If you click on a link and make a purchase we may receive a small commission. Learn more.

The 25 best puzzle games ever made

Mind Bending

The world's most accurate ranking of the 25 best puzzle games ever to reach a computer. Plucking the peak of PC puzzling, we break down what makes them so special, and put them in the correct order. Read on for more time travel, rearranged tiles, hidden objects and hexed cells than you could ever want.

Puzzle games are one of those rare genres where the PC can sometimes shine less brightly than elsewhere. When it comes to thinking of classics of the genre, you very quickly discover that you need to think about the Nintendo DS, some of the classic 80s consoles, and of course the modern homes of puzzle gaming, iOS and Android. So when you put together a PC list, you’re omitting names like Mr Driller, Meteos, Flow Free, Picross 3D, Slitherlink, all the Layton games, the handheld Mario Vs Donkey Kong series, Echochrome...

And yet, there's still so much glory to be found. So put aside your prescription from Dr. Mario, and embrace some of the finest puzzling experiences you can find.

Of course, there's the additional huge problem of defining what exactly is a puzzle game? Are we talking purist puzzling, or does it include arcade challenges like match-3, first-person narratives like Portal, or platforming-esque challenges like Lemmings? To answer that: yes, it does. It’s all those things. So in the list below, you’ll likely find entries that entirely suit your puzzling tastes, and others that you’ll think don’t belong – for the next reader, they’ll be the other way around. One thing that we’re not counting is adventure games, even though they obviously include puzzles.

Of course, there are a lot more than 25 great puzzle games on PC, so there will also be games that don’t appear that you’ll be convinced should be there – remember, this isn’t a slight on them, it’s a personal insult to you and your ridiculous tastes. No, no it isn’t. Just leave your suggestions and reasons why in the comments below.

We've broken it down into pages, to stop the bottom of the page getting crumpled on the floor. You can skip ahead here, but don't, read them in order, allowing yourself to grow increasingly angry about the potential absence of your favourite. Or get angry about something different by instead reading our regularly updated list of the best PC games you can play right now.

Jigsaw image by James Petts.

Best puzzle games

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.

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.

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 8x8 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.

10: Bookworm Adventures Deluxe

Developer: PopCap Games

Publisher: PopCap Games

Once upon a time, a prolific generator of genuinely great puzzle games said, "Hey, look at our word spelling game Bookworm - you know what's wrong with it? It doesn't feature a green worm fighting Greek mythical beasts!" After the applause died down, PopCap got to work and created one of the most brilliantly executed, strange and silly puzzle games ever released: Bookworm Adventures. (And its follow-on sequel, Bookworm Adventures 2.)

In a style a little bit similar to 10,000,000, Bookworm Adventure's screen is split in two. At the top you've Lex the worm, squiggling inexorably to the right, encountering an array of daft enemies with special skills and attacks, and at the bottom a 4x4 grid of lettered tiles. You are tasked with spelling out words from those tiles, the longer the word the more powerful the attack. Along the way you gather special items that allow extra abilities, most impressively, allowing specific types of words to do extra damage. Animal words, say. That sort of thing.

There's a silly story, a lot of very entertaining banter, and most of all, the enormous pleasure of spelling ace words to ultra-thwack enemies in their stupid faces. And it's cleverly designed too, such that those with less wordy skills can still satisfyingly complete the game, while the more sesquipedalian will see bigger, more explosive results along the way. Few puzzle games are as hilarious, or as superbly crafted.

Notes:

It took two and a half years to make Bookworm Adventures and cost $700,000. Every cent and second was worth it.

Where can I buy it:

Steam, Pogo

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely take a look at Dylan Loney's Words For Evil.

Read more:

Our review of Bookworm Adventures 2
Eurogamer review of Bookworm Adventures 2

9: Gunpoint

Developer: Suspicious Developments

Publisher: Suspicious Developments

Gunpoint does two important jobs on this list. Firstly, it's a bloody great puzzle game that absolutely everybody should play. Secondly, it stands as a totem to all the wonderful 80s Speccy, Amiga and ST puzzle games that are unplayable today.

It's a puzzle game that feels timeless, partly thanks to its superb pixel graphics, and partly because the stealthy burgling feels like a good idea that could have happened at any point. Given a series of missions, you're tasked with breaking into buildings, stealing items, taking out guards, and most importantly, rewiring.

