The Top 7... Games that make us feel like geniuses

2) Braid

Plenty of games give you the power to manipulate time. Prince of Persia has a button for rewinding death, while Singularity includes a gun that can fast-forward enemies’ lives to the point of decaying corpse, but you won’t find either of those examples on our countdown. What makes Braid special - and what makes us feel like fourth-dimensional wizards while playing it - are the sheer number of radically different ways in which you manipulate time.

You can instantly and repeatedly reverse mistakes, condensing what should be hours of trial-and-error into a few seconds of back-and-forth-and-back until you hit that precise sweet spot of platforming. You can slow time within a small, specific radius of the screen, bringing deadly enemies to a harmless crawl while you pass quickly and unhindered by them. In a later level, merely moving forward shifts every other thing around you backwards, while in our favorite part of Braid, your present self is joined by the shadowy ghost of your past self, literally allowing you to be two places at once and solving puzzles in a very strange twist on together.

Yet, as complicated as some of that sounds, you’ll likely figure most of it out without consulting a guide. Braid manages to put you in a mood - possibly through the hypnotic art and music, or the heady philosophical musings - that is conducive to constant “Eureka!” moments.

1) Portal

Orange and blue. Enter and exit. That’s all you really need to know. Portal may be the most massively brain-bending game we’ve ever played, but its true brilliance lies in its simple and straightforward premise: Go through the orange circle and you’ll come out the blue circle. Or go through the blue circle and you’ll come out the orange circle. One basic, interchangeable rule that is incredibly easy to learn and remember.

Then, step by step - test chamber by test chamber - Portal asks you to expand your mind, and to reassess what you’re capable of accomplishing with this single tool. At first, you think only to create shortcuts. Several minutes later, you’ve realized you can forge pathways for other objects, such as the turret bots or Companion Cube. Within a couple hours, you’re switching portal destinations on the fly in order to navigate platforms or elevators and, by the end of the game, you’ve completely mastered the physics of gravity and linear momentum to launch yourself through successive portals until you’ve built enough velocity to propel yourself over any obstacle in your path. Whew!

You won’t think of the solution in those exact terms, however, because Portal teaches you these thesis-worthy tricks through doing, not telling. Through gentle guidance, not obvious tutorial. For such a crazily challenging game, we don’t know many gamers who have grown angry or frustrated with Portal - the learning curve, from clueless to genius, is so damn subtle that it’s practically invisible.

Jan 31, 2011

The Top 7... Stupidest puzzles
Ridiculous riddles that defy logic, common sense... and your patience


The Top 7… Games based on books
The written word, made more betterer by gamification


Top 7... ways games can transform you into a superior human being
Play games and become truly awesome


Top 7

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  • JADENkOTOR - February 3, 2011 11:47 p.m.

    Braid makes you feel smart because it makes you think the puzzle you just solved was hard when it was actually quite easy. Its a nice feeling but not really challenging. Darksiders had some of the hardest puzzles EVER, and should be towards the top of the list
  • SCRubS77 - February 3, 2011 8:57 p.m.

    I thoroughly enjoy every game on the list, but Charlie, you nailed the exact reason I don`t play Pokemon. That is intimidating as hell. I barely have the time to play through the games I want, let alone devote that much time and brain-power to one game. Anyway, good work!
  • Spybreak8 - February 3, 2011 6:10 a.m.

    Well gotta respect RTS titles, strategy, tactics and counters all in real time. Starcraft II or Company of Heroes anyone?!
  • Imthedoctor - February 3, 2011 1:38 a.m.

    God of war's puzzles pissed me off. would take me a week at a time to figure them out they were that subtle
  • waffman11 - February 2, 2011 11:32 p.m.

    ...Where's my DS and my calculator, I have the sudden urge to play Pokemon/
  • Im2awesome - February 2, 2011 7:14 p.m.

    Pokemon. Hell yes. I cant even begin to tell you how many times i've spent over a notebook building a team for hours, then getting onto the game and spending way more hours DOING it.
  • Gurkogg - February 2, 2011 12:33 p.m.

    I thought Planescape: Torment would make it on this list. It was definitely 10x more thought provoking than victorian literature. The concepts of reality being defined by our own perceptions and whatnot were awesome. Plus it expanded my vocabulary with all the big words I had to look up in the dictionary!
  • Logan2911 - February 2, 2011 6:26 a.m.

    What about Zelda & Darksiders those are the two games that made me fell like a genies
  • Tochy - February 1, 2011 11:59 p.m.

    @ Darkhawk correct
  • Darkhawk - February 1, 2011 11:35 p.m.

    Way to pick two of the most pretentious games ever in your list of "genius" games. As wonderful as Braid's puzzles were, and as fun as BioShock's gunplay could be, both those games are extraordinarily guilty of the "we must be so smart because we sound like it" phenomenon. Braid's obtuse story was self-indulgent and meaningless. And the fact that a game in which you can shoot bees out of your hand also includes references to Ayn Rand does not make it intelligent. Just because God of War has Greek gods in it, you wouldn't call it a history lesson, would you?
  • NightCrawler_358 - February 1, 2011 11:15 p.m.

    These games make me feel like a total idiot most of the time. Especially if I'm ever broken down to reading a guide to geet through it. But when i beat Portal all by myself, I was so full of myself, struttin around.
  • seanhayden - February 1, 2011 11:13 p.m.

    no phoenix wright?
  • Nap1400 - February 1, 2011 8:54 p.m.

    Does anyone even use that formula for Pokemon? I'll just keep covering the mic and mashing A, thank you very much.
  • Japanaman - February 1, 2011 7:40 p.m.

    The NES Sesame Street games make me feel like a genius.
  • Rattlehead - February 1, 2011 7:01 p.m.

    What, no Deus Ex?
  • oryandymackie - February 1, 2011 5:32 p.m.

    Try playing Modern Warfare 2 online. You'll definitely feel like a genius.
  • 123deckbox - February 1, 2011 5:15 p.m.

    At least Tomb Raider was put on there! That game had me frustrated to no end trying to figure puzzles out and really made me feel like a genius when they were solved.
  • mikeydo00 - February 1, 2011 3:04 p.m.

    Im going to show that math equation to my teacher and see if his almighty ass can figure it out
  • Ilyere - February 1, 2011 2:53 p.m.

    My goodness, that Pokemon formula is complicated! I'll just stick with the normal "Gotta catch 'em all!" thing.
  • philipshaw - February 1, 2011 12:29 p.m.

    Great article and there couldn't have been a more deserving No.1