When your brain needs a bit of a workout, have steam shoot from your ears while taking on these devious, challenging puzzles.
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/$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
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
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
Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes
There's a hint of Spaceteam in this multiplayer effort, which transforms puzzling into a cacophony. But rather than blazing through the cosmos in a spaceship that's falling to bits, Keep Talking ramps up the tension by dumping you in that movie scene with a bomb.
Before you sits a metal case with a bunch of modular components, and a massive LED timer. (Because, as we know, every movie bomb maker for some reason has an LED timer fetish.) Your task is to deactivate it, and thereby ensure nobody explodes. The snag is: you don't have the instructions.
Directions for dealing with the bomb are available as a PDF friends can read on devices or - better - print out and thumb through, barking help in your general direction as you desperately try to save everyone before the countdown hits zero. If you're playing properly, you shouldn't see the instructions, and they shouldn't see your screen.
The combination of obscure diagrams and bonkers modules makes for a suitably absurd mash-up of adrenaline and seething rows when everybody explodes because you were all shouting and no-one was listening. This never happened to Tom Cruise.
£9.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Keep Talking & Nobody Explodes
Path of Giants
Path of Giants feels like all the A-list tomb raiders are busy, so someone sent for the dregs. Rather than featuring Lara Croft scooting up walls, leaping from ledges, and punching the odd T. rex, Path of Giants has three doddering explorers dressed to the nines trying to reach the coloured goals that whisk them away to the next challenge.
Reaching said goals is all about pathfinding and co-operation. Select an explorer and the others plonk their bottoms on the ground. The one under your control heads wherever they can get to - assuming such a path is possible. If necessary, one explorer will clamber on another to reach higher points on the screen. You'll also find yourself experimenting with switches and other contraptions, to have the trio head deeper into their quest.
The game looks lovely on whatever platform you play, echoing the dazzling minimalism of Lara Croft GO. The pathfinding is also intelligent, as is the game as a whole. When you reach more claustrophobic caverns, you must think ahead and manage your explorers in a way that brings to mind sliding puzzles. Should you hit a dead end, Path of Giants makes that known and invites you to use some undos and try something new.
Said undos are unlimited, because this game wants to be played. This robs it of a little challenge, but that's no criticism when a game's so friendly, honest, and thoughtful.
£3.99/$3.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Path of Giants
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.
£1.99/$1.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download Photographs - Puzzle Stories
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/$4.99 | For iPhone and iPad (Universal) | Download The Room: Old Sins
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
Splice: Tree of Life
Set in a world of microbes, Splice is an experimental puzzler about rearranging tiny organisms into pre-defined frameworks, based on the rules of binary trees. That probably doesn't sound interesting, but Splice is an excellent game, with a unique aesthetic and smart challenges.
In each level, you're presented with a set of black blobs, suspended in goop, and a white outline into which they're supposed to fit. Any microbe can have another dangle from it, or two branch from it. You also begin with the power to splice specific blobs by tapping an invitingly large button.
The key is in understanding how the system works, and thinking ahead, picturing how what's before you will look several moves down the line. That's easier said than done, but when Splice clicks, it clings on for dear life. Having engaged your chess brain, you'll master splicing before being faced with microbes that mutate in other ways.
Complete the game and it barely gives you time for a spot of smugness before unleashing a brain-smashing 'epilogue' level set. Still, that just gives you more time to enjoy the swish visuals and relaxing piano score, while slowly rocking back and forth in the corner, broken by the final few challenges.
£3.99 | For iPad only | Download Splice: Tree of Life
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!