At any point you can scroll your mousewheel, and then rewire a building to your advantage, using the superbly clean and simple method of drawing lines from switches to doors, lights, and so on. And in doing so, improvise your own traps to lure guards, create safe, silent pathways, or trap people where you want to keep them. Then RUN AND JUMP THROUGH A WINDOW.

The innovative controls are already being copied by games, something developer Tom Francis fully endorses. Play it and you'll see why.

Notes:

Disclaimer: Developer Tom Francis is a lovely chap who used to work at PC Gamer, and most of RPS's staff know him well. Corruption.

Where can I buy it:

Developer's site, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could check out Suspicious Developments' free Floating Point grappling hook game.

Read more:

Our review.

8: The Talos Principle

Developer: Croteam

Publisher: Devolver Digital

It's probably fair to say that we weren't expecting the creators of Serious Sam to bring out the best first person puzzle game since Portal. More known for going out of their way to create games that are dumb, this time they set out to make something exceptionally clever.

The contrived setting - you're a robot attempting to complete a set of tasks in a broken down, overgrown outdoor facility, while attempting to discern what happened there, and indeed, what humanity is - works splendidly for presenting dozens of intriguing puzzles. Aiming beams of light, freezing floating enemy bots, removing forcefields, and negotiating impossible mazes, all contributes toward that important goal: collecting tetromino puzzle pieces.

Gather enough, and you can use them to solve a simple puzzle to open new skills and the next section of the game. But as you go, you'll encounter computer terminals that will ask you peculiar questions, seemingly going through some sort of existential crisis, exploring notions of what it is to be alive, to be real. This stupendous writing is the work of Tom Jubert and Jonas Kyratzes, and it adds an astonishing amount to an already superb puzzle game.

Notes:

The game, despite its polar opposite nature to Serious Sam, was in fact a happy accident from experimental ideas while developing Serious Sam 4.

Talos was a giant made of bronze whole lived in mythological times. He was basically a cool robot.

Where can I buy it:

Steam,

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely take a look at The Swapper, also written by Jubert, and The Infinite Ocean from Kyratzes.

Read more:

An early hands on with the game.

Our review.

7: Scribblenauts Unlimited

Developer: 5th Cell Media

Publisher: Warner Bros.

While most videogames are created using programming language and game engines, Scribblenauts is carved out of magic. There's no other explanation for how this impossibly wonderful series of games could possibly work. You play Max, a little cartoon boy, who has a magic notebook. Anything he writes in it is created as an interactive object/living thing in his world. "Anything?" you ask incredulously? Well, almost, yes.

How 5th Cell managed to not only draw and animate, but also provide meaningful application in reaction to the world, for every damned noun in existence can't really be explained without resorting to the dark arts. In its early incarnation on Nintendo DS, it was a brilliant idea, but it didn't know what to do with itself. By the time it reached PC in the form of Unlimited, that issue had been resolved by offering larger, more open levels, where your improvised madness can support getting bored of trying to achieve set goals and just seeing who would win in a fight between Cthulhu and God.

Of course, the magic does get burst when you stumble on a word that isn't in the game, which is always a sad moment. But then you're back riding on a velociraptor, seeing if you can create a waterfall to blow out the candles on a birthday cake, and everything is joyful again.

Notes:

The PC version of the game comes with an object editor, meaning you can craft your own in-game items, bestow them with AI and properties, and then share them across Steam Workshop.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

There's also Scribblenauts Unmasked, which licenses DC characters, meaning some proper nouns get in.

Read more:

Our review.

6: Peggle

Developer: PopCap Games

Publisher: PopCap Games

Peggle is a pretty special game to these parts. Its 2007 release coincided with our being born into existence, and we all fell in love with it. (Although some more correct people than others pointed out that Bookworm Adventures was the deeper game.) In fact, for a year or so, all download sizes on the site were measured in "how many Peggles".

Inspired by the predominantly Japanese Pachinko, it was the first time the toy, originating in 1920, had been interpreted for videogames. And gosh, it was done with aplomb. A screen is filled with blue and orange pegs, at which you fire a silver ball, which pings and bounces between them, removing them as it hits. The aim being to clear each screen with a limited number of balls.

