This is the third (and longest!) in the series about unique digital puzzle games, and is focused on puzzle-driven games. You can also check out the entries on narrative games and platform puzzle games.
Before I get to the list, what is a puzzle-driven game? Basically I mean that the main focus of the game is the solving, and it doesn’t quite fit into any other major category. It may or may not contain some level of narrative, but the story is not the main feature. These games also don’t require dexterity the way a platform or action game does, and puzzles usually have some sort of distinct segmentation, such as levels, rooms, panels, etc.
Available on: Windows, iOS, Android, Xbox One, Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch
What is it?
Gorogoa is a gorgeous hand-drawn puzzle game with a truly original mechanic. Players are presented with up to four images in a two-by-two grid, which can be manipulated in a variety of ways, such as zooming in, panning across, or moving the image to another grid space to extend a scene or create a doorway into a new area. The player must explore each scene and combine images to advance the story, which follows the life of a boy and his encounters with a fantastical beast, exploring themes of spirituality and reflection on the different periods throughout his life.
Beautiful hand-drawn artwork. You can tell this was an enormous labor of love.
Unique gameplay mechanic that develops throughout. The aha moments in this game are satisfying and full of delightful surprises.
The way the story unfolds through your actions, intertwining the narrative with the puzzles.
Available on: Mac, Windows, Linux, Playstation 3/4/Vita, XBox One, Wii U
What is it?
The Swapper begins with the player character discovering a strange device that allows her to create multiple clones of herself and switch consciousness between these clones. Navigating through different rooms on an enormous abandoned research station in space, the goal is to collect orbs from different rooms in order to unlock more areas and eventually escape. The core gameplay revolves around projecting clones of your character, swapping into them, or manipulating them to do things like step on buttons that open doors, for example. Clones will move with the player unless otherwise blocked by the environment, but the main obstacles are colored lights that prevent either cloning functionality, swapping ability, or both.
A fresh iteration on a puzzle side scroller. You must step on buttons, manipulate objects, etc, to get to the other side of the room, but have you ever done that with 3 clones of yourself?
There are a lot of good brain-busters in this one. There were some puzzles I was stuck on for a while, but luckily the non-linear format allows you to walk away and come back to them later.
Lots and lots of content.
Available on: Mac, Windows, iOS, Xbox One, Playstation 4
What is it?
The Witness is an open-world game in which you walk around an island solving puzzles, but if you’re about to say “That sounds like Myst,” you’d be wrong. The puzzles in The Witness all stem from the same concept: find a panel and draw a line from point A to point B. If you think that sounds simple, or even boring, you would also be wrong. Unlike Myst and many other games in this genre, there is no story and no objects to interact with aside from the panels, but boy are there a lot of panels. There are over 500 puzzles in The Witness, which means many hours of gameplay and dozens of inventive iterations on the deceptively simple-looking concept of drawing a line, to the point where you aren’t even always drawing a line anymore.
The graphics are beautiful and make for a very zen experience.
The gameplay is exceptionally elegant. It does a great job at seamlessly onboarding players, and gradually increases the complexity and intricacy of the puzzles.
Despite the similar format of the puzzles, there is a lot of variety, and even when it gets challenging, the problems never feel unfair and the solves are always satisfying.
When you do get stuck on something, the open world format allows you to simply walk away and work on something else.
So many puzzles, plus lots of Easter eggs - this game will keep you occupied for a while.
Available on: Mac, Windows, Linux
What is it?
Opus Magnum is a game of building machines using available parts in order to make them accomplish a certain task using tracks, pivots, and other tools. This is reminiscent of a childhood favorite of mine, The Incredible Machine, but Opus Magnum takes this idea to a new level. Once a player has successfully assembled a device that completes the goals of the puzzle, they are ranked with all other players based on three factors: the speed, cost, and total area that the device takes up on the hexagonal grid space. Players can then attempt alternate solutions that improve in any of these areas, making this solo game unusually competitive. My only complaint is that the UI can feel a bit clunky at times, but not enough to ruin the fun.
Building gadgets is fun, and completing a machine always feels rewarding.
There are many different ways of solving a puzzle, making the gameplay varied and interesting.
It’s as much about exploring your own problem solving skills as it is about solving the problem itself.
Available on: iOS, Android
What is it?
Where Shadows Slumber is a neat game with a Monument Valley-like aesthetic, except the whole world has been plunged into darkness. You will guide an old man who discovers a mysterious lantern in the forest, using light and darkness as your only tools. Anything that is not touched by light has the freedom to change, so a seemingly simple scenario of getting across a room becomes quite challenging when a platform changes position as soon as the light of the lantern moves away. Interspersed between the puzzles is an oddly violent narrative, in which the man gets viciously attacked by woodland creatures. It is worth noting that while I really enjoyed the puzzles, the narrative cut scenes here felt startlingly out of place - I kind of wish the creators made these puzzles around a different story.
An interesting puzzle mechanic with eight different worlds/variations.
Will please fans of Monument Valley while providing more challenging and intriguing puzzles. They really were quite clever.
Makes for a great casual game you can play on your phone.
Available on: Windows, Mac, PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, iOS
What is it?
Ok, you got me, Donut County isn’t REALLY a puzzle game, but it has puzzly aspects, and I had too much fun with it to leave it off the list. I mean, you get to play as a HOLE! Literally. You’re a hole in the ground swallowing objects and getting bigger and bigger until you gobble everything in the entire scene. The puzzle aspect involves figuring the order in which to swallow the objects, and later on includes some neat variations on the concept. The story was amusing; the narrative cuts wore out their welcome a bit to me, but the whimsy of the whole thing more than made up for it.
Did I already mention you play a hole?
Delightful and intuitive gameplay.
Om nom nom.
What are your favorite puzzle-driven games?