My Top-10 Puzzle Games
Puzzle games are these days a sadly under-valued genre of video-games and I’ve had a lot of fun with them. They can be real time sucks and of course a lot of them are just shameless Tetris clones, but there’s nothing wrong with a simplistic game if it’s just plain old fun.
Here are my 10 favourite puzzle titles…
I think a sadly overlooked title, especially considering this used to come standard with every version of Windows. On the off-chance you have never played Minesweeper, the basic concept goes as follows. There is a grid filled with a set number of mines. You just click areas to reveal if a space has a mine or not. If you are succesful in clicking a non-mined square, it shows the number of mines in the immediate vicinity of the square. Click a square that has a mine in it and you’re done.
Minesweeper’s simplicity betrays the fact that it’s actually a really nerve-wrecking game. Sometimes, guessing which square hides a mine is pure luck and you have to use other revealed spaces to figure out which are the likely ones to have a mine. The flexibility of the game’s settings and its nervous atmosphere makes it a far more enjoyable time killer than your dime-a-dozen solitaire.
Admittedly though, Minesweeper perhaps loses its shine after a while despite its virtues, but I wanted to give it an honest shout-out since I think it’s dramatically undervalued game for something that is so enjoyable.
Taito found a way to milk more money out of their cartoony dinosaurs, Bub and Bob, who originally starred in the frantic platformer title Bubble Bobble. In Puzzle Bobble, the object is to combine bubbles of the same colour together to pop them and free up the area. It’s a simple but addicting game which requires pretty good spacial understanding.
On top of that the game is filled with cute characters. Taito has a talent for simple but really addicting games which is also what makes Puzzle Bobble so appealing.
Admittedly, it’s a rather repetitive game and that’s the only reason it’s not higher on the list. Also, I do think Bubble Bobble is a more entertaining game but since it’s not a puzzle-game per se, it really didn’t qualify for the list. Regardless, this one is also a good bit of fun.
Q*Bert may appear a bit of an odd pick for this list, but once you look at the game more closely, you’ll realise why it’s actually more than fitting. In this bizarre early ’80s arcade title from Gottlieb, you control a little creature called Q*Bert on a quest to change the colours of all the blocks on the screen. You have to do this while avoiding vicious snakes and other creatures who either try to kill you or undo your efforts.
Q*Bert is a sadly under-appreciated title for something which is so much fun and a game that requires such good spatial understanding. You really have to know where to leap next and plotting out the optimal route so you can cover all the blocks is quite the challenge.
Also, what really makes Q*Bert special are the swearing scrawlixes that Q*Bert lets out when you fail. Over-all this is a really fun title and definitely recommended for anyone who likes a quirky puzzle title.
This is another Taito game and per chance a more obscure one but never the less really enjoyable. Cleopatra Fortune is a more traditional falling-block style title akin to Tetris but perhaps more similar to Columns in style. Rather than combining blocks of the same colour, you have to trap treasures inside stone-blocks to make them disappear.
It’s a simple enough concept but one where you don’t clear the area quite as quickly as you do in some other games which is what makes it quite a bit challenging. This game’s stand-out features include an upbeat soundtrack which really makes playing feel a lot of fun. Conceptually, this is one of the less interesting titles on the list, but what makes it stand out is the presentation.
Specifically what I love about the game is that there is a cute little anime Cleopatra dancing as you clear the stage and cheering you on. I realise it’s a negligible detail, but for me, it manages to give this game enough character to make it stand out from the dime-a-dozen Tetris clones you see in this genre.
Here’s a more novel title. A Boy and His Blob is a remake of a NES cult classic by the same name where you help a Blob from space rescue his home-world. Though you mainly control the boy, the game revolves heavily around a mechanic where you transform the Blob into various items with the use of magic jelly beans.
This game’s puzzle solving aspect comes from clearing the level, where many hazards threaten to kill the boy and where you have to use your head to make your way safely, using the jelly beans in the appropriate places. This concept is straight from the NES original, but as a vast improvement, you always know what the jelly beans do (whereas it was a matter of guessing or trial and error in the original). The levels in this game are quite tricky and there’s a lot of them.
A Boy and His Blob is really a stand out title and could have easily made the Top-5. The only reason it didn’t is because the game is more appropriately a puzzle-platformer and therefore not a pure-bread example of the genre. Regardless, an excellent title with a lot of depth and a lot of challenging levels. Highly recommended.
In the realm of “action puzzlers”, Breakout clones are obviously very close to my heart. This should be evident if you’ve read my Top-10 Classic Arcade games list, but this is also why Puchi Carat makes it very high on my list. This one comes, once again, from Taito and you may even be a little puzzled as to why I would include the clone of a classic Atari puzzler rather than the original.