As you progress through levels, new special skills are added, giving you a bit of variation, and an extra element of skill, to what is - really - a puzzle game based mostly in luck. In fact, we can return to the whole Bejeweled argument about whether this should really count as a "puzzle" at all - is it just an arcade game? The answer: shush, it's in our Top 25 puzzle games, and you can like it or lump it. Go to your room.

It's splendid, funny, filled with bright, cheerful noises and graphics, although you'll never want to hear bloody Ode To Joy ever again after playing it through. Excuse us a moment, we now need to go have a game of Peggle.

Notes:

There have, of course, been sequels. There's Peggle Nights, Peggle Extreme, and something called Peggle Blast that appears to be free-to-play.

PopCap were smartipants, and knew things like ensuring the pitch of sound cues always has to rise when gathering combos, to keep players hooked.

Where can I buy it:

Steam, Pogo

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Definitely check out the game's sequels, and don't forget to take a look at PopCap's own approach to tower defence, Plants Vs. Zombies.

Read more:

An interview with PopCap about their company's success, and our love of Peggle.

5: Lemmings 2: The Tribes

Developer: DMA Design

Publisher: Psygnosis

The explanation for the lack of an official Lemmings release for mobile sadly lies in the hands of Sony, who won't let anyone else make one, and won't make one themselves. These classic puzzle games would work perfectly on such devices, though the last time it was seen was in 2006 on the PSP. But fortunately you can still play it on PC today.

If you missed it at the time, Lemmings was a game about seeing how many of the green-mopped little blighters you could safely navigate across a level as they aimlessly marched left or right until an obstacle or death stopped them. Lemmings could be assigned particular tasks, like digging or building or floating or blocking, attempting to stop them flinging themselves down holes or into fires.

The puzzles were based on figuring out how to get enough of your crew to the exit with a limited number of skills to be assigned, and a limited number that could be sacrificed. It was all superbly balanced, and got really very tricky.

We've picked Lemmings 2 because, well, it was the best of the two good ones. The "Tribes" refers to the twelve different groups of Lemmings, with their differing abilities, offering a lot more variation, and more satisfying puzzles. Although, being honest, nostalgia would make me pick Christmas Lemmings, as that was the entirely free treat that I spent the most time playing.

Notes:

It's weird to remember, but Lemmings was made by DMA Design, who now go by the name of Rockstar North, famous for slightly more violent, less cute games.

An attempt was made to remake the game for mobile, but Sony squished it, resulting in the iOS game Caveman.

Where can I buy it:

It's not on sale anywhere, any more. However, the stellar work of Archive.org means it's fully playable in your browser.

What else should I be playing if I like this:

World Of Goo definitely comes to mind, but you could also check out Nintendo's Pikmin series.

Read more:

The Complete History Of Lemmings by Mike Daily

4: Puzzle Quest: Challenge Of The Warlords

Developer: Infinite Interactive

Publisher: D3 Publisher

So here we are. The puzzle game that united the casual with the hardcore, match-3 with RPG, old with new with old again. A game that, from nowhere, pointed out that these two genres go well together. A million copies, clones and even its own sequels later, and still nothing beats the original Puzzle Quest.

What made it - and indeed still makes it - work is that it remembers to be an RPG first, a match-3 game second. But like many RPGs, the emphasis of the game is on the fighting, so the core of what you do is match-3. Does that make sense? Ah well. The point is, it doesn't feel like a Bejeweled clone with a bit more story attached. It feels like a complete game, that has a Bejeweled-inspired combat system. As you match your 3s, 4s and so on, you're gathering mana to cast spells, and attempting to match tiles that wound your opponent. The further you get, the more spells you can acquire, and the more complex battling becomes.

There are different classes to pick at the start, which offers a different selection of special abilities, subtly changing how you'll approach fights. And different enemy types need to be combated in different ways. Along your journey you'll also encounter other puzzle types using the tiles, and eventually be taming enemies as pets, riding into battle on the backs of giant rats, and saving princes and princesses from baddies. It's daft, but it's also enormous, meaning there's so much to do and so many excuses to be back at that match-3 screen, playing more tactically than the genre usually suggests.

Notes:

The game is set in Steve Fawkner's Warlords universe, first appearing in 1989, with the last game in the core series, Warlords IV, coming out in 2003.

The most recent Puzzle Quest carries a Marvel License, and despite looking like it'll be balls, actually gets quite good.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

As we previously mentioned, 10,000,000 offers a delightful stripped down version of this style of game. And take a look at Ironcast, which pits steampunk mechbots in match-3 battles.

