The 12 Best Puzzle Games You Might Not Have Played
What is a puzzle? A wonderful little pile of pixels! It ain't all Rubik's Cubes... there's a lot more to the wonderful word of free online puzzle games than you might think, largely due to a lot of creativity and a willingness to experiment from the indie community that creates them. Over the years, we've seen a lot of different takes on the genre, some of them elegant and challenging in their simplicity, and others full of complex mechanics and ingenuity. Here are twelve of what we think are some of the best you might not have played, showcasing everything from logic to platforming to horror (and even a reverse escape game!) that will keep you thinking for a long time. Geronimo! (And be sure to check out The 12 Best Escape Games You Might Not Have Played!)
- The Asylum - If you know this remarkably original and innovative game, then you know it well, but at over ten years old now, this gem still gets consistently overlooked and lost by many. In it, you play a psychiatric doctor, and your patients at the titular asylum aren't people but rather living stuffed toys, all of whom are suffering from some sort of mental disorder brought on by a trauma in their past. It's up to you to figure out the proper course of action to take to help them, and the stories that unfold through wordless cutscenes, are incredibly emotional, clever, and creative. A literal wolf in sheep's clothing, a toy crocodile that's terrified of water, a hippo that can't (or won't) stop playing with puzzles... each character has a rich history and personality that makes this one of the single most unique puzzle games around, regardless of platform.
- Kavamalja - Usually games without instructions are a bad thing, even if you're like me and have never cracked an instruction manual in your life. (Ask me about my poorly assembled furniture collection!) Tonypa, however, has built a legacy around games where figuring out how to play is part of the fun, and this is a prime example of how satisfying that can be. As you explore the maps, you need to not only figure out how to proceed through rooms, but what each hazard is, turning it into a sort of very classic Zelda-style maze adventure. It's an excellent example of minimalistic style delivering maximum enjoyment... but hey, that's basically what you start to expect whenever you see Tonypa's name come up anyway.
- Closure - Tyler Glaiel is basically known for clever puzzle games, but this one is something special. It's atmospheric, moody, and even a little unsettling, as you play a character trying to find their way through dangerous, dark landscapes, using only a ball of light that can manipulate your surroundings. On the downside, the platforming in the game is a little iffy, but unlike many other games with the same issue, Closure is just so compulsively playable because of how captivating its presentation is, and how smart the puzzles are. Originally released in 2009 as a free game, it also saw an expanded commercial release in 2012 that featured all new stories, puzzles, characters, and environments, and if you're looking for something distinctive or thoughtful, it should definitely be on your list of games to play.
- Knightfall 2 - Since there are so few "pure" puzzle games, hybrids that incorporate elements of other genres aren't uncommon, and Puzzle Quest has already shown us that the RPG elements are a natural bedfellow. Megadev's incredibly addictive and gorgeous match=3 style puzzle game really shoots for the moon, however, and basically nails it, as you control a knight with a massive drill who's been rejected and evicted by your lady love for turning into such a lazy slacker, so you'll need to travel the kingdom and do some good to prove you're still worth her affections. The key is to get to the exit in each stage, but the kicker is that doing so means navigating a board filled with blocks you can destroy for experience, monsters to duel with, items to gather and more... all while trying to create chains of blocks to make the most out of your energy. It's one of the richest match-3 games out there, and really reinforces how incredibly high quality some of these games you can play for free are.
- Continuity - Nils Stefan Bertil stumbled on to something really, really clever with this unique little game. The goal? Find the key and get to the door. Where it gets interesting is that each level is actually made up of a series of boxes of terrain that you have to figure out how to properly drag and place on a grid, so that when you take control of our little hero(ine?), you have clear passage from area to area. Each box needs to perfectly align with the edges of another, so you can't just jam two together and hope for the best. Throw in an intuitive, brilliant interface and a slick yet simple design, and it's clear why this not only won Best Puzzle of 2009, but also why it had a successful mobile sequel two years later.
- Lakeview Cabin - Let's get one thing straight... Roope Tamminen's deceptively calm and idyllic looking horror game is definitely not for children or those sensitive to certain violent material. It is, however, a unique take on a puzzle game that feels like it sprung straight from a late eighties horror flick. You aren't given any direction... all you have is a simple cabin by the lake and your surroundings to explore. You can drive your mower. Take a dip, with or without clothes. Try to get into that locked room. But when night falls, you'll need to figure out a way to keep yourself safe, because there's something in your past and just beneath the surface that wants to take you with it. With multiple solutions, it's a little slow and occasionally unintuitive, but both harrowing and creative, too.
