Our favorite iPhone turn-based puzzlers, match games, path-finding tests, dexterity challenges, and open-world brain-smashers.
Magnibox is a single-screen platform puzzler, where you direct a chunky magnet to its goal. Said magnet trundles left and right, and the key to reaching the exit is in figuring out how to use the various objects peppered about the place.
These include boxes to make bridges, conveyor belts, and lifts that are automatically triggered when you roll on to them, sometimes acting as barriers rather than a helpful means to travel higher up the screen.
The main draw, though, is the magnets. With a touch of a button, these attract or repel our metal hero across the screen. It’s another great example of how a novel mechanic can breathe new life into familiar puzzling territory. And the relentlessly jaunty music and vibrant graphics don’t hurt either.
The Witness ($9.99/£9.99/AU$14.99)
The Witness echos classic puzzle adventures like Myst. You emerge from a metal tunnel onto a lush island. You’ve no idea why you’re there – and the game isn’t saying. This wordless effort leaves you to figure out what’s going on.
What you do know is there are puzzles everywhere – maze and logic tests linked by massive lengths of piping. Learn the game’s ‘vocabulary’ and you can work yourself deeper into the island’s mysteries, eventually cracking the secrets of a distant mountain.
On iPhone’s smaller display, some of the visual spectacle is less dazzling, and interactions are more fiddly than on other systems. But for a game on the go, The Witness showcases the sheer clout and capabilities of modern iPhone gaming, and iCloud support means you can always continue your efforts on iPad.
Photographs - Puzzle Stories ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Photographs - Puzzle Stories wraps familiar puzzle tropes around emotionally charged narratives – or perhaps it’s the other way around. Either way, the combination in this unique game sucks you in and never lets go.
Each of the five vignettes slowly reveals its tale, alternating voiceovers and basic animated scenes with you searching a screen for clues, and then brief puzzle sections. The last of those cleverly shift and change as the narrative demands, ensuring Photographs is a coherent whole.
This all makes for a surprising and rewarding game. What you won’t be prepared for, though, is the hard-hitting nature of the stories, which pull on the heart-strings as you work your way to the bittersweet ending. It’s an excellent game that shows puzzlers can do far more than just test your brainpower.
Snakebird Primer ($7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99)
Snakebird Primer is a turn-based puzzler that has you direct worm-like birds around levitating islands. They need to get to a swirling rainbow goal; but often the gaps between bits of land are too big, resulting in the grumpy burping avians ending up in the drink – or getting horribly spiked.
So you need to figure out paths, which often involves multiple birds working together. Eating fruit lengthens a bird, potentially enabling it to reach a ledge, or become a bridge for another. On quite a few levels, Tetris-style blocks appear – to help and hinder.
Snakebird Primer feels right at home on iPhone. It’s colorful, and the challenges tease your brain without smacking it too hard. But if you do get to the end and want a much sterner test, there’s always the vicious, unforgiving and equally brilliant Snakebird.
Pipe Push Paradise ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Pipe Push Paradise sends you to a desert island, but not to the beach. Nope – you’re there to sort out the island’s dreadful plumbing disasters. This involves moving massive pipes around confined angular rooms, aiming to make connections that get water flowing once again.
It echoes box-shoving games, but adds some ideas of its own. Pipes can be rotated and dropped into pits – and sometimes you’ll consider yourself victorious, but then realize your little character can’t get back out of the room, thereby forcing you to rethink.
On iPhone, the controls are a touch fiddly, but infinite undos ensure errors don’t frustrate, while also giving you space to experiment. With multiple challenges unlocked at any given time, this is a puzzler where you’ll want to plumb the depths.
Chuchel is a very strange experience that sits somewhere between trial-and-error logic game and decidedly oddball animation. The premise involves a ball of angry fluff who’s desperate to devour a cherry. Unfortunately for the hairball hero, it’s snatched away by a giant hand after every hard-fought victory.
Actually, ‘logic game’ might be stretching things a bit. Ultimately, you’re tapping hotspots, seeing how things play out, and trying to crack the sequence that will temporarily get Chuchel his fruity prize.
This can be a bit of a grind, given that you may end up seeing a canned animation several times before cracking a level; but it’s hard to stay mad at a game that has so much to give in terms of charm, surprise, energy, and flat-out imaginative weirdness.
Where Shadows Slumber ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Where Shadows Slumber is a puzzle adventure featuring an old man with a mysterious lantern. Its special power is to change the landscape when shadows are cast on it, transforming treacherous drops into bridges, and blocked passages into doorways.
Much of this is a logic test, with you needing to figure out how to build a path to an exit, sometimes with the help of lights you can switch on and off, or people that march back and forth, triggering switches. The mechanics are engaging, as is the minimal yet vibrant art style.
There’s also a story underpinning your adventures, which has moments as dark as the shadows that are cast. If nothing else, though, these shocking moments only make you root for the protagonist more, and urge you to help him to victory.
7 Billion Humans ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
7 Billion Humans is the follow-up to excellent puzzler Human Resource Machine. Taking place in a benign robot dystopia, it features humans that demand to be useful. The robots therefore have humans becoming living computer programs, performing entirely pointless tasks in return for the slightest praise.
