Sometimes a puzzle can put a hard stop to your tour of glorious destruction through one of many action-packed RPGs or shooters, and it can be annoying. Other times, you specifically need a dedicated puzzle game to take a break from destruction, but on your own terms.
Below we’ve gathered a few games which are sure to carve new pathways in your neurons and activate the areas other games have left idle. Some of them leave you free to come up with your own creative solutions, others are pure logic puzzles, others still might evoke a mild “escape room” vibe, but all of them are fantastic brain-teasers. Without further ado, let’s dust off these neurons with…
|The Witness||2016-01-26||Adventure||Thekla, Inc.||65%|
|The Talos Principle||2014-12-11||Adventure||Croteam||82%|
|Baba Is You||2019-03-13||Indie||Hempuli Oy||51%|
|World Of Goo||2008-10-13||Adventure||2D BOY||44%|
|Keep Talking And Nobody Explodes||2015-10-08||Indie||Steel Crate Games||35%|
|Human Fall Flat||2016-07-22||Adventure||No Brakes Games||76%|
|The Turing Test||2016-08-30||Adventure||Bulkhead Interactive||88%|
|Bridge Constructor Portal||2017-12-20||Simulation||ClockStone||90%|
|Opus Magnum||2017-12-07||Indie||Zachtronics Industries||55%|
|The Swapper||2013-05-30||Adventure||Olli Harjola, Otto Hantula, Tom Jubert, Carlo Castellano||65%|
|Superliminal||2020-11-05||Indie||Pillow Castle Games||61%|
|Lara Croft Go||2016-12-04||Adventure||Square Enix Montréal||80%|
|Strange Horticulture||2022-01-21||Farming||Bad Viking||34%|
|It Takes Two||2021-03-26||Co-op||Hazelight Studios|
|The Undergarden||2010-11-10||Puzzle||Artech Studios||85%|
|Mini Metro||2015-11-06||Adventure||Dinosaur Polo Club||18%|
|The Room Two||2016-07-05||Adventure||Fireproof Games|
|The Room Three||2018-11-13||Adventure||Fireproof Games|
|Kami||2016-10-26||Adventure||Kuro Irodoru Yomiji||85%|
|The Talos Principle||2014-12-11||Adventure||Croteam||82%|
|Hexcells Complete Pack||2014-02-19||Indie||Matthew Brown|
|Developer:||Sad Owl Studios|
Viewfinder is a real treat.
It’s a puzzle game with definite objectives and non-linear solutions, which is already a doozy, but it’s also going to break your brain in more than one way, because the things it does outshine even the mindbenders like Superliminal. See, you get to superimpose photos on the level, and this creates new places you get to move through and interact with.
Not only is the transition from 2D photo to 3D level completely seamless, but at certain levels you can take your own photos, and the game uses them with as much ease as the premade ones. It probably means black magic was involved. The goal of each stage is simple: access the teleporter to the next stage, but it’s the method that makes Viewfinder such an incredible experience.
Dorfromantik is a brain-tickler of a very different type.
It’s a bit like a hexagonal jigsaw puzzle, except there is no predetermined picture, and the pieces are randomized. However, finding the perfect spot to put this river bend or a half-forest, half-wheat field tile still feels great. See, in this game you’re assembling a hex-based map of an idyllic landscape.
Barring some exceptions like rivers and train tracks you can put any tile, anywhere, but it’s not the optimal way to play. You get more points by matching a new tile to the ones already on the “board”, growing bigger forests and creating map-spanning river networks. The trick is that your tile stack is finite, and to get more hexes and play longer you need to complete optional miniquests.
Unpacking is a wonderful game about, well, unpacking the boxes of a person who’s moving houses and apartments a lot.
You get to put books on the shelves, find spaces for diplomas, and good spots to showcase a plushie with a lot of nostalgic value. We’re with the unseen protagonist over 19 years of her life, seeing every time she had to move to a new place.
It’s a masterful act of environmental storytelling, but it’s also a satisfying puzzle. Finding a good spot for every item in the boxes get harder the more possessions the protagonist carries with her. Over time we learn a lot about her life, and which items carry special sentimental value. It’s not a very long game, can be cleared in a few hours tops, so it doesn’t overstay its welcome.
|Developer:||Olli Harjola, Otto Hantula, Tom Jubert, Carlo Castellano|
Another puzzle game with a story attached, The Swapper isn’t as mind-bending as Viewfinder, but it does require developing new ways of thinking.
See, the protagonist gains the ability to create clones of himself, which will come in handy during the exploration of the somewhat wrecked space station. Be ready to kill plenty of your own copies for the sake of creating obstacles.
