Our favorite iPad brain-teasers, logic games, sliding puzzlers, match-three games, and path-finding titles.
Photographs - Puzzle Stories ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Photographs - Puzzle Stories is a fusion of narratives and puzzling. A story is slowly revealed in each of the five vignettes, and between scenes you’re tasked with finding an object on the screen, before completing a logic test.
Each vignette has its own type of puzzle, and these are broadly related to the narrative. For example, a story about diving is more or less a side-on shooting game, where you must crack the correct trajectory. The paths get more complex as the competition heats up.
Where Photographs really hits home, though, is in the emotional punch of its stories. These aren’t a facile veneer, but instead dig deep into decisions and consequences. Rare is it that a puzzler can leave you heartbroken, but Photographs will keep you glued to the screen through to its conclusion.
Snakebird Primer ($7.99/£7.99/AU$12.99)
Snakebird Primer features worm-like birds that live on strange levitating islands. The grumpy tube-like avians spend much of their time asleep, or making strange burping noises, but are tasked with reaching a portal. Your aim is to figure out how to get them there.
Despite each level only being a single screen in size, there’s plenty of imagination and complexity in the routes you have to take. Sometimes, you must make birds eat fruit, whereupon they grow, and can be used as bridges for other birds. Elsewhere, you need to manipulate massive Tetris-like blocks someone’s left lying around.
Veteran gamers may find the going a bit easy, but every one of Snakebird Primer’s levels is grin-inducing fun; and if on completion you hanker for a tougher test, there’s always the original – and brain-thumpingly difficult – Snakebird.
Pipe Push Paradise ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Pipe Push Paradise is a puzzle game about pipework. You’ve arrived on a desert island that has some seriously dodgy plumbing. The aim is to get the water flowing, albeit not in the usual manner. Here, the pipes are massive and strewn about claustrophobic grid-based rooms.
The only way to get things working is to shove them into place. There’s more than a hint of box-shifting games like Sokoban here, but Pipe Push Paradise adds some twists of its own. Move pipes in a certain way and they rotate. Other times, they must be dumped into pits.
These new ideas radically shake things up, and complicate puzzles that might otherwise have been simple. Although the controls are occasionally a touch fiddly, Pipe Push Paradise proves to be a superb, sunny brain-smasher.
Tiny Bubbles ($3.99/£3.99/AU$5.99)
Tiny Bubbles is a match puzzler set in an underwater world of colorful bubbles. The aim is to match and pop four bubbles of the same color; with luck, this will set off a chain reaction.
Things can never be quite so easy for long, and so Tiny Bubbles lobs various hurdles into its warm bath of delights, such as fish that dart about and inconveniently add new bubbles, and color-mixing. Eventually, you’ll unlock the arcade mode, which tests your reflexes as well as your brain, for example having you keep bubbles within a boundary as new ones are created.
Great-looking, mostly relaxing, and always engaging, Tiny Bubbles is an excellent buy. Also, there are few things more satisfying than popping loads of bubbles – even if they’re on a screen.
Where Shadows Slumber ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Where Shadows Slumber has a lush, minimalist art style with more than a whiff of Monument Valley about it, but instead of having you manipulate impossible architecture, Where Shadows Slumber has you rework the landscape by casting shadows across it.
This all happens by way of your lamp. Position yourself just so and structures will shroud an area in darkness; when it’s subsequently lit, what was a hole may become a bridge, or an impassable doorway may be opened.
It’s a captivating organic adventure, where you figure out the rules as you go along.There’s also darkness in this world beyond the shadows, with villainous creatures who’ll seemingly stop at nothing to rob you of your light.
Blask is a world of laser beams and mirrors. Your goal is to direct each laser beam to a target. One brief light show later, it’s on to the next test.
This in itself is nothing new – there are loads of games for iPad where you bounce lasers around – but Blask transforms each level into a set of puzzle pieces. As you manipulate what appears to be a single ‘room’ beneath your fingers, it breaks into pieces, lasers refracting within.
There’s a tactile joy in experimenting with recombining shapes, moving those that aren’t fixed down, and figuring out the precise setup that allows you to complete your goal. It’s perhaps a touch finicky and twitchy at times, but otherwise Blask is a game that feels perfectly suited to sit-down iPad play.
Chuchel is part puzzler, part interactive cartoon - and a decidedly strange one at that. It features an angry ball of fluff who’s determined to eat a cherry, but every time he gets the fruit, it’s snatched away by a giant hand seemingly on loan from Monty Python.
Your part is to help Chuchel get the cherry, mostly by tapping hot-spots to decide his next action. These unleash canned animations, most of which – in classic cartoon fashion – result in Chuchel falling over or otherwise failing at his task.
This isn’t the most cerebral of puzzle games – far from the brain-smashing fare you might expect from creators Amanita Design – and it can be a grind if you have to play through a section a number of times before cracking the correct sequence. Nevertheless, Chuchel is full of so much charm and weirdness that it’s easily worth the outlay.
7 Billion Humans ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
7 Billion Humans takes place in a world run by benevolent robots who do all of the work. But, of course, the humans still aren’t happy, and so the robots give them jobs – stupid, pointless jobs. In effect, doddering folks become parts of a living computer, and you’re tasked with ‘programming’ them to pick up boxes and put them down somewhere else.
It sounds dull, but it’s actually riveting. Like predecessor Human Resource Machine, this is a game that takes real-life programming concepts and infuses them into a turn-based puzzler.