Topical and satirical backstory aside, this is clever stuff. The puzzle mechanics use real-world programming concepts, although in a drag-and-drop manner that proves accessible to newcomers, but coding experts will also be tested by each level’s optional additional challenges that demand you use the fewest possible steps, or complete tasks within a set time.
On iPhone, the going is a touch fiddly on the smaller screen, in terms of interaction and seeing what all your people are doing. Even so, this is an excellent sequel – and a first-rate title in its own right.
Evergarden is a gorgeous puzzler underpinned by an emotionally charged narrative adventure. The main game echoes Threes! and Triple Town, in being about merging elements on a board to boost your score. Only here, you’re combining plants into new forms, and having them strategically spit out seeds between rounds.
The game has a great sense of rhythm, and stunning visuals that make everything shine on the iPhone’s screen. It’s also layered, gradually revealing new ideas as you play. Early on, animal companion Fen will demand you match provided patterns to increase your score; within the adventure, you acquire new skills, and must strategically apply them within the main challenges.
In all, Evergarden is a distinctive, beautifully realized treat – even if you think you’ve already got quite enough mobile puzzlers installed on your device.
Donut County ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Donut County is a physics puzzler where you play as a hungry hole in the ground. The more the hole eats, the larger it grows. Initially you are only able to swallow a few blades of grass but as you crack the correct order of items to gulp down you’ll soon be downing cars, buildings and even hillsides.
Coupled with the satisfying gameplay, Donut County adds lovely visuals, inventive ideas, and a superb storyline. The imaginative conceit is that a local raccoon has been sending people down the hole when they order donuts, and now everyone’s deep underground recounting their stories and figuring out how to get back to the surface.
The challenge is slight and the journey short, but that also means Donut County wisely doesn’t outstay its welcome. Instead, it’s a beautifully crafted finite slice of engaging entertainment.
Dissembler is a match puzzler that seemingly has you methodically dismantle tiny geometric works of art. The mechanics will be familiar to anyone who’s played the likes of Bejeweled – flip two elements (flat colored tiles in this case) and try to make a match of three or more – only there’s no gravity in this game to fill blank spaces.
Instead, your matches vanish, and nothing else appears, which sometimes leaves single tiles isolated. At that point, you must undo moves and think again, figuring out the precise sequence needed to consign the entire artwork to oblivion.
It’s a deliciously captivating, tactile game, which also builds on its many dozens of hand-made puzzles with an intriguing endless mode, and extra daily free puzzles. In all, it’s flipping great.
Linelight is a serene, smartly designed puzzle game set in a universe of lines. It vaguely resembles a stripped-back take on Tron, or perhaps a circuit board diagram as reimagined by a graphic designer with taste. Your task is to help a white line find its way through dozens of pathfinding puzzles.
Movements are controlled by a virtual stick, which is one of the most effortless and elegant in any iOS game. The puzzles are similarly graceful and ingenious, gradually introducing new mechanics.
These include enemies that amusingly bob along to the chill-out soundtrack’s beat. Said foes are colored lines that kill with a single touch; but when carefully directed, they trigger switches to help you across otherwise impassable divides.
It might not be the longest experience on iOS, but Linelight deserves a place on your iPhone, due to being an engaging, beautiful experience, and a perfect example of how minimal design can have a soul.
In our opinion, Threes! is the iPhone’s Tetris – that absurdly addictive puzzler that’s perfect for the hardware, with simple rules but enough depth that you can conceivably improve your skills over a period of years.
It takes place on a four-by-four grid, within which you manipulate tiled cards. The aim is to merge matching pairs, which increases their face value and leaves an extra space for subsequent cards to appear.
Subtleties in the rules keep Threes! head and shoulders above countless App Store pretenders, and it’s also infused with personality. Even when you’re in a fix, it’s hard to be mad at a game where all the cards on the board have cute faces and natter away to each other.
Hitman GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Square Enix would have been on a hiding to nothing converting its free-roaming 3D game to touchscreens, and so it's great to see the company do something entirely different with Hitman GO.
Although still echoing the original series, this touchscreen title is presented as a board game of sorts, with turn-based actions against clockwork opposition. You must figure out your way to the prize, without getting knocked off (the board). It's an oddly adorable take on assassination, and one of the best iOS puzzlers.
Lara Croft GO ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Following in the footsteps of Hitman GO, which astonishingly managed to transform that series into an adorable board game, Lara Croft GO reworks the adventures of the world's most famous tomb raider. It's another turn-based affair, with lashings of atmosphere, finding Lara carefully working her way past traps crafted by an ancient civilisation with a penchant for blocky design and elaborate moving parts.
There are also lots of snakes and deadly lizards about, which she's quite keen on shooting in the head. The five chapters are quite brief, but savour the game rather than blazing through, and you'll find something that merges early Tomb Raider's sense of adventure and solitude, Monument Valley-level beauty, and bite-sized touchscreen gaming that's perfect for iPhone.