You can have up to four clones at the time, and you can shift your consciousness from one to the other, which can lead to callous, but interesting ways of clearing obstacles and solving puzzles. Like Unpacking, it’s not a long game with hundreds of levels to solve. The Swapper is story-driven, and can be cleared in about 5 hours, but the challenges it presents are well worth the price of admission.
A Little to the Left
A Little to the Left is a cozy game somewhat similar to Unpacking, but it has more actual puzzle elements to it.
The idea is that you’re supposed to arrange various household items in a pleasing order, which is easy enough. However, the game is evaluating your arrangements and figuring out the criteria can be a bit of a headscratcher. Not too frustrating, just enough for the puzzle to be fun.
A Little to the Left is very low-stakes and finds a really good balance between being a puzzle game and being one of these “oddly satisfying” things like things fitting perfectly into other things or perfect stacks. It has a friendly, pastel color palette, clean, easy-to-read shapes, and a twist. The game features a cat who’s very keen on messing up your perfect arrangement if you aren’t careful enough.
Poly Bridge (series)
Now for something more technical. The Poly Bridge series asks you to build a simple in a variety of geographical contexts.
It’s a physics-based game, so you need to make sure that parts of the bridge are properly supported, and if the task involves making a draw bridge, then you have to make sure things don’t fall apart when they start moving.
The selection of available parts changes from level to level but is always enough to bridge the gap and provide necessary functions. The trick is figuring out how to make it work. At least the game isn’t super picky, and if the bridge is wobbly without falling apart, that’s a pass. In May 2023 Poly Bridge 3 was released, dramatically improving on an already pretty cute aesthetic of the series.
|Developer:||Adriaan de Jongh|
Hidden Folks is like an advanced form of “Where’s Waldo”, except instead of a suspicious fellow in a sweater, you’re looking for all kinds of cute little folk on hand-drawn, black-and-white maps filled with funny details and ever funnier sounds.
You can open doors, activate construction cranes, and look for all sorts of interactions and tiny stories.
There are no stakes, you can just observe the map, and look for the targets at your own leisure. Hidden Folks is very lo-fi in terms of presentation, with simple drawings on a single-color background (with sepia and night mode options) and audio being just the developers making silly mouth sounds. It’s a cute game, more for the eyes than for the brain, but finding some folks requires creativity.
Portal 1 & 2
The Portal franchise is not only one of the most famous series in gaming, it also happens to be two of the most creative mainstream puzzle games you could play.
The idea is simple but opens a way to many exciting challenges. You are playing as Chell, a test subject in a research facility. You’re armed with a gun which fires linked portals, and you get some protection from fall damage… good luck!
The games are effectively a series of rooms which require creative use of the portals to move around, transport weighted cubes and bypass cheerful turrets. There are moving platforms, surfaces which can’t hold a portal, buttons to press, and a snarky AI mocking your failures and complaining about your successes. Portal 2 even has a two-player co-op starring two bumbling robots.
The Room is a puzzle classic in its own right. A PC remake of an iPad game, with more content, better graphics, and the same degree of teasing your braincells.
The game is filled to the brim with various mechanical and alchemical contraptions which you’ll need to figure out if you want to solve the mystery of a weird box in the attic.
The Room is absolutely one of the best puzzle games you could hope to play, especially if you’re hardened by challenges in old-school adventure games and have gloriously defeated every escape room you’ve ever been to. You should try the PC version even if you beat the game back in 2012 on your iPad, because the PC release adds an epilogue with a ton of extra stuff.
Baba Is You
Baba Is You is a delightfully weird game based on, effectively, extremely minor coding.
Each map has a few rules phrased as “x is y” which define the way certain elements work or interact. Now here comes the trick: the rules are based on blocks you can push around, fundamentally changing the way a given level works. It’s a simple gameplay idea which paves the way for fascinating logic puzzles.
The complexity of challenges before you grows quickly, but the game doesn’t become too frustrating, partially thanks to its simple and friendly retro aesthetic. Baba Is You has low system requirements, is pretty cheap, and will give your hours and hours of head scratching and pondering before you complete all the challenges.
It Takes Two
Whereas most of the game on this list are perfectly singleplayer with a rare departure into optional multi, It Takes Two is a fundamentally co-op title, it can’t be played at all if you don’t have a co-op partner.
Most of the challenges ahead of you require coordinated teamwork, whether it’s about operating two-person devices or platforming powered by the environment and character abilities.
The story puts you in the role of soon-to-be-divorced couple Cody and May, who ended up in toy bodies because of a magic spell unknowingly cast by their daughter, Rose. Now they need to complete challenges posed by a sentient relationship therapy book if they want to return to their bodies. The problem is that they’ll have to work together and remember they used to love each other.
|Developer:||Kuro Irodoru Yomiji|
Kami is as much a puzzle game as it is a relaxing experience.
