December 02, 2019
If you’re like me, it’s hard to turn off the problem-solving part of the brain and just relax. That’s why puzzle video games were invented! Here’s a list of the best puzzle video games to level up your problem solving skills. By best I mean my favorites. Many of the games on this list are not purely puzzle, but are also not necessarily action, as they require little to no dexterity with keyboard or controller. What distinguishes them from their genres is an emphasis on problem solving in the game play.
Low barrier to entry (hand-eye coordination is not a prerequisite)
Compatible with Linux
I remember playing the original The 7th Guest as a youth on my Windows box. It was one of the first games to ship on CD rather than floppy disk. The puzzles are hard, and back then the only way to get hints was to dial in on BBS, which was ridiculously slow, and even more expensive. It still holds up, considering it was released almost 30 years ago. It’s also fascinating as a timepiece to see how the developers cleverly negotiated the limits of the medium.
This list can’t begin without a nod to Valve. Not only does Portal 2 require you to rethink the FPS genre, the cooperative play forces players to coordinate solutions to problems together. The first game in the series was brilliant, but it’s this collaborative aspect that makes Portal 2 genius.
Hidden Folks is my favorite game of all time. It’s less game and more puzzle book, in the spirit of Where’s Waldo?, the difference being that the tableaus are animated and interactive. Each scene requires you to find a set number of “hidden folks” or objects in order to progress to the next level. The “mouth sounds” are even more charming than the drawings.
I love watching the expressions on the faces of friends and family when I describe Stephen’s Sausage Roll. The premise is ridiculous and even more addictive. Each puzzle is an island. home to a grill and one or more raw sausages. Your goal is to cook the sausage(s) evenly, on both sides and both ends, without burning. Whatever you do, don’t cheat. Savor it.
Antichamber is a mind-bending “FPS” that subverts “the rules” of 3D CG space. I put FPS in scare quotes because the guns you acquire as a player are puzzles in themselves. Every problem is structured around its own logic, so, just when you think you’ve got it, you’ve got to think again. And again. And again…
So you’re a sheep and you push blocks of text around maze-like landscapes to complete logical statements that alter the gameplay and/or the environment. Sounds simple and straightforward? The trick is to not fall into the trap of computational thinking. This isn’t Scratch, it’s dysfunctional programming.
World of Goo is a surreal, physics-based “bridge builder”, in which you overcome gravity by building structures, such as bridges and towers, out of balls of goo to achieve various goals, level-by-level.
The Bridge is influenced by M. C. Escher in both style and form. The graphics are hand-drawn in black & white and the puzzles are mathematically inspired impossible objects. The solutions to the problems are achieved by rotating the 2D “landscapes” to move objects via gravity and connect passages for your avatar.
Any attempt to explain this game will ruin the magic. It’s $5. Just get it.
The Swapper is the only true “platformer” on the list. While platformers are my least favorite genre of puzzle game, The Swapper takes it next-level with “cloning”. Problems are solved by creating copies of your avatar and strategically positioning them in the environments to trigger events. The atmosphere is beautiful and moody, composed of handcrafted assets and claymation.
What are your favorite puzzle video games for problem solving? Let me know @jarednielsen on Twitter
When we force code to act out of the ordinary… that’s where the magic happens. That’s when we make art. @jarednielsen