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).
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Bring You Home
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).
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Dissembler
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.
£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.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download FROST
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.
£1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Linelight
Photographs - Puzzle Stories
Part puzzler, part narrative tale, Photographs is ultimately a game about consequences. Each of its five stories feature characters who have to make difficult decisions – and they often make the wrong ones. The result is a puzzler that’s a rarity, not in terms of being really good (although Photographs very much is), but in being a game seemingly determined to periodically rip your heart out.
Photographs is also determined to do things a bit differently. The basic structure involves some tried-and-tested gaming conventions. You’re given a word or phrase and must use a magnifying glass to spot a match in a scene. This then leads to a puzzle that may involve you sliding pieces around a board, precisely shooting targets, or drawing pathways on a grid.
None of that is out of the ordinary, but how the puzzles evolve is. Mechanics align with the story, and difficulty levels increase as a response to narrative demands. Surprises upend you in service of the plot, rather than because games traditionally get trickier as you barrel towards their final level. It’s a clever conceit, and elevates Photographs above many of its comparatively vanilla contemporaries.
It’s worth noting this is a fairly short game. Even if you get stuck, you’ll see everything there is to see within a few hours. But the experience makes it well worth the outlay, even if you may feel you’ve had an emotional mauling by the time you hit that last screen.
£3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Photographs - Puzzle Stories
On a faraway island live Snakebirds. These odd creatures have beaks, but slither about like snakes. For some reason, they like nothing better than reaching a rainbow-like swirl that teleports them to somewhere unknown. The tiny snag is that getting there requires following a convoluted, labyrinthine route.
As you twist and turn to find said pathway, you quickly discover gravity is your enemy. It’ll abruptly send your bird to the drink below – or towards bird-exploding spikes. And although munching floating fruit makes a bird grow, that’s not a benefit if you’re trying to squeeze into a tiny space. Similarly, having multiple snakebirds can leave you scratching your head as you ascertain how to have one form a ‘bridge’ for another.
More seasoned puzzle fans will perhaps find the going easier. Even so, it’s hard to think they won’t have a blast, given the personality of the grumpy parping birds, and the grin-inducing inventiveness of the puzzles. Meanwhile, unlimited undos and the game always providing access to several unplayed levels benefit players of every type. This game wants to be played, rather than defeat you.
Should you triumphantly reach the end and hanker for more, grab Snakebird (free + £3.99 IAP). Although do be mindful that while Primer flirts with casual gaming, the original Snakebird is a fiercer avian, determined to peck your brains to a sticky pulp, while you rock back and forth, mumbling “but it just *can’t* be done”.
£7.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Snakebird Primer
The Gardens Between
Cause and effect are more fluid concepts than normal in The Gardens Between. After some scene-setting showing best friends Arina and Frendt in a rickety treehouse between their homes, you’re whisked away to the first of over a dozen islands, built from oversized objects extracted from the duo’s memories.
The aim is to reach the peak of each surrealist mountain, so the pair can plant a light. The snag is you’ve little control over Arina and Frendt – you can merely drag the screen to direct the flow of time, or tap during the rare occasions when one of the kids can interact with something.
The timey-wimey aspect of the game – and how you break the rules of reality – is where the puzzles arrive from. You might, for example, leap back and forth in time to saw a plank that creates a pathway; or by pausing time at just the right moment, natural elements may continue to flow, exploding all over the place in a manner that enables progress.
One of the most beautiful games you’ll play on iOS, The Gardens Between is also one of the most unique. The experience is short, but one to relish as you breathe in every moment.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Gardens Between
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 you're done, fill in the backstory with The Room, The Room Two, and The Room Three.
£4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Room: Old Sins
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.
£2.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Threes!