The Best Puzzle Games on Android & iOS

By Michael Coffer 17 May 2018 0

Puzzles are a motley crew indeed, with games as different from each other as the genre as a whole is from others. Often forcibly recommended as a kind of mental prophylactic, they’re infinitely more palatable than a spoonful of cod oil or regular exercise, and can surprise you perhaps more than any other type of game. Stages of puzzling: The mind moves from confusion to orientation to comprehension, and this journey might not make anyone a better anything, but it remains worthwhile if only for the chance to refresh the ever-vital sense of curiosity and wonder.

Speaking of wonder, guess which genre we’ve just put together another ‘best of’ list for...

Monument Valley (Review)

Developer: ustwo games
Platforms:  iOS, Android
Price: $3.99

PuzzlesMonV

Every intrepid fan of puzzles is intimately familiar with the eureka moment after which everything falls into place. With Monument Valley, these insights are found by rotating and manipulating the world and its unlikely, Escher-esque geometry. Visual insights coincide with mental ones. And what visual twists and turns there are! Paths bridge on towards infinite loops, curve around corners and angles which display cleanly on the tablet’s surface but will warp the mind. The challenges and spatial awareness necessary are minimal, yet the game never feels reductive or simplistic despite its pared-down nature.

Lara Croft GO (Review)

Developer: Square Enix
Platforms:  iOS, Android
Price: $7.49, $4.99

PuzzlesLCG

Many a sterling series has seen its reputation dinged by weaker entries. In particular, the sophomore slump, that challenge to recapture what made the original great without slavish repetition. Every member of the GO series has its unique merits and mechanics, but Lara Croft GO stands as the series best. Hitman GO was plagued by odd turn-counter challenges which offer only derivative challenges and pad the playtime without expanding content; Deus Ex GO’s grand plan for daily challenges and community-generated puzzles largely fell flat, but Lara Croft GO along with its two expansions hit the sweet spot of challenge, presentation and pacing. Its focused treasure hunts will keep the best minds, most any mind, really, engaged. (There’s even a maddening hidden-object sidegame to unlock cosmetic goodies if either of those are your wont) Its solutions were exclusive and in many cases immune to the kind of brute-force, mindlessly-spam-moves approach to puzzling, and the whole adventure felt like just that.

Gorogoa

Developer: Annapura Interactive
Platforms:  iOS
Price: $4.99

gorogoa

Gorogoa is the thrumming sound carried through the ground up soles of your feet. It is the distant bellow of a forgotten imaginary god from childhood. (Yes, the creator of this handcrafted, long-awaited puzzler really did pull the title from decades of dreaming and tinkering with sounds and private inner vistas). The game itself jumps through time and place by tasking the player to move lushly illustrated panels around the screen in order to trigger events, which shift the scene and advance the story. All of this is taught and displayed to the player wordlessly. The game is silent and pensive, and its storyline symbolic and sedate but still deeply personal and definite. There is little ambiguity, just subtlety,  itself a mild request that the viewer kindly piece together the story. While it is admittedly short and a tad linear, the game’s a great example of what a fully realized dream looks like, with its self-coherent strangeness and exquisite illustrations and soundtrack.

The Witness

Developer: Thekla (iOS), NVIDIA (Android)
Platforms: iOS , Android
Price: $9.99, $13.60

the witness

The Witness is an excellent game to binge, forget, and then revisit. Its puzzles are sorted into wholly distinct environs (treehouses, greenhouses, forests, deserts, mountains, castles) with each of the regions introducing a unique mechanic. Powering on the panels by drawing glowing lines. The game is open world, with players free to wander around and be as enlightened or confounded as they like, and the ultimate nature of the island and its nameless visitor (Witness?) is left up for interpretation. Still, the puzzles are incredibly varied and numerous, and the island is a wonder to explore and idly consider just what in the world is going on.