- Don't Escape - As the title suggests, in ScriptWelder's "why hasn't anyone else thought of this" point-and-click puzzle, you're playing the reverse of your average escape game scenario. See, you're a werewolf, and when night falls, the beast is going to come out and lay waste to the surrounding village and countryside, which is not something you want. You've decided to lock yourself up inside a remote little cabin, but when you're dealing with beastial supernatural monsters, a few inches of wood isn't going to do the trick. You'll need to explore and figure out how to block off every possible avenue of escape as securely as possible, as well as properly restrain and weaken yourself. It's a lot harder than you might think, and with some excellent atmosphere and puzzle design, you'll hope we see even more games like this in the future.
- No-One Has To Die - In Stuart Madafiglio's puzzler meets visual novel, you're in a massive corporate building when a fire has broken out, and all the security staff are dead. You're trapped but safe in the vault, and it's up to you to direct the survivors through each stage by telling them where to move and what to do on a grid, flipping switches and locking (or unlocking) doors, trying to stay one step ahead of the fire. The twist is that in order to proceed, each level usually requires someone to heroically sacrifice themselves in order to save the others, and the focus here is on the narrative and plot twists that unfold as you decide who does what, and who lives and dies. So... yes, despite the title's claim, you'll be making some hard decisions, but this is just such a clever way to present a story packed with surprises, and with a ton of replay value to boot, that it's an easy recommendation for those who like their puzzles wrapped in a plot.
- simian.interface - There's a lot more than meets the eye in Vested Interest's sneaky little game, which begins with you, as a monkey, simply aligning the shapes in each level and ends with... uh... well, that's the tricky part, since part of the joy of playing is in being surprised by how drastically things change as you play. At the same time, however, you sort of have to tell people that something else is afoot, since the initial concept and presentation of those first few levels is so deceptively easy that you might dismiss it outright without ever suspecting there was more to it. If you stick with it, however, it will both surprise and challenge you, making this one of the most unexpectedly delightful (and very, very weird) puzzle games you could hope to run into.
- Blocks With Letters On - Who doesn't love a good word game? Martin Sears created one of the best with his Blocks With Letters On games, and if you love brain-teasers, this one is a real treat. In each level, your goal is to not only figure out what word the jumbled blocks of letters are supposed to spell, but also how to arrange them so that they, y'know, spell it out in the yellow section of each stage. This is harder than it sounds, since you have to move each block around the level to position it individually, and there are more than a few hazards (like switches and spikes and goo) to make this seemingly simple task a lot more challenging. It's a creative blend of genres, and with a silly sense of humour, one that'll make you grin as often as it makes you think.
- Manufactoria - PleasingFungus is an odd name for a developer to begin with, and not one you might immediately associate with extremely tricky logic-based programming puzzles about robots. Your task is to set up each level so as to deliver specific robots to specific places, putting conveyor belts and checkpoints on the grid so as to make sure that the colour sequences on each robot are properly detected and ferried where they're supposed to go. It's a lot harder than it sounds, but what makes it stand out, aside from its cheeky sense of humour, is the way you can continually challenge yourself to program better solutions that use fewer pieces and completes faster. It's one of those games whose presentation is so utterly unassuming that you're not really prepared for how difficult it gets later on, but if you love programming, you'll definitely want to sit down and crack your knuckles for some time well spent with this gem.
- Lock 'n' Roll - This is a game that caused a minor death in productivity for the entire staff the first time we discovered it, and five years later, it's still a temptation I have to resist because now I can play it on my phone. Canned Bananas is to blame with this simple looking and deviously addictive puzzle game, where your goal is to place coloured and numbered dice down on a grid, while trying to do so in such a way that you create different combinations (worth different points) that will clear those combos from the field and allow you to keep playing. If you're the type of person who's susceptible to "just one more round" style of gameplay addiction, you might want to steer well clear of this one, but its brilliantly casual and intelligent gameplay makes it something that's good for a few minutes or a few hours as you work towards improving your score every time.