Much like with Cleopatra Fortune, it’s not the game itself that is really anything special, it’s just a game where you bounce a ball in an effort to clear the stage of all the gems while avoiding having the ball hit the bottom of the screen. Fun, time-consuming and definitely requiring good hand-eye as well as little bit of strategic bouncing, but is it really better than the original?
As with Cleopatra Fortune, the difference is in presentation. Puchi Carat includes a story to go with its arcade mode which unfolds through the eyes of the character you choose at the beginning. Aside a colourful roster, the game has excellent background animations to accompany the gameplay and enjoyably Japanesy voice-acting. It’s a simple game, perhaps with more flash than substance, but one I enjoy very much.
After hoarding the release rights for Tetris for themselves, Nintendo decided to get an even bigger slice of the puzzle-gaming cake by developing their own puzzle game. Making a puzzle-game based on Mario would seem terribly hacky on the offset, but Dr. Mario was extremely succesful and actually went on to become a classic in its own right. Conversely, Nintendo’s subsequent efforts to turn Mario characters into puzzlers (Mario & Yoshi, Yoshi Cookie and Wario’s Woods) didn’t turn out nearly as succesful.
Dr. Mario’s concept fall into the basic block-dropping genre. Here you have to line-up three halves of the same coloured pills over the same coloured viruses to clear out a bottle and prevent it from filling up to the brim or you fail. It’s a simple idea but one that works really well. There’s actually quite a bit of intensity with the smaller blocks in the form of pills and real sense of claustrophobia the higher the difficulty level grows.
Dr. Mario was also the first puzzler I played extensively as a two-player game and in that it’s actually top of its game. As a solo game it’s definitely fun and a real time-suck, though the highest most levels start to get incredibly frustrating due to the lack of room for movement.
When Sega realised that they were without a strong puzzle title due to the confusing Tetris copyright issues, they instead took it upon themselves to create their own puzzle-title. While Columns and its sequels were very succesful in their day, I rather find the title is sorely under-appreciated now-a-days, especially considering how much fun it is.
In Columns, you must line up three or more of the same coloured gems horizontally, vertically or diagonally. It’s a simple concept, but the stylish look and the relaxing music makes this into one of the most relaxing and enjoyable titles.
It’s really hard for me to describe why I love columns so much. Maybe it’s just the weird pseudo-Greek ambiance, the soft music or the glint of gem-stones. Columns is a game where you can spend practically an hour straight playing the game and not mind at all. It’s simply that addicting.
Of course the progenitor of the whole puzzle genre needed to be up here. Tetris is a title whose history is as interesting as the game is addicting. Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov created a classic almost by accident, it was licensed out to gaming companies in the West without his knowledge, Nintendo broke the unauthorised licence-cycle and got a fat pay-day while the game’s creator didn’t receive a rouble for his efforts. And why did everyone want Tetris? Because it’s so much fun.
In the game, you combine tetrominoes (shapes of four squares) in order to try and create lines which disappear. Making four lines disappear creates the fabled Tetris. A simple idea, but one that gets you hooked easily. Any version of the game is bound to captivate you for long periods of time. My personally favourite is actually the SNES port featured on Tetris & Dr. Mario but regardless of the version you have, combining blocks has never felt as much fun in any other title.
The original Tetris is truly the puzzle game amongst puzzle games. Its charm never fails. There is only one other game that I love more than it.
Tetris Attack’s name is admittedly misleading considering the game has nothing to do with Pajitnov’s original puzzler. In Japan, the title was known as Panel De Pon and featured cutesy angel figures. Fearing the game would not sell as well in the West, the game was retooled into Tetris Attack and its angel characters were replaced by characters from the recently released Yoshi’s Island for the SNES.
The end-result was one of the cutest, most fun and intense gaming experiences on the SNES. With great music, cute characters and intense block-switching gameplay, where you try to form vertical and horizontal lines of three or more blocks of the same type, you try to take down an opponent by burying them under piles of grumpy-faced blocks.
This is Tetris Attack’s strength. Tetris, Columns, Cleopatra Fortune and Minesweeper all have a calming style and sensibility. Puzzle Bobble, Q*Bert, Puchi Carat, Dr. Mario and Tetris Attack all invoke a sense of panic and competition. Like Puchi Carat and Dr. Mario, Tetris Attack accomplishes this with awesome Versus-style gameplay but is considerably more intense and, as a result, way more fun. Tetris Attack is the perfect puzzle game in single and multiplayer.