, they were not beholden to scale – some of their best tricks were making something far too big for you to notice it. When looking for a one cent coin, it’s hard to spot that it’s three feet wide and leaning against the side of a wardrobe.

So put aside snobbery – hidden object games are fine, fun puzzles, and these were the best of the lot. Sadly, the tech they ran on doesn’t seem to play so nicely these days, with juddering controls in the ones that made it to Steam.

Notes:

You’ll note that this was all in the past tense. In 2007 PopCap bought SpinTop, primarily for their distribution service, and of course EA bought PopCap in 2011, before stamping on it again and again and again until there were no more signs of life.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

There are 120 hidden object games on Steam, so it’s worth browsing through the tag and seeing if anything takes your fancy, making sure to check the user reviews to weed out the dross.

Read more:

Eurogamer reviews of the DS versions of Mystery P.I. games.

21: Sokobond

Developer: Alan Hazelden, Harry Lee, Ryan Roth

Publisher: Draknek

My natural fear of Chemistry (an E at A level will do that to a person), and my intense frustration with Sokoban puzzles, leaves me certain that Sokobond could not be a game I’d enjoy. And yet Sokobond is a game I enjoy.

Its seamless combination of block-moving and covalent bonding, orchestrated with ambient calming pings and plonks, seems to prove that two wrongs can be very right. Tricky from the start, but never unfair, you’ll find yourself accidentally learning things about chemistry as you negotiate levels that require no previous knowledge at all. It’s charming, extremely cleanly presented, and very entertaining. Unlike a chemistry A level paper.

Notes: The game is still a PC exclusive, despite seeming a natural fit for electric telephones. So feel smug about that.

Developer Alan Hazelden is extremely prolific, with dozens and dozens of games to play here: http://www.draknek.org/games/

Where can I buy it:

GOG, Steam, developer’s site

What else should I be playing if I like this: You’d do well to take a look at the lovely Ittle Dew. It’s a sort of adventure-cum-puzzle game, involving a similarly interesting approach to Sokoban puzzling.

Read more: Pip’s love for it.
Marsh’s dissection of what makes a good puzzle game.

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