Read more:

Here's Tom "Tom Bramwell" Bramwell's review for Eurogamer.

3: Hexcells Infinite

Developer: Matthew Brown

Publisher: Matthew Brown

It's really hard to overstate just how good Hexcells is. For puzzle purist aficionados, let me put it this way: imagine if Japanese publisher Nikoli were to announce a brand new, digital-only puzzle design. It's that strong.

For everyone else, let me put it another: it's so bloody clever. A screen of yellow hexagon tiles, with scant information about which need to be turned blue, and which need to be destroyed. Your task is to figure out which are which, in a manner that's most easily compared to the joys of Picross, but with the logic of Minesweeper.

But wait, come back - while there are some fair Minesweeper comparisons, they are few, and the game is in fact almost nothing like that atrocious piece of crap luckfest. This is a meticulous, deeply intelligent puzzle game, demanding you stretch yourself, constantly learning new tricks, new techniques for fathoming available moves.

The first Hexcells was a revelation for me. As a Picross, Kakuro and Slitherlink devotee, it was like being given the greatest puzzle present of all time - a new approach to logic puzzling, that can't work on paper (since deleted cells can reveal new information), that is tougher than my other puzzling addictions. When Hexcells Plus appeared, offering another huge pile of puzzles, this time picking up the difficulty where the first left off, I was in Puzzle Heaven. The second game introduces more complicated instructions, new ways to learn which tiles can be painted or removed, and made thing so much deeper. But I've picked Hexcells Infinite here, because it's this third and final game in the series that refines the puzzles to their absolute peak. It introduces no new rules, but forces you to be even more inventive and think even deeper about how to apply them to succeed. Oh, and it has a puzzle generator that will offer you the small matter of 10 million more puzzles to play once you've finished the curated collection.

It's certainly worth playing all three, and starting at the start, and you can get the lot for £6. It's simply the finest logic puzzle game to have appeared on a computer.

Notes:

A fan-made editor allows you to make your own Hexcell levels, which Matthew Brown endorses, and is integrating into the game.

Where can I buy it:

Developer's site, Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could take a look at Matthew Brown's music puzzler Sentinel. Also, if you've an original Nintendo DS, definitely get hold of HudsonSoft's Slitherlink - it's utter perfection.

Read more:

John has obsessively covered the series for two years.

This is an extraordinary guide to every puzzle in painstaking detail.

2: Portal

Developer: Valve

Publisher: Valve

Well, it was going to be no. 1 or 2, wasn't it? And how could it not be? Valve's sublime first-person puzzle game that broke the laws of physics, made us fall in love with an inanimate cube, and had everyone making stupid jokes about cakes and lies for a year afterward. And that song.

Famously born from a student project called Narbacular Drop, the Portal team was staffed with those students, led by Kim Swift, and with writing from Eric Wolpaw. The result was something utterly astonishing.

Even more remarkable to reflect upon today, it wasn't even given its own distinct release. Portal arrived via Valve's Orange Box, the 'other' game alongside the hugely anticipated Half-Life 2: Episode Two and Team Fortress 2. About three hours long, with no pedigree, it was almost like the bonus freebie chucked in. But despite the obvious massive success of the other two components, it was Portal that would leave the deepest impression on the world of videogames.

Fire one portal on a surface, a second on another, then walk through one to appear out of the other. Now apply that to so many inventive puzzles, while being berated by a detached, cruel robotic voice, sarcastically criticising your attempts.

We've picked Portal rather than Portal 2, about which there is certainly room for good argument. Portal 2 is a much larger and even funnier game, with multiple characters, menacing potatoes, and new puzzle types with magic paints. It's absolutely, unquestionably, an incredible game. But there's something that just feels more special about the original. It's so perfect, so neatly contained, the exact right length for what it wants to be, with it's amazing mid-point twist and sense of powerful escape. And yes, oh yes, that song. That amazing song.

Notes:

The students behind Narbacular Drop were invited to Valve HQ without knowing why. On arrival, they were all offered jobs on the spot.

Anyone who still makes "the cake is a lie" jokes today can be given an immediate fine of up to $1000, and even face jail time.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

Clearly Portal 2, but you should also check out Portal: The Flash Version for a very smart 2D interpretation.

