Making logic fun
Who doesn’t love a good puzzle? The sensation of cracking a real brain-buster is an unbeatable endorphin hit. Proving that you are as diabolically brilliant as the evil genius who made your favorite puzzle game is as big a reward as any in-game achievement.
Puzzlers also tend to be flexible. Say you want the convenience of Android or iOS puzzle games. Or perhaps you’re devoted to your Nintendo 3DS. Maybe your favorite thing is settling in at your desk for a long session of PC puzzle games or crashing on the couch in front of your console. We’ve got you covered in all cases.
Pick your platform and prepare to pit your puzzling skills against these ten games. They represent some of the best in puzzle creation and overall game design. Just make sure to rest your noggin from time to time; it’s going to get a workout.
10. Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask
- Format: Nintendo 3DS
- Release date: 2011
This long-running series has lots of great puzzling, but the standout is this tale of the charming professor and his attempt to understand the truth behind the Masked Gentleman and the so-called miracles that he is using to perplex the residents of Monte d’Or.
The caliber of puzzle design is a touch higher in this game than in other entries from the series. It does rely on a few tricks that will be familiar to long-time fans, but it also presents many fresh twists. Miracle Mask also achieves a rare feat of providing players with both top-notch puzzles and a compelling story.
9. Lara Croft Go
- Format: Android, iOS, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita
- Release date: 2015
We’re used to seeing Lara in action mode, but this delightful puzzler focuses on the sleuthing that her archeology work also demands. The gameplay follows the formula set out by the other Go games from Square Enix Montreal. Lara will face down everything from snakes to spiders to spikes on her way to solving the mystery of the Queen of Venom.
Each new level and mechanic builds seamlessly on the one that came before, giving this gem an elegance that few mobile-first games can match. Not only is the puzzle design excellent, but so are the sound design and art direction. It’s such a satisfying experience that you’ll probably want to replay it and hunt down all the collectibles in each level. And when you finish this one, you can still scratch that itch for turn-based puzzles with Hitman Go or Deus Ex Go.
8. The Room
- Format: Android, iOS, PC
- Release date: 2012
This game explores the meaning of life and its relation to a strange, spectral fifth element called Null. As you might guess, things get pretty trippy pretty quick. But they also get really fun. The game’s gothic art style immediately sets the mood for a cryptic descent into madness, unlocking the secrets of many intricately detailed objects to discover what the room’s past inhabitant knew about Null.
The Room was a benchmark at its release in how good mobile puzzle games could be in both style and substance. Fortunately for you avid puzzle fans, there are three titles so far in the series. The different rooms take you everywhere from a ship to a seance in chasing answers. A fourth game, The Room: Old Sins, is coming out in late 2017.
7. The Swapper
- Format: PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Wii U, Xbox One
- Release date: 2013
Not many puzzle games get you seriously thinking about life and consciousness and the meaning of the self. But The Swapper successfully sparks those ruminations with sincerity. You play as an astronaut searching a vast, abandoned research station, trying to find answers to where the researchers have gone while finding a safe escape. You collect orbs to unlock new areas, which means using a strange device to make copies of yourself to navigate the station’s strange layout.
Playing The Swapper is an unnerving experience thanks to the eerie, uneasy atmosphere it sets from the very beginning. The art assets were all handmade and digitized, couching the clever puzzles in a uniquely scrappy aesthetic.
6.The Talos Principle
- Format: Android, PC, PlayStation 4
- Release date: 2014
Another prime example of how to combine narrative and puzzles, The Talos Principle is one of the more cerebral games out there. It’s a thinking person’s game, one for the players who want to have their play with a heaping helping of philosophy.
In terms of basic gameplay, you navigate mazes to collect sigils. These sigils unlock the different areas you, as a sentient android, explore at the behest of a mysterious character named Elohim, who has set you on a journey to enlightenment. The paths become increasingly treacherous, with drones and turrets out to end your trip. You might be adjusting light refractions or using jammers in different sections. The Talos Principle manages to blend the high-tech with the natural, the confusing and the thoughtful into one compelling and unforgettable package.
- Format: iOS, PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, PlayStation Vita, Xbox 360
- Release date: 2012
Seeing isn’t just believing in this mind-bending puzzler. Seeing is reality. Fez literally presents a new perspective on puzzle games. Rotate the cubic world in order to collect the fragments of the golden hexahedron, which has broken and shattered the very rules of time and space. (See, your teacher told you there would be a use for geometry in the real world!)
Fez’s world is littered with codes and maps, with secrets and treasure chests. The game has some of the most devious and opaque puzzles we’ve ever played. Fortunately, it’s not about winning or losing so much as it is exploring and experiencing.
4. Picross 3D Round 2
- Format: Nintendo 3DS
- Release date: 2016
Sculpture and woodworking are all about patience. Chiseling away at your medium, shaving off one small fragment at a time, demands a steady hand and a keen eye. You’ll also need that hand and eye to master Picross 3D Round 2. Each puzzle is about creating a cute woodcarving of a target object. To make the final product, you’ll have to work some math magic to decide where and how each block gets carved away. Round 2 ups the complexity of the possible creations thanks to the introduction of curved surfaces, meaning more delicious mental geometry is needed to land on the right solution.
The puzzles can work for players of any skill level thanks to customizable difficulty and a smart system for teaching you the tricks for better puzzle success. That flexibility also means you can enjoy the game’s masterful puzzles any time, whether you’ve got 10 minutes or two hours to play.
3. The Witness
- Format: Android, iOS, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
- Release date: 2016
Draw a line. That’s technically the only thing you need to do in The Witness. But in the hands of Jonathan Blow, that simple missive is stretched, contorted, and reimagined into one of the most boggling puzzle games made.
The Witness is not for the faint of heart or mind. It’s really damn esoteric. It relishes its own difficulty. It has a meta-philosophical self-satisfaction that won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. But if you can roll with Blow’s vision, it’s also an unforgettable experience.
2. Portal / Portal 2
- Format: PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
- Release date: 2007 / 2011
So much ink has been spilled already about these two classics from Valve. Both have been held up as examples for games-as-art, hilarious writing, and design innovation. Both are so good that it’d be impossible to choose just one for inclusion in this list. The games’ premise of using portals to traverse ever-more elaborate rooms demands brain-breaking spatial logic by their final levels. The pointed story about power and capitalism helps elevate an already excellent concept into the realm of perfection. GLaDOS singing is the cherry on top.
- Format: Just about everything
- Release date: 1984
Yes, one of the oldest video games is still one of the best. The tetromino shapes are now iconic elements of pop culture. The concept has gone on to inspire countless other game designers. Tetris is still takes the puzzle game crown.
Whether you want to keep it classic or try one of the many modern spins on the concept, Tetris’ rotating blocks are a the gold standard for puzzle games. You’ve played it before, and you’ll surely play it again.