When your brain needs a bit of a workout, have steam shoot from your ears while taking on these devious, challenging puzzle games.
7 Billion Humans
If you’ve played any previous games by the creators of 7 Billion Humans – Little Inferno; World of Goo; Human Resource Machine – you’ll know they exist in a strange world that sits at the intersection of beauty, melancholy, devious puzzling, and biting satire. In this superb follow-up to Human Resource Machine, you’re immersed in a world run by robots. Humans, never satisfied with their lot, are furious their metal overlords do all the work – they want jobs too!
Their benevolent electronic leaders therefore set about giving the humans ludicrously pointless jobs, which with great irony turn then into meat-based computers, performing purposeless tasks on meaningless bits of data. It’s your job to do the ‘programming’.
Based on real-world computing concepts, this involves experimenting with drag and drop components. As you refine your ‘code’, your little group of the 7 billion dodder about test areas, picking up data blocks, occasionally falling down holes, and in one memorable early scene getting crushed by massive printers they pick up.
In a slice of dark humour, the very next level is referred to as a ‘bug fix’, noting that in this bleak universe, people are as disposable as robots.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download 7 Billion Humans
Bring You Home
For the most part, Bring You Home is a game about failure – bonkers, surreal, hilarious failure. This is because each of the single-screen tests involves sliding bits of screen about, so that protagonist Polo can continue on his quest to rescue a pet-napped alien critter. Get things wrong, and Polo tends to die horribly, mostly by being eaten.
The game’s a visual delight, and relentlessly imaginative. Scenarios involve everything from dealing with figuring out how to sate two graveyard horrors to finding a path through artwork that temporarily turns you into a tiny Picasso or Mondrian.
There is a touch of trial and error about proceedings, but mostly to figure out how everything before you reacts. Crack a level’s sometimes oddball logic and you can continue - and if you succeed first time you’ll be back later to check out the funny failure animations (much to Polo’s displeasure). Craig Grannell
If nothing else, Campfire Cooking is an excellent example of why gaming should never try to emulate reality too closely. In the real world, people sit around campfires, with marshmallows on sticks, and poke them into the fire for a bit. That would make for a very dull (yet mercifully quick) game. But Campfire Cooking reimagines this experience as an amusingly brain-bending puzzler.
Each level is based around a grid, which houses one or more fires. Your marshmallows need to be toasted once on both sides, and helpfully rotate whenever they move sideways. The problem is you can’t lift them up, and the grids are small and packed full of obstacles.
Although the first few puzzles are simple, Campfire Cooking soon has you dealing with multiple fires and sticks, and pots of food that need heating. At one point, it all goes very weird as marshmallows are replaced by magnets, used for dragging pots around, despite them sporting perfectly serviceable handles.
A bright, colourful puzzler, then – and one that’s especially satisfying on the larger screen of an iPad. Craig Grannell
Dissembler is a match game with a difference. Instead of being presented with a well of gems, each level begins as a tiny slice of abstract art. And although the mechanics are familiar – swap two tiles to connect a series of three or more, whereupon they disappear – Dissembler is a much more strategic affair.
In part, this is because there’s no gravity, and no new pieces fill the void left by those you’ve already removed. Each slice of artwork is therefore a finite, intricately designed puzzle. Your aim is to figure out the precise sequence of moves required to eliminate every dab of colour, leaving you with a blank canvas.
At first, the puzzles are obvious. Then you’ll come across ones that seem obvious, until you’re several moves in and realise you’ve stranded a single tile so no others can reach it. You’ll soon come to appreciate the deviousness of the hand-crafted challenges, along with the unlimited undos that enable you to try different approaches.
An endless mode provides an interesting spin on the game – if one that doesn’t quite come off; but there’s also a daily puzzle for Dissembler fanatics who exhaust the game (and solutions the following day for us mere mortals). Craig Grannell
One of the great things about Evergarden is that it’s not what it seems – but also, it kind of is. And, yes, we’re aware that makes no sense, but bear with us.