On the iPad particularly, the drag-and-drop interface for crafting coding logic works wonderfully, and the screen’s big enough that you can spot precisely what’s going on with your work. The larger display doesn’t hurt when taking in the bitingly satirical (but generally good-natured) cut-scenes either.
Persephone looks like a pretty run-of-the-mill isometric puzzler. There’s an exit you have to reach, which requires you to do things like shove boxes about and flip switches. But then you fall into a ditch, die, and the game… carries on going, with you controlling your resurrected self.
Your corpses (you can have up to three) are then used to great effect, in the sense of adding to the complexity of the puzzles, but also in being darkly comic. It’s hard to think of any other iOS puzzler where you must shove a line of dead ‘yous’ along, in order to trigger a switch.
This is another great example, then, in how a twist can shake up a well-worn format, making it new, interesting, unique, and – in this case – more than a little macabre!
Evergarden is a strategy-oriented match game set in a fantastical forest of geometry and surprisingly demanding wildlife.
Every game begins as a hexagonal grid on which flowers of varying sizes are arranged. Each of your limited turns has you work through the flowers, deciding whether they should spit a seed into an adjacent space, or combine with a matching bloom. It comes across like a glossy and noodly gardening take on Threes!
But there’s more to Evergarden than these basics. Creature guide Fen makes demands that hugely ramp up your potential for high scores when achieved, and a narrative plays out alongside the puzzles.
This adds extra heart to the game, but also depth – things you find on your journey unlock new strategies, and provide added impetus for doing even better during your next go.
Donut County ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
Donut County is a story-led puzzle game where you play as a hole in the ground. As you consume items, you get bigger; so whereas at first you might be able to gulp down a tin can, you’re eventually guzzling vehicles, houses, and mountains.
All of this happens alongside an oddball storyline featuring a naughty raccoon who’s been sending people the hole rather than the donuts they’ve ordered. Everyone’s now underground, figuring out how to get back to the surface.
The game doesn’t take more than a few hours to complete, not least because only a few levels tease the brain beyond the simplest of challenges. However, the journey is wonderful, especially on the iPad – the bright visuals shine, and the larger canvas makes dragging the hole around, gobbling everything in sight, all the more pleasing.
Gorogoa is a perplexing puzzle game that plays with your perception of space, and challenges you to find links between images that aren’t remotely obvious on an initial glance.
The entire thing takes place in a two-by-two grid, within which comic-book panes can be opened up and manipulated. Often, part of an image can be separated and overlaid on another.
For example, a stairs overlay may enable the protagonist to reach a previously inaccessible space, or what appears to be a star-like decorative element might be a cog in an impromptu machine.
Occasionally, Gorogoa baffles; later on, you may hit mental dead-ends, juggling various components, locations and possibilities in your head. But as a tactile, novel, engaging puzzler, there’s little else like Gorogoa on iPad – and you’ll feel like a genius when you reach its conclusion.
Many path-finding puzzlers have you use arrow tiles to direct auto-running critters to goals. (Long-time gamers may fondly remember ChuChu Rocket! as a shining example).
Causality is in similar territory, only you also get to control time itself, by dragging up and down the screen.
Early on, this primarily allows you to fix errors – going back to try again when a sprinting astronaut is eaten, or when you run out of your limited number of steps. Before long, though, you’re hurling people through time portals, so they can assist their past selves.
It’s mind-bending stuff, but also one of the finest puzzle games of modern times. It’s also perfect for iPad, due to its visually dazzling and tactile nature.
Splitter Critters ($2.99/£2.99/AU$4.49)
The basic mechanics of Splitter Critters resemble 1990s arcade puzzler Lemmings, in that you guide marching creatures to a goal. But whereas you armed lemmings with tools, Splitter Critters has you slice up the screen with a finger, so you can adjust the landscape to create new pathways.
This is clever, but Splitter Critters isn’t done. The undo button reverts your last cut, but not the position of critters. Undo therefore becomes a device vital for completing levels, rather than merely a means of reverting errors.
Throughout its length, the game keeps adding new elements, such as ocean worlds and a grim underground base full of critter-frying lasers. And although the challenge never rises above slight, the charm and tactile nature of Splitter Critters makes it a joyful journey, especially on the iPad’s larger display.
In Telepaint, a semi-sentient wandering paint pot wants nothing more than to be reunited with a brush. The tiny snag: it appears to be stuck in a world of brain-bending maze-like tests, comprising single screens of platforms and teleporters. Your goal is to figure out a route, avoiding pot-puncturing spikes and a clingy magnetic 'friend' - a task that becomes increasingly baffling and complex.
You're helped along a little by VCR-style controls that let you pause for breath, and these often become key to solving puzzles, enabling you to switch teleport triggers while everything else on-screen remains static. Even then, the going's tough.
Still, while Telepaint has the propensity to make your head hurt like having a paint can dropped on it, this is a colorful, unique and enjoyable iOS puzzling classic that's not to be missed.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build ($4.99/£4.99/AU$7.99)
The little monster at the heart of A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, wants some friends, and so sets about making them from crisp snow covering the ground. But as the game's title states, making snowman is hard — largely because of strict rules governing the monster's universe.
Snowmen must comprise precisely three balls of gradually decreasing size, and any snowball rolled in the snow quickly grows. A Good Snowman therefore becomes a series of brain-bending puzzles - part Soko-Ban, part Towers of Hanoi - as you figure out how to manipulate balls of snow to build icy friends for a monster to hug.