A good puzzle game is not just an addicting one: it has style, simplicity and a certain hook that turns it into the whole package. And these qualities also make them the perfect games to grace the pages of Itch.io, where all the quirky indie gems make their home. The selection is so good it was impossible to narrow this list down to 10 entries, so we went for the full 20.
Playing dozens of puzzle games in preparation for this article was more fun that it was illuminating, but it is remarkable how many puzzle games are basically lighter, reimagined versions of chess or checkers, relying on unique parameters and environmental obstacles to rewrite the rules. That being said, there are many other puzzle types represented in this list, and whether you’re playing in browser or downloading, looking for something free or have some money to burn, there should be something for you. Here are our favorites, in no particular order.
In this rotation puzzle game, you must clear the room of all its decor by lining up the silhouette of each item against an identically colored wall or object until it disappears. It sounds easy, but it’s not—there’s a certain sequence to making each item vanish, which is key to the completion of each level. For example, patterned items can change the color of a background, which affects what objects can disappear, and in what order. It’s basic and brilliant, both aesthetically and thematically, and still hard enough to ragequit within five levels. In other words, perfect.
I’m not going to spoil TEMPRES by telling you how to play it, but I will tell you the objective is to light up all the white bars on the screen. The rules of the game and the pattern to follow, well, that’s on you. Finding the solution is a riddle in and of itself, and solving it will bring about a new challenge as well. And that’s all I’m gonna say about that.
Many of the puzzle games on this list are your basic grid-based move puzzle—that is, a game where the objective is to move between two points, navigating obstacles and hazards along the way. And as far as those go, Streamline is a good one. In it, you navigate a single line to its end point by working around various blocks and barriers, each with their own set of rules that affect the line’s trajectory as it passes through. Once you get into the flow, it’s downright mesmerizing, and as the levels increase in difficulty, solving them makes you feel like a genius. Oh, and if you get through the whole thing, there’s even an infinite mode with procedurally generated levels so you can keep going forever.
Ok, Sokobond is just cool. It’s a puzzle game that is based on chemistry but requires absolutely no understanding of science at all. The goal is to strategically maneuver around the obstacles on the screen to link the atoms according to the number of available bonds. It sounds complicated but it’s really not—the number of available bonds is marked on each atom, and moving them around to create a chain within those parameters is easy to figure out, though a challenge to master. The potential number of connections is modeled after those of actual atoms and molecules, and each completed puzzle represents an existing chemical compound—which the game provides more information on once the puzzle is solved. It’s totally nerdy and obscenely enjoyable.
One Hand