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The 25 Best Puzzle Games Ever Made

Mind Bending

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20: The Tiny Bang Story

Developer: Colibri Games

Publisher: Colibri Games

As mentioned in #22, we are not afraid of declaring hidden object games as potentially great puzzles, and The Tiny Bang Story is a superb piece of evidence for that. Despite using the same concept, this is a gorgeous, hand-drawn game that employs it in a very different way.

Reminiscent of Amanita’s (Machinarium, Botanicula) beautiful style, first of all this is a game that’s pretty in a way that most HO games are not. Secondly, rather than hunting for oil cans and butterflies in messy front rooms, here you’re looking for collections of similar items scattered across the beautiful locations. So, perhaps you’re trying to open a particular door, the game will ask you to gather 12 wheels, or 24 marbles, or maybe 5 scraps of paper. You move about that section’s collection of screens, attempting to find them either cunningly blended into the landscape, or hidden beneath opening portholes, cupboard doors and strange, alien contraptions. Return with the lot and you’re offered an often tricky puzzle to solve to move on.

At any time you’re usually after two or three different collections, as well as the ubiquitous jigsaw puzzle pieces, so there’s always plenty to do. But here it’s the details, the way ropes gently waft as your cursor passes over them, vegetation reacts to your hunt, and the little doors and windows creak open and slam shut as you go about. It’s compellingly pretty, at the same time as it compels you to seek and gather, and overflowing with charm.

Notes:

If you’re red/green colourblind, it’s probably a good idea to give this a miss. A few puzzles depend on being able to discern the two, and there’s no option to help.

Be careful running it at high resolutions in full-screen, it can lock you out – in 2011 they clearly weren’t expecting monitors as big as today’s.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Take a look at some of Amanita’s adventure games, like Botanicula, and especially the Samorost series.

Read more:

John’s appeal that you play it.

19: Drawn: The Painted Tower

Developer: Big Fish Studios

Publisher: Big Fish Games

Big Fish is a gaming portal that boasts it releases a new game every day. And as you might imagine, this means they churn out an awful lot of utter dross. But in amongst the shovelling occasionally a diamond is discovered. The Painted series offered three such diamonds in a row, and on this occasion it was quite deliberate.

In an effort to see if Big Fish could move some of their more casual audience onto slightly more involving games, they commissioned themselves to develop a puzzle series that while presented like a hidden object game, plays nothing like one. In fact, this entry is as close as this list gets to sneaking in an adventure game, because The Painted Tower comes close.

In fact, it’s a series of loosely connected puzzles, strung together by a rather lovely story about a girl called Iris who can see her paintings come to life. The puzzles are themed around this ability, so perhaps you’ll tear out a picture of a shovel, and then be able to use it to dig a hole. And things work the other way around, with inventory items being able to be used to complete paintings.

The series (the second game is Dark Flight, the third and final Trail Of Shadows) occupies a weird space that falls between casual puzzle games and proper adventure games, built with the ethos of the former, and almost accidentally stumbling into the territory of the latter. But what you get is beautiful artwork, an extremely accessible approach, and a gateway gaming drug for part-time casuals to become full-blown games-playing enthusiasts.

Notes:

Sadly this experiment by Big Fish didn’t really go anywhere, with the three games coming out between 2009 and 2011, and then nothing more like it since.

Weirdly, only the first instalment has ever made it to Steam, and indeed to mobile. Which is odd, since it ends on a cliffhanger.

Where can I buy it:

Big Fish, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You should throw caution to the wind, and check out some of the hidden object games we’ve recommended in this list.

Read more:

Our review of the final game in the series.

18: Tetris

Developer: Alexey Pajitnov

Publisher: Currently EA

Few games better capture the “What is a puzzle game?” confusion better than Tetris. Look at most “Best Puzzles Ever” lists and it’ll be in the top 5, if not at number 1, but ask someone to explain how it’s a puzzle game and they’ll generally sputter. There’s no end goal, there’s no logic to which pieces come next, there’s very little technique beyond speed… If anything, the term “arcade game” seems to much better suit Tetris. So why is it in our chart then? Because, well, it’s a puzzle game, isn’t it?

Alongside the likes of Bejeweled, Puzzle Bobble, and so forth, it occupies this blurred genre space – ostensibly you’re just fiddling until you run out of time/room. But it’s a rare person who doesn’t enjoy playing it anyway, because it’s really, really good.