The idea is that you have a screen filled with a grid made of neatly folded colorful paper, and your task is to fill the screen with a single color. You do it by unfolding (clicking on) the pieces of paper, which turns them into the hue you’ve selected. The fewer moves you need to do it, the better. That’s pretty much it.
As you complete levels, the arrangements of colors get more and more elaborate, creating lovely patterns. The game even uses real paper as the base of its aesthetic, instead of relying purely on computer-generated elements. Watching tiles unfold into new colors looks great and sounds great. Kami is both a great puzzle game and is also incredibly satisfying.
Lyne is yet another minimalist puzzle game on this list, because sometimes a good puzzle doesn’t require complex graphics, just a neat presentation.
Lyne gives you grids filled with geometric shapes which you have to connect with, well, lines. The trick is that you must connect all shapes of the same kind with a single line, and that different lines can’t cross.
Some grids also feature cross-roads tiles, which allow a specific number of different lines to pass through. Simple rules, complex solutions, and potentially infinite number of procedurally generated levels. On top of that, Lyne uses very eye-friendly color palettes and tidy designs of the geometric shapes, which creates a very neat, easy to parse experience which won’t burn your retinas.
The first, but not the last, puzzle game from developer Zachtronics Industries, a studio very keen on creating free-form, creative puzzle games.
In Spacechem you’re playing a designer of chemical processing systems. You have to design pipelines, set up factories, program the reactors, and meet increasingly difficult production quotas.
Each reactor requires you to move atoms around or arrange them into desired combinations, and the true challenge is programming a loop which can work infinitely. Sometimes you might even need to set up several factories on a single line, working in sequence. SpaceChem puzzles are quite complex, but on the upside, it doesn’t force you into a specific solution so you can get creative.
The Talos Principle
The Talos Principle is not only a fantastic puzzle game featuring both logical and environmental puzzles.
It’s also a great science fiction game with a lot more than just a little of philosophical thought behind its story. It’s an amazing combination, and whether you want to dig into the themes of the game or just solve some cool puzzles you’re in for a real treat.
As you ponder philosophical questions about existence and purpose, you’ll avoid spoilers, arrange tetrominos, and explore weird, seemingly anachronistic collections of futuristic and ancient environments. The Talos Principle is a true brain teaser on several levels, and the immersive locations made it a perfect material for a VR version, which it received not too long after release.
One more Zachtronics game, and you can rest assured, not the last one, either.
Infinifactory is a 3D, sandbox puzzle game about building, well, factories which can sustain an infinite production loop, spitting out stuff your overlords require. You get conveyor belts, pushing mechanics, welding tools and everything else you might need to complete your abductors’ orders.
Unlike many other Zachtronics games, Infinifactory is fully 3D, which literally adds another dimension to your contraptions, don’t waste that opportunity! There’s even a story to motivate you from puzzle to puzzle, and if the base serving of the game somehow isn’t enough for you, Infinifactory also features a good mod support, including a Steam Workshop integration.
The Hexcells series is going to make the day of any season veteran of Minesweeper and Picross, since it is inspired by both…and has plenty of cool twists of its own.
As the title implies, instead of a square grid you get a hexagonal one, and some tiles have numbers in them, telling you how many adjacent tiles you have to mark. Some of them take on a hue, others reveal more numbers.
The above are just the basics. Before long more rules come in, throwing in a lot more complexity. What is important, however, is that the puzzles can be resolved with pure logical reasoning, no guesswork required. There are three Hexcells games at the time of writing, each with its own selection of puzzles, but Hexcells Infinite uses procedural generation to support its pre-made
Opus Magnum from, indeed, Zachtronics, has a premise very similar to Spacechem, but done a bit differently.
You’re still producing chemicals, but this time you’re operating on a hexagonal grid, and assembling alchemical elements has a fully mechanical presentation, full of pistons, rotating multi-arm contraptions, and conveyor lines. Your task is to program a smooth, infinite loop of production.
Every mechanical element gets a dedicated timeline for commands, making it easier to synchronize actions of different pieces. It’s a great puzzle game, and it only cares about the product, so you can go as minimal or as grand as you want – as long as you can program a perfect loop it’s all cool. But you’re also judged against other in terms of speed, cost, and efficiency, giving some motivation to optimize.
That concludes our list of games you should absolutely check out if you’re looking for something to flex the puzzle-solving muscles and get your thinking juices flowing. Ranging from neat minimalist designs to 3D sandboxes, each game on the list has the potential to keep you engaged with its challenges.