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The 25 Best Puzzle Games Ever Made

Mind Bending

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15: The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom

Developer: The Odd Gentlemen

Publisher: 2K Play

Yet another in that long list of top-hatted gentleman criminals hell-bent on stealing pies, and using time travel-created clones to achieve their aims.

Here’s a reason why we love puzzle games at RPS. This game exists. It may not be the most smoothly presented, and its silent movie pastiche gimmick thing gets old pretty damned fast when you’re trying to just play the thing, but it’s a game in which you record clones of yourself performing actions, then somehow jump back in time to the moment before you did that, and interact with yourself. (It’s certainly similar to the far more complicated time travel used in Gateways, mentioned in a couple more places.) With the ability to create multiple versions of yourself (the number is set by the level), you end up having to plan ahead, quite literally, and work out how to cooperate with yourselves.

What’s important is that it introduces its temporal complexity in manageable chunks, showing you that you can activate a switch for a distant door, then respawn yourself and run over before, er, you open it. Clones loop endlessly, making things somewhat easier and less requiring of perfect timing than they might otherwise have been, but of course with multiple yous, you’re going to have to coordinate pretty carefully.

Less slick than other games in this list, but awfully smart.

Notes:

Developers The Odd Gentlemen are now working on… huh… the new King’s Quest game for Activision.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely Gateways, and it possibly goes without saying you should take a look at Braid.

Read more:

Pip’s enquiry as to whether you’ve played.

14: 10,000,000

Developer: EightyEightGames

Publisher: EightyEightGames

While Puzzle Quest (see later) still holds the crown for the most innovative reapplication of match-3 gaming, 10,000,000 gets the award for most efficiently clever. Its minimalist presentation and surface simplicity belies how ridiculously involving this puzzler gets.

You have an 8×8 grid of tiles, which can be moved in either columns or rows, to align lines of three or more of the same icon. Very standard stuff. Except here, what you align affects the side-scrolling endless runner-alike at the top of the screen. Videogames! As you play, your little dude will encounter monsters that’ll need you to line up weapons and spells, doors that need keys, and… well, that’s it. You also gather resources, and gold, as you go, which are used betwixt levels to unlock new bonuses, and improve your attacks. All the way along you’re given specific goals to complete, with the ultimate aim of scoring 10,000,000 points.

And, perfectly, that’s all there is to it. It’s this relative simplicity that makes it so enduring, and with a realistic end goal in sight, it has a greater sense of purpose than most match-3 games, without going as far into storylines and RPG elements as the Puzzle Quest series. It’s a very clever middleground, and a good dose of distracting fun.

Notes:

Developer Luca Redwood is supposedly making a semi-follow-up game called You Must Build A Boat, that will be free to all 10,000,000 owners. Except, um, well he’s been saying that for years.

He’s also teasing a project called Smarter Than You, described as “The Social Duelling Game”.

Where can I buy it:

Developer’s site, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Clearly Puzzle Quest, and you might want to check out Zoo Keeper.

Read more:

Our review.

13: Gateways

Developer: Smudged Cat Games

Publisher: Smudged Cat Games

Ooh, this is a tricky list to get right. The boundaries of puzzle gaming are so blurred, with puzzles forming huge parts of other game types, and trying to work out whether something falls on the right side of the fence is awfully tricky. But fortunately we’re in charge of everything, and so it is that Gateways is deemed a puzzle game, rather than a platform game. So there.

And that’s because the puzzling elements are the absolute dominant core. Moving around the platforms is merely a means to puzzling ends. And wow, what puzzles they are. This is a game where to understand its time-travel mechanics, you have to think of films like Primer. You have to co-operatively work alongside yourself, living out the events you’re going to then work alongside when you travel back in time before they happened. In practice this means creating an exit portal from which you’ll emerge in the past, then waiting until a time meter is full, creating an entrance portal. Then you get the same amount of time again to go about your work, before jumping into that entrance portal and emerging from the exit in the past and ow my head ow ow help.