Hadean Lands (Review)

Developer: Zarfhome Software Consulting
Platforms:  iOS
Price: $4.99

Hadean Lands

Hadean Lands is a mastercraft of interactive fiction. Mesmerized by its alchemy and spellcraft, drawn into its maps and mysteries, the game feels old-school but warm and inviting. A significant part of the game is devoted to learning the ropes, the basic syntax and rhythm. Sometimes this extended introductory period means players lose interest and drop out: please be patient and stick with it. (Unless it really isn’t your thing or the genre is interminably dull to you, in which case, please do call it quits). The story and the game systems build to become ever more baroque and satisfying and it’s difficult to say much more without entering into spoiler territory. Suffice to say Hadean Lands is worth much more than a quick visit.

Cosmic Express (Review)

Developer: Draknek Limited
Platforms: iOS, Android
Price: $4.99

cosmic express

Cute little aliens harumph and squidge themselves into unlikely spherical compartments as they commute to their destinations in outer space. In Cosmic Express, the puzzles are pickup-and-deliver, drawing train paths for a route that allows for no cross-overs or doubling-back. The game includes a ton of levels and gets surprisingly difficult (or rather: uncompromising, since difficulty is always a relative, judgmental term) sooner rather than later. Every level feels crystal clear in the post-solved hindsight; nothing is superfluous. Cosmic Express winds its way through the galaxy and wends its way into your heart.

Beglitched

Developer: Alec Thompson
Platforms:  iOS
Price: $3.99

beglitched

Beglitched is the story of the Glitch Witch’s sudden disappearance from a computer OS and the player character’s sudden quest to train and replace her. You’ll open ‘files’ to find items, other avatars and programs, and enemies. The game is split between overland mode, which utilizes a minesweeper-like method of divining connecting spaces, and the match-three battle mode. The tone is light and idiosyncratic, and the level design is inspired and gimmicky in a good way. Constraints, properly applied, stimulate creativity. (Or else we’d be without the phrase ‘thinking outside of the box’). Beglitched was released without much fanfare and then subsequently ported to mobile, where it shines even more because of its screen-within-a-screen schtick.

Mini Metro (Review)

Developer: Dinosaur Polo Club
Platforms:  iOS, Android
Price: $4.99

mini metro

Logistics makes the world go around. These often break down into math and logic puzzles, even to the point that we have fields dedicated to studying the topology of knots. But maybe none of this matters and you just need to get to work. Well, Mini Metro folds all of this and makes for an amusing, minimalistic puzzle about ordering and sequencing the right trains in the right time to complete the right route. So, programming motion to meet specific goals, and tinkering towards that end. Some puzzles rely unduly on shifts in perspective or tricks of the light to interpret what happens next; not so with Mini Metro. The needs and requirements of the puzzles are always clear, the demand is upfront: all the player has to supply is the way forward, that vital connection which will close the gap and make everything come together.

Framed 2 (Review)

Developer: Loveshack
Platforms:  iOS, Android
Price: $4.99

framed 2

The search for the story is the story in Framed 2. Cleverly partitioning and recombining what made the original so great, the follow-up refines and refreshes the initial conceit. Comic book action meets stealth in a cheesy noirish setting. One could even say it...re-frames...what made the original great. Yes, it is probably the shortest and most easily exhausted member of this list but it still has a little extra panache that merits some special attention. There are games to play for months or years, trying to crack their mysteries or refine skills. Then there are those games to consume in an afternoon, letting the whole experience become a unified and unbroken memory. Framed 2 belongs to the latter category, a class of brief puzzlers definitely worth playing.

The Room 3 (Review)

Developer: Fireproof Games
Platforms:  iOS, Android
Price: $3.99

the room 3

What can be said about The Room series that hasn’t been said before? Its excellent value and construction, or the heaps of critical awards? Not to mention the host of mistaken-identity jokes based on the so-bad-it-is-a-phenomenon film of the same name. Puzzle boxes are a unique tactile treat which shrink a world into a single object and then propel one to open it based on nothing more than curiosity and the hint that something might wait inside. The Room has digitized this experience as well as it could have been, all while making the experience portable and affordable and just a skosh mysterious.

What would your list of the best puzzle games look like? Let us know in the comments!

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