Long before mobile devices kick-started a new era of pick-up-and-play and socially driven titles for gamers and non-gamers alike, there were puzzle games. Whether you prefer a hardcore match-three session, brain teasers, or just a five minute distraction on your morning commute, this genre has something for everyone.
And given that developers can twist a player’s brain in any number of directions—reflexes, memory, logistics, and cognitive awareness, to name a few—puzzle games arguably have the widest appeal of any type of game. Put on your thinking cap for Complex’s countdown of the 50 best puzzle games of all time.
50. ‘Kirby’s Avalanche’
Surely we couldn’t do a list of best puzzle games without a Puyo Puyo title, and Kirby’s Avalanche is one of the better available in America. It plays identically to any Puyo Puyo title, but it’s better looking than Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, and it features Kirby trash-talking his opponents. Say what?
49. ‘Brain Age’
System: Nintendo DS, DSiWare, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Switch
Dr. Ryuta Kawashima’s Brain Age exercises took the gaming world by storm by introducing brain-stimulating activities for casual and non-casual gamers alike. Even after it was more or less proven that brain training programs don’t actually improve your brain (though like any exercise they may sharpen your cognitive abilities), it was still fun to get regular check ups from the doctor’s disembodied head.
48. ‘The Lost Vikings’
System: SNES, Sega Genesis, PC, Game Boy Advance
The Lost Vikings was somewhat unusual for a puzzle platformer in that you weren’t controlling just one character, but three. Erik the Swift, Olaf the Stout, and Baelog the Fierce all have different abilities that must be used in tandem to survive each level, and you could switch between them whenever necessary.
47. ‘Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords’
System: Nintendo DS, PSP, Windows, Xbox 360, Mac, PS2, Wii, PS3, iOS, Nintendo Switch
Take a basic RPG template where you travel along the world map point by point, interrupted by monsters in between bouts of narrative. This is what Puzzle Quest does, but instead of having normal battles, skirmishes take place on a Bejeweled-style grid that has you swapping adjacent gems to match three, activating special moves or attacks, or creating chains for XP to score bonuses.
System: Arcade, SNES, Sega Master System, Mega Drive/Genesis, Atari Lynx, PC, Mac, Commodore 64, Game Boy, Game Boy Color, Nintendo, Famicom
A type of tower defense before the genre really existed, Rampart mixes Tetris-like puzzle building with strategy. The puzzle element comes in the form of various shaped blocks, which you have a limited amount of time to fit together to create a solid perimeter around your castle, before it's time to battle your opponent and their newly-bolstered defensives. Like all good puzzle games, Rampart is easy to learn, but success takes a lot more nuance.
System: Windows, Mac, Nintendo DS, Xbox 360, PS3, iOS, Android
Peggle is easy to pick up for anyone and it’s available on every possible platform known it man. Taking a page from Pachinko’s playbook, you aim and fire a ball down a destructible course of pegs, increasing your score with every hit. It really is that simple. Tearing yourself away may prove much harder.
System: PS3, Xbox 360
If Swarmites have a defining characteristic, it’s that they’re expendable. It’s your job to make sure enough live to see the next level by grouping them together, spacing them apart and stacking them on the fly. Here’s the kicker: the more swarmites you allow to die (environmental hazards abound), the higher your multiplier score goes, making for a delightfully twisted balancing act.
43. ‘Wario’s Woods’
System: NES, SNES
Wario’s Woods does bear something of a resemblance to Tetris Attack, but rather than manipulate puzzle pieces directly, you control Toad, who is on the playing field manually flipping them. One of Nintendo’s more original permutations of puzzle game design.
42. ‘Monsters Ate My Condo’
System: iOS, Android
MAMC takes colored condos falling from the sky and stacks them, Jenga-style, in the center of the screen, while colored monsters flank them on either side. Feeding a monster condos of the same color will keep it from throwing an earthquake-like tantrum, toppling your tower. As you my have guessed, this game can get pretty insane very quickly.