Learn how puzzle video games put your wits and reflexes to the test and turn your brain into a well-oiled machine. Check out all the different ways puzzle games can challenge you and discover some of the most mind bending titles available.

If you want a stronger body, you work out. If you want a stronger mind, you solve puzzles. Taxing your brain to the limit can increase your mental ability and make you better equipped to answer bigger and more complicated problems. Now, sitting around solving puzzles all day doesn’t sound like much fun, but video games have stepped up and given us a fun way to train our brains. Puzzle video games.

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These games motivate you to complete puzzles with rewards systems or blend the puzzles into a greater story or gameplay mechanic. Now, instead of a person sitting down to do some puzzles, you are a detective solving a murder or an explorer unlocking an ancient treasure. There’s much more to puzzle games than just figuring stuff out, so let’s take a look at what puzzle games are all about as well as the different kinds of puzzle games out there. We’ll also talk about some of the best puzzle games in those groups so you know where to start.

Puzzling…Very Puzzling

Puzzle video games are pretty self-explanatory. It’s a video game, in which you solve puzzles. But as video game technology has advanced, so too have the scope and complexity of these games. Sure there are some puzzle simulators out there, but these days the puzzles are accompanied by other gameplay systems and engaging stories.

Puzzles are so mentally stimulating and satisfying to solve that they have permeated into nearly every video game genre in existence. Today, however, we’ll be focusing on games in which puzzles are the main focus or at least one of the main gameplay elements.

Puzzle Simulators

These are the most basic kind of puzzle games. Instead of interwoven gameplay mechanics and puzzle hybrids, these games focus on the puzzles themselves. Often you will mostly be going from puzzle to puzzle solving them one at a time. Sometimes, though, you will do this in the context of a story or competition.

Despite these games being technically simpler than other puzzle games, they are by no means easier. The puzzles in these games can be some of the most difficult to solve because they aren’t constrained by anything else in the game like story, environment or anything like that. It’s just you and the puzzle (and usually an optional hint system if you get stuck.

The Best Puzzle Simulators

Here are a few of the better puzzle simulators out there in no particular order.

  • Professor Layton: This popular puzzle game series has most of its installments on the handheld Nintendo systems such as the Gameboy DS and 3DS. You take on the role of either the titular professor or his trusty sidekick as he solves his way through dramatic, multilayered mysteries. At its core, it is just a series of puzzles. But, the poignant and gripping stories, as well as the charming graphics, make for a much more memorable experience as you train your brain.
  • Myst: The original mainstream point and click puzzle hit. This legendary classic game and all of its sequels and spin-offs have you exploring beautifully rendered environments. Using only your brain and a sharp eye, you must figure out how to unlock mysterious machines unravel a growing mystery. Light on story but huge on atmosphere and complexity.
  • Big Brain Academy: A much more straightforward game, Big Brain Academy is a puzzle simulator that lets you pick and choose which ones you want to solve. There are other games similar to this one, such as the Brain Age series. These collections of puzzles allow you to solve them at your leisure, but the features that draw players most is the tracking of your solve times and reaction speeds to measure your relative intelligence as you progress.
  • Puzzle Agent: These games are similar to Professor Layton’s games in that you travel around a 2D environment solving puzzles related to a larger mystery. Puzzle Agent puts you into the gumshoes of FBI agent Nelson Tethers as he solves his way through stylized, hand-drawn environments.

Puzzle Platformers

Platform games, for the uninitiated, are games in which you take control of a character and leap, roll, and fight your way through 2D side-scrolling levels or open 3D levels. Skill and precision are required to accurately move from one platform to the next while avoiding hazards and enemies. Puzzle platform video games take this a step further as they inject puzzles into the already skill heavy game.

Instead of being on the outside solving a puzzle, your avatar is inside the puzzle and must work their way out of it. These puzzle games tax both your brain and your hands as your dexterity, intelligence and reaction speed are put to the test.

The Best Puzzle Platformers

These games have various degrees of puzzles in them, but all of them combine platforming gameplay with brain teasers. The best ones also achieve this feat against the backdrop of a memorable and touching story.

  • Braid: Widely considered to be one of the first indie games to achieve widespread success, Braid combines a staggering array of fantastic game elements. Using time travel mechanics, you must solve your way through increasingly difficult levels of puzzles to save a princess, but not everything is as it seems…From the gameplay to the music to the graphics and story, it’s hard to find a flaw in this game.
  • Fez: Another smash hit indie game, Fez takes a unique approach to environment and gameplay. The game takes place in a 2d polygonal world until the main character discovers the third dimension. You switch back and forth from 2D to 3D environments and solve puzzles all to a glorious soundtrack and appealing pixel graphics.
  • Unravel: This charming game puts you in the role of an anthropomorphic cat made of yarn. Yarny, as the cat is named, uses his threads to solve puzzles and navigate his way through various environments. Unique gameplay and highly polished visuals make this one a fan favorite.
  • Trine: This series of games has the unique mechanic of switching characters on the fly. You play as a knight, archer and wizard all trapped in the same magical artifact. Only one can exist outside the artifact at a time so you must change between characters to overcome puzzles and defeat enemies. This beautiful game will test both your puzzle solving and combat skills.

3D Puzzle Games

As the name of the genre implies, these games are set in 3D environments. This design choice not only makes the puzzles more involved, but it turns up the immersion to max settings as you are placed right smack dab in the center of the puzzles.

These puzzle games often put you in first person perspective which not only makes the action feel more real, but it also limits your perspective adding another layer of difficulty. If you’ve ever dreamt of using your wits to escape a puzzle filled death trap, then these games are for you.

The Best 3D Puzzle Games

  • Portal: Perhaps the most famous member of this subgenre is Portal. As you may have guessed, this video game grants you the use of a portal gun that links two points in space together allowing instantaneous travel between the two. This tool may seem like it makes things easy but rest assured, this physics-based puzzle video game will stretch your creativity to the limit. Oh, and the humorous and minimalist story also happens to be one of the most beloved video game stories ever.
  • The Talos Principle: If puzzle games work your brain like exercise, the game is Gold’s Gym run by Arnold Schwarzenegger. Not only are your puzzle and exploration skills tested, but the story also engages you with themes of philosophy, humanity and morality. If you want your brain stimulated from every angle, here is a good place to start.

Non-Conventional Puzzle Games

These games don’t fall into any category but are rather unique in their presentation as well as their definition of “puzzle.” Here are some of the better ones.

The Best Non-Conventional Puzzle Games

  • Puzzle Quest: A series that blends “match 3” mechanics a la Bejeweled and throws in an RPG progression system and storyline. The best of many worlds.
  • Scribblenauts: Instead of giving you the tools to solve puzzles, this game lets you make your own. Simply type in what you want, and it appears. Need to get past that lion? Conjure up some sleeping pills and a steak, or summon the moon to remind him it’s bedtime. The possibilities are endless!
  • World of Goo: This title almost defies explanation. Your goal is to get your little army of goo blobs from one point on the level to another. How do you do that? Connect them into structures of your own design of course!

Pump It Up!

The best video game puzzles are not just great fun and challenging, but they are also good for your brain health, too. Puzzle games boost your memory and can even help prevent dementia! So fire up that PC or console and get your brain pumping some digital iron.

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