And the blocks, they’re like puzzle pieces, right? Maybe that’s why it feels so much like a puzzle game? It isn’t though, is it?

But it is.

Although it probably isn’t.

Since 1984, Tetris has appeared on just about every platform, console, handheld, telephone and fridge-freezer, has had its ownership disputed since it was first published, and pretty much made Nintendo’s GameBoy a success. You’ve played it. You probably played it for longer than you had intended. It’s not really a puzzle game, but it sort of is.

Notes:

Since 1996 the rights to Tetris were returned to Pajitnov, and The Tetris Company was formed. They now license it out to others, while threatening legal action on anything that looks too similar.

It has been claimed a number of times that playing Tetris is good for your brain, with one study showing that it can increase your brain’s efficiency with glucose consumption, and another claiming it can reduce the severity of post-traumatic disorder.

Where can I buy it:

Everywhere.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

I’m going to suggest Cogs, purely because Pajitnov was excited about it when I interviewed him in 2009.

Read more:

MRI assessment of cortical thickness and functional activity changes in adolescent girls following three months of practice on a visual-spatial task

17: Tetrobot & Co

Developer: SwingSwingSubmarine

Publisher: SwingSwingSubmarine

In direct contrast to The Room’s intricate business but lack of difficulty is the utterly marvellous Tetrobot & Co. This is presented with gorgeous cartoon simplicity, but oh my knees it’s challenging. It’s also incredibly smart.

Don’t let the cutesy presentation fool you – this is a game that’s bursting with brains. You control a nanobot, working inside larger but tiny robots, attempting to fix their broken bits. Tiny robots full of pudding. No, really. You do this by floating around inside the pathways of their blocky innards, picking up various block types and depositing them elsewhere, while trying to gather special bonus blocks in hard-to-reach places.

Although, it doesn’t play quite how that sounds. It’s really not just yet another block-rearranging puzzle game. There’s much more here about careful thinking, rather than random pushing. And as the block types increase, and the levels get tougher, you’ll be scratching your scalp clean off. This is a real treat.

Notes:

SwingSwingSubmarine are currently working on a new puzzle game, Seasons After Fall, in which you play a possessed fox that can change the seasons at will. Of course!

Where can I buy it:

Steam, Developer’s site, GOG, Humble

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Blocks That Matter is the previous game by SwingSwingSubmarine, and also well worth a look.

Read more:

Our review.

16: Hoshi Saga

Developer: Yoshio Ishii

Publisher: Nekogames

Since 2007, Japanese developer Yoshio Ishii has been releasing dozens, maybe hundreds, of peculiar little web games. And in amongst them, over the years, has been a series called Hoshi Saga. There’s now a remarkable twelve games in the series – remarkable because each game contains 36 individual micro-puzzles, all about attempting to find a star. That’s 432 individual puzzles.

And they really are micro – not quite Wario Ware length, but rarely lasting more than a minute each. Each is a special vignette, an idea or concept created and executed to exist for just that tiny moment, and then you move on. Some are disposable, others so lovely that you wish there were an entire puzzle game just on that concept.

It’s all completely bonkers, the website they’re hosted on looking like it’s from 1995, endlessly being changed to somehow look worse each time, and presented in a barmy mix of Japanese and English. But the games require no reading to fathom, so there’s no language barrier here. (Although get Google Translate to step in, and you end up with instalment titles like, “Hoshisagu apple princess”, which is utterly splendid.)

Every puzzle designer should be looking at these games, if not to be inspired by someone who seems to be able to generate infinite brilliant ideas, then simply to nick the best ones and make fully-fledged games based on the concepts.

Oh, and they’re all free!

Notes:

Ishii is perhaps most famous for Cursor*10 – a game in which you must play co-operatively with yourself, ten times simultaneously.

Despite writing about his games for eight years, we’ve still never managed to actually get in touch with Yoshio Ishii. He is an enigma.

Where can I buy it:

You can’t, because they’re all free

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You should absolutely dig through the hundreds of games on Ishii’s site. Some are utterly bonkers, others are brilliant ideas you can’t believe he isn’t selling to developers.

Read more:

John’s covered many of the instalments over the years.

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