Read more:

Our interview with Portal creators Kim Swift and Jeep Barnett.

How John went mad and painted his freezer like a companion cube.

Our review.

1: World Of Goo

Developer: 2D BOY

Publisher: 2D BOY

Yes indeed, RPS's number one puzzle game of all time is World Of Goo. As indeed it has been since the day it was released back in 2008. As I started my review of the game in September that year, "This is something special."

World Of Goo is, essentially, a puzzle game in which blobs placed near each other form rigid bonds, and from these towers, bridges, and other improvised constructions can be built. But to describe the game by its mechanics is to entirely miss what it's like to play.

Perhaps not immediately. From the start, you're welcomed by its overwhelmingly lovely bright, audacious cartoon design, and then asked to do just as described: build simple towers and bridges. Once constructed, the other goo balls can squiggle along the structures, and escape through a pipe, to... freedom? As they move, they yelp and cheer and chatter their nonsense language, and immediately you'll love them. Those that are sacrificed for structures are noble heroes. You want to use the minimum number not to get the highest possible score, but to preserve as many of the gorgeous things as is possible.

Then it starts to add. Each chapter of the game introduces new goo types, some reusable, some that only dangle, balloon goos, fire goos, and each seems to have a distinct personality type. The puzzles start to change too, introducing new elements, changing things up every time you start to feel like you've mastered it, and constantly surprising you with its new inventive ideas. And all through this, it's impossible not to notice that it's about something more.

There's a sadness, and indeed an anger, to the game. As you progress through the season-themed chapters, amongst the hilarious humour, an ennui becomes increasingly apparent, even as the puzzles become more complicated and entertaining to solve. And ho boy are they entertaining. Again, to quote myself, "This is a game that nudges you into having a great idea, rather than ever telling you what to do. You get all the glory."

The music is incredible, the sound effects are some of the best and most well applied in gaming history, the design is outrageously good. And most of all, the puzzles are utterly perfect. It's this magical, wondrous thing, never expanded upon, never sequeled, and most likely never will be. It exists as it is, and that's fearfully and wonderfully made. World Of Goo is sublime, utterly beautiful, and incredibly smart. It is the pinnacle of puzzle gaming.

Notes:

It remains, to this day, an extraordinary thing that World Of Goo really was created by just two guys, who spent most of the time working on it in their local Starbucks.

World Of Goo was born of a simpler concept, Tower Of Goo, which survives in the game as a bonus section in which all your recovered goo balls can be built into a tower, competing for height with others online.

Where can I buy it:

Steam

What else should I be playing if I like this:

You could well be interested in a play with the lovely Crayon Physics Deluxe.

Read more:

Ron Carmel, co-creator of the game, talked to us about how a 90% piracy rate wasn't necessarily a bad thing.

Our interview with the two creators of the game.

Our review.

Goofans is a site that produces fan-made levels for the game.

Postscript

So, there you go - every great puzzle game you can think of, and not a single one left out... Well no, of course not. We limited the list to 25, so of course there will be other games you think deserve to be up there. That's where there are comments below, so you can name what you wish you'd seen, and most importantly, write why. Why Braid should have been in there! How DARE we have left off Fez?! Essentially, add your own entries to the list. They'll be wrong, of course, because our list is right, but that's okay.

What we hope most of all is that this will be a list to inspire you to pick up a puzzle game you've previously never tried, or return to one you'd forgotten you love. Puzzle gaming is such a special genre, so bursting with imagination, and as this list shows, so incredibly varied. Leap in and check out something new. Your brain will thank you.

The Complete List

1 World Of Goo
2 Portal
3 Hexcells Infinite
4 Puzzle Quest
5 Lemmings 2
6 Peggle
7 Scribblenauts
8 The Talos Principle
9 Gunpoint
10 Bookworm Adventures
11 SpaceChem
12 Shanghai
13 Gateways
14 10000000
15 The Misadventures Of P.B. Winterbottom
16 Hoshi Saga
17 Mystery Case Files
18 Tetris
19 Drawn Series
20 The Tiny Bang Story
21 Sokobond
22 Tetrobot
23 The Room
24 The Bridge
25 Bejeweled

For more of RPS' bestest best games, take your pick from:

Or try our genre-specific lists, if you want a particular kind of great game to play:

Jigsaw image by James Petts.

More Features

Latest Articles