Yet despite this brain-hurting complexity, it works! Alongside time travel there are spatial travel portals, size-changing portals, and various pieces of equipment, that eventually you’ll be using in tandem with time travel, to solve puzzles so smart that they wear monocles. By the time it throws in a second time loop, you’ll genuinely be sitting back in your chair and just thinking for a few minutes before you try anything.

This is such an incredibly smart and pleasurable game, that sadly slipped under far too many radars. It’s well worth playing.

Notes:

A level editor [download link] was released a year after the game came out, for anyone with the brains to create such things.

Where can I buy it:

Developer site, Steam, Desura

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely take a look at Smudged Cat’s other mind-meddler, The Adventures Of Shuggy.

Read more:

We got rather excited about the alpha.

12: Shanghai

Developer:

Publisher:

We’ve restricted this list to puzzle games you can play on your PC today, but I was going to include Shanghai by hook or crook. It’s somewhat more the latter that achieves this, via the magic of emulators. If you happen to have a copy of Activision’s 1986 masterpiece, Shanghai, then you too can entirely legally run a copy of it via DOSBox. If you don’t own a copy, then you’re on your own.

Why this? Mahjong solitaire, as this is, has probably been around for hundreds of years. (There’s some doubt, it turns out, as to whether it was really based on a Chinese game, or the invention of Brodie Lockhard in 1981.) Either way, it was in 1986 when tiny baby Activision had the sense to have him make a neat, slick version, and release it for every single device with a plug on it. A pile of Mahjong tiles are stacked into a three dimension mass, and it’s your job to remove them pair by pair, matching tiles that are removable by being on an edge. And of course in the years since, there has been many a throwaway clone of the concept. But Shanghai (a name that Activision, hilariously, actually trademarked – they were always Activision) is unbeatable.

Every time anyone tries to do their own version, they over-complicate it. They provide an array of starting positions, tile sets, backgrounds, and so on, that all serve to muddle the simplicity of a solitaire game done right. This was nailed in 1986.

Notes:

There’s a version of Mahjong Solitaire bundled with GNU/Linux desktop, Gnome.

Microsoft nicked the idea too, back in 1990, Sellotaping the name “Taipei” over “Shanghai” and including it in the Windows 3.x Microsoft Entertainment Pack.

Where can I buy it:

From your local time machine.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Well, how about this rather faithful Flash version to play for free right now?

Read more:

Here’s a review from Compute! Magazine.

11: SpaceChem

Developer: Zachtronics

Publisher: Zachtronics

This is here as something of a compromise. There’s no Top X list that ever makes everyone happy, and inclusions or exclusions are always going to frustrate. But I know RPS’s readers well enough that there could be full on mutiny if SpaceChem weren’t included. And yet, gosh, I don’t enjoy playing SpaceChem.

With a similar theme to the previously mentioned Sokobond, SpaceChem is about bonding atoms together to create molecules. But that’s as much as they have in common. Here you must construct factory-like processes, by laying sets of instructions that look a lot like a circuit diagram in GSCE physics, to move atoms about, align them, bond them, and chuck them out the other end. And to do so, you painstakingly tune things to be as efficient as possible. The puzzles are, in this sense, open-ended, allowing you to create ludicrously convoluted systems, or squeakingly efficient marvels, and then share your results on the YouTubes.

For me, the presentation is far, far too clumsy, the execution a fiddly frustration of dragging and dropping icons, and the complexity overwhelming from the opening moments. However, I’m very aware that this inelegance does little to put off an enormous number of enthusiastic players, who (I think correctly) recognise what a supremely interesting puzzle concept this is. For me, it’s too awkward to be enjoyable. But I’m wise enough to know when to hear the wisdom of others.

Notes:

SpaceChem is from the same folks who more recently brought us Infinifactory, with which I have almost the exact same issues!

There’s a specially written SpaceChem Guide For Educators, for those who want to use the game as a teaching tool.

Where can I buy it:

Steam, GOG

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely Infinifactory. It’s again about building factory-like systems, but this time using 3D blocks to build rolling pathways, and it’s more difficult than cracking the Enigma code.

Read more:

Adam shared his love of SpaceChem back in 2012.

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