On the surface, you see, Evergarden seems like a reasonably straightforward merge-oriented puzzle game. A little like Threes! or Triple Town, you have a restricted play field, and fold elements into each other to get them to the next tier. Here, you’re working with flowers, which can either merge with an identical bloom in an adjacent space, or for that turn spit out a seed.
If that was all there was to the game, it’d be a rather nice and very glossy puzzler – albeit one that’s perhaps a touch limited. However, you soon realise there’s more going on here than meets the eye.
Your first inkling of this is when a nearby woodland creature starts daydreaming, and you connect its idle thoughts to the ground in front of you. Match its dreams with a flower arrangement and you suddenly net a ton of points. Figure out a strategy to do this repeatedly and you’ll blaze past your high score.
Beyond that, there are monoliths (and their secrets) to reveal, and a sweet-natured story that leads you into some heartwarming moments – and towards power-ups that can further bolster your abilities. And even though the story component may be spent a half-dozen hours in, the core puzzle could keep you gardening, well, forever. Craig Grannell
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Evergarden
In FROST, you find yourself confronted by tiny single-screen universes, driven by rules that dictate how each element reacts to you – and anything else on the screen. The aim is to fill orbs, by directing swarms of flocking spirits their way.
FROST is, in essence, a puzzle game. In each level, there’s a trick to filling those orbs, whether simply carving a path through space with your finger, or understanding how to combine flocks to make the new creatures required to sate the appetite of a particular orb.
But FROST feels more than a typical puzzler. Like the developer’s own BLEK, this game somehow feels alive. It’s an organic, tactile experience as everything shifts and moves beneath your fingers. And as you interrupt constructions akin to neon-infused abstract art, fluorescent strands spit across the screen, while microscopic creatures fizz and fly.
It’s an iOS gaming experience to slow down with, savouring each level like a gallery painting, rather than blazing through it in a tearing hurry. Craig Grannell
There’s an immediacy about G30 that becomes disarming when you realise what’s really going on. At first, it all seems obvious and straightforward – a puzzler where you spin dials to change the object before you into something that matches the level’s name.
This convention is familiar – even overdone – in puzzle games, but G30’s refined, vibrant visuals ensure it’s engaging; and, frankly, that tactile sense of one-to-one physical interaction with on-screen components never gets old.
But beneath the dial-twiddling, which resembles a flattened take on Shadowmatic, is an underlying narrative about fear and loss. It turns out the shapes you’re playing with are memories being chased by a protagonist with a cognitive disorder. In a sense, they’re losing their mind, and need you to grasp glimpses of meaning before they’re gone forever.
These take the form of collectable words that appear above the current puzzle. Sentences morph and change along with meaning, and so a single word (trees) can become a command (find trees), then something more elaborate (find trees in an unknown park), before acquiring a sense of terror (I was petrified to find trees in an unknown park). Grabbed words fill empty slots in a parallel tale told on the level select screen.
This sense of layering propels G30 beyond its contemporaries, providing serious emotional heft alongside the minimal visuals. And rather fittingly, just as the shapes you manipulate are more than what they initially appear to be, so too is the game as a whole. Craig Grannell
This elegant puzzler exists in a world of neon lines dancing to the beat of a chill-out soundtrack. You direct a little white spark about networks of grids suspended above a coloured haze.
The puzzles are mostly about pathfinding and logic - figuring out how to deal with switches that unlock doors and move coloured pathways, in order to open up the route for you to continue. But once you encounter patrolling sparks, moving back and forth along pre-set pathways, you realise the vital rhythm that underpins the game.
You’ll initially consider these sparks enemies, because they kill with a single touch; but they’re easily avoided, since they move to the beat. And they’re also allies of sorts, which you can manipulate into doing your bidding. For example, you might use moving platforms to place a spark near a switch that triggers a platform elsewhere, allowing you to move across an otherwise impassible divide (if you’re on the platform by that point).
Towards the end of the first set of levels, Linelight ramps up the tension by having you complete such puzzles at speed, with another line in hot pursuit (yet also required to help you cross numerous bridges). Beyond that, further subtle shifts in the game’s mechanics force you to rethink your strategy yet again, in what turns out to be one of iOS’s most beguiling modern puzzlers. Craig Grannell
There’s a hint of Lemmings about Splitter Critters, which features little aliens toddling about platform-based levels, trying to reach their spaceship. However, their only means of help is your finger, which can slice through scenery, and drag separate sections of the screen about.
Early on, your impromptu landscaping mostly involves aligning platforms, but Splitter Critters keeps adding new ideas to the mix. Gruff and deadly brown critters with spiked teeth show up, as do little red aliens who karate kick the aforementioned foes in the face. Rocky areas have platforms that topple. Watery sections flood or fling our ambling heroes towards deadly anemones. And that’s before you get to the bits with lasers.
The end result comes across like Telepaint crossed with Fruit Ninja, only lacking the insanely tough challenge of the former and the freneticism of the latter. Instead, Splitter Critters is a gentler puzzler, which you’ll likely work through in a few hours - but every step of the short journey is a joy. Craig Grannell
The Room: Old Sins
It doesn’t take long before you realise there’s something very weird going on in The Room: Old Sins. Tracking a missing engineer and his wife, the trail leads to an attic. You catch a glimpse of a body, quickly fix a lamp that illuminates a doll’s house, and then find yourself sucked inside.
Elaborate and impossible, the doll’s house is itself a miniature mansion, packed full of contraptions and puzzles. And every puzzle you complete enables you to dig a little deeper into a Lovecraftian horror and the overriding puzzle of the house itself.
The atmospheric surroundings surpass other games of this type on iOS, and the combination of multiple locations and speedy navigation result in something a bit like Myst – but without the tedious walking around. Tactile, peculiar and thoughtful, this is a superb puzzler. Once your done, fill in the backstory with The Room, The Room Two, and The Room Three. Craig Grannell
Every platform needs its perfect puzzle game, and Threes! deftly makes its to be the iPhone’s. As with all brilliant examples of the puzzle genre, Threes! has at its heart a simple mechanic, which in this case involves merging cards within a tiny four-by-four board. But it’s the details that propel Threes! beyond the competition.
The idea is to match numbers. Slide a blue ‘1’ into a red ‘2’ and they combine to become a single ‘3’ card. Two 3s make a 6. Two 6s make a 12. And so on. The snag is every move you make slides every non-blocked tile on the board as well. If you’re fortunate or have planned ahead, this can result in several merges in one move; if not, you end up with a mess to clear up. And since after every turn a new card enters the board in a random spot on the edge you swiped from, planning is key.
It takes a few games for Threes! to click, but once it does, it never lets go. You’ll be dying to see new cards (each is infused with a unique personality), and will soon spot how reaching higher-numbered cards boosts your score substantially. Craig Grannell
Zen Bound 2
Yes, we’re covering a game where you wrap a length of rope around little sculptures. No, we haven’t lost it. And that’s because Zen Bound 2 is beautiful, engaging and unique.
Much of the magic of Zen Bound 2 stems from its tactile nature. Objects turn beneath your fingers with the slightest swipe, and the rope’s position can be shifted with subtle tilting of your iPhone. Despite the fact you’re pawing at glass, you can almost fool yourself into feeling like you’re manipulating a real object; and it’s a rather magical experience as this object is slowly painted due to the rope’s touch (or, in some slightly less meditative cases, through blowing up strategically positioned paint bombs).
Those with long memories may recall the stir the original Zen Bound made at the dawn of the App Store - and even this sequel has been around for some years. However, 2017 saw it get a big 64bit revamp for modern iPhones, thereby ensuring a wonderful, timeless concept was made fully fit for Apple’s most recent devices. Craig Grannell