A good puzzle is one of the best things in life. Some are relaxing time-killers, while others test our skills in critical problem solving or quick mental gymnastics; both can be incredibly satisfying. Video games can elevate these head-scratching problems to new heights and complexities by immersing you in a setting, messing with concepts like the tenants of time and space, or by simply giving you endless access to your favorite brainteasers. Here are some of our favorite modern puzzle games listed in no particular order, that you can play right now that will pleasantly twist your brain into knots.
Tetris Effect – Connected
Let’s be honest. Tetris is already in the conversation of being one of the greatest games of all time. Luckily, we’ve been recently graced with an awesome entry in the series with Tetris Effect: Connected. This take on the concept comes from the mind of Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the man behind games like Rez and Lumines, who sculpts the tetromino-dropping gameplay into a complete sensory experience. Each stage has its own visual and audio theme that changes as you play. Music will swell as the scenery pulses, and flipping your Tetris pieces becomes a new note to the symphony of sounds. It’s a wholly unique experience in the puzzle space, and what’s even better: Tetris Effect is a darn good version of Tetris. Compete with others in the new Connected expansion or experience Effect a transcendent way in VR on PlayStation 4 or PC. | Our Review
Capybara’s mountain climbing hack and slash puzzler was a standout of the Apple Arcade launch in 2019. As a beefy berserker named Jorj, each level of Grindstone has you drawing your path of destruction through colorful, and sometimes dangerous, critters called creeps to escape the level. Jorj can only cut through subsequent creeps of the same color unless he crosses paths with a Grindstone. Picking one up along the way allows Jorj to change the targeted type of creep and build even longer and more devastating combos. Along the over 200 levels of pinnacle peril, blueprints and gear can be collected and crafted to assist in surviving the treacherous ascent to the peak. While it debuted on Apple devices, Grindstone can now be found on Switch and PC as well.
Baba Is You
Easily one of the most unique games in years, Baba Is You takes a seemingly simple premise of changing the properties of objects in the world and uses that to solve mind-melting conundrums. The rules of the game are physically present in each level. Blocks scattered about like “Baba” or “Tree” or “Wall” refer to actual parts around the stage. They can be pushed around and joined with verb blocks such as “Is” to create new realities. “You” represents what the player is able to control and move around the playfield where the goal of every level is to get whatever “You” happens to be to reach a goal flag. You can be lava. You can be a wall. You can be the goal flag itself, and each of these objects can be each other. Come with your metaphysical galaxy brain equipped to take on some of these complex puzzles and get ready to rejoice when figuring out entirely out-of-the-box solutions. Baba is fun. Baba is tough. But most importantly, Baba Is You will scratch that puzzle itch like no other. | Our Review
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Breaking out of the bonus scenarios from Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Trackers takes those fun puzzle levels and builds an entire game around it. As the adventurous Captain Toad, you’ll explore diorama-like areas in search of precious Power Stars. The catch? Every cleverly built level is designed to be completed without the ability to jump. You’ll have to navigate these charming labyrinths, and solve environmental puzzles with the help of levers, duplicating fruits, moving platforms, and good old-fashioned camera perspective. Captain Toad offers experiences ranging from chill brain teasers to precision pathing through a stage, but typically lets you take things at your own pace. It’s a charming, refreshing take on familiar locals and ideas from the Mario franchise, and one of the great puzzlers to play on Switch right now. | Our Review
Nonograms, the puzzle presented in the long history of Picross games from developer Jupiter Corporation, are like picture crosswords. You’re presented with a grid with numbers aligned with each column and row, which inform how many squares in that section are supposed to be filled in by the player. Though, it’s not quite paint-by-numbers. To solve the puzzle correctly, you’ll have to consider all of the information given around the board to determine which spaces to fill in and which to leave empty. Eventually, a full image is revealed, like a pixelated painting the player helped produce. Picross puzzles are intoxicating, relaxing, and incredibly enjoyable to solve. The newest edition in Jupiter’s Switch series is Picross S6, which offers stellar tutorials for those new to this kind of puzzle as well as massive 40×30 grid boards for the Picross veterans. With almost 500 puzzles to complete, Picross S6 will keep many busy for quite a while.
Images aren’t always what they seem, and in Gorogoa, you have the power to shift and manipulate a series of pictures to find the true meaning in the visuals. Each puzzle presents the player with up to four photos that must be placed in a specific alignment to be solved. You can take each segment and manipulate them in different ways, like zooming in or out of the scene on display or changing the position of the image like a slide puzzle. Adjusting these photos can shift the perspective of what you’re looking at entirely, making the seemingly disparate images fit together perfectly. Gorogoa is a joy to look at with its spectacular art. The experience is on the shorter end, so if you’re looking to relax on a weekend afternoon, Gorogoa is a fantastic way to spend your time. | Our Review
Jonathan Blow’s open world puzzle adventure The Witness is a masterclass in design. Starting on an island with no context of where or when you are, you only have one way to interact with the world: drawing lines or paths on designated panels strewn about the environment. Each set of these screens found around the island adds new rules to how you need to draw your route from point A to B to complete the puzzle. These rules are sussed out by intuition or trial and error, though as you progress through The Witness, puzzle elements and clues for drawing the correct paths on panels may be inspired by your surroundings. So it’s essential to keep your eyes and, most importantly, your mind open to solve some of the more important and exciting mysteries on the island. We’ll leave it at that as The Witness is at its best when starting with the bare minimum knowledge and letting the experience build until you realize what’s actually possible. | Our Review
The Turing Test
Originally released in 2016 on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, with a Switch version in 2020, The Turing Test puts you in the shoes of Ava Turing. Confined in a laboratory, Ava is tasked to complete a series of tests that only humans can solve. These test chambers are designed by an artificial intelligence named T.O.M., which observes Ava’s progress throughout the experimentation. Armed with an Energy Manipulation Tool, you can pull energy nodes from objects to redistribute into other devices to solve the puzzle at hand. Sometimes, the simplest answer isn’t the correct one, though. T.O.M.’s contraptions will require you to think outside the box and “cheat” the tests in various ways. For example, you may find yourself navigating a maze but decide to hop over the walls instead of sticking to the labyrinth floor. The Turing Tests convoluted rooms will likely keep you busy for quite some time, while also delivering a worthwhile tale between Ava and T.O.M. | Our Review
The Room: Old Sins
Part virtual puzzle box, part spooky escape room, The Room series has been delivering satisfying brainteasers for years. Its most recent iteration, called Old Sins, can be found on iOS, Android, and PC. Old Sins has you exploring an unsettling dollhouse where each room holds several puzzles and secrets to unravel. Items can be found and examined, giving clues for solving a mystery. Important objects made of a substance called the Null, which is said to have the power to warp reality, can also be used to progress. Puzzle solutions aren’t contained to just one area, as some more significant problems will have you exploring all over the house to resolve. The Room: Old Sins’ biggest strengths are in its atmosphere and detail. Every object you interact with feels old and ornate but at the same time advanced and intricate. There’s almost a sinister quality in the air, enhancing the urgency to get through each puzzle and move on to learning all of the secrets within the dollhouse. | Our Review
A decade after its release, playing with portals is still as fun as ever. Portal 2 takes everything that was great about the brief first-person puzzle game from Valve’s Orange Box and builds upon it substantially. The basics of Portal rely on the portal gun, which lets the user project two portals on surfaces like walls, floors, ceilings, allowing you to pass through from one to the other as if they were simply doorways. Following the events of Portal, series heroine Chell has to escape an Aperture Science facility yet again, while learning of the company’s sometimes hilarious, but always intriguing, history from its founder, Cave Johnson.
There are all kinds of fresh takes on the portal gun gameplay messing with gravity, inertia, dopey sentient gun turret target systems, and much more. Goopy liquids called Gels can be used to paint the test facilities, with each color of the substance allowing Chell to bounce, move faster, or place portals on surfaces not normally meant to hold them. Portal 2 also features an entirely separate cooperative campaign where two players take the roles of robots named ATLAS and P-body. Co-op requires just as much creative problem solving, timing, and coordination as the single-player levels but asks it of both players. Are you looking to start “thinking with portals?” The best ways to experience this puzzle classic on modern hardware is on Xbox Series X/S and Xbox One X via backward compatibility or the ever-reliable PC version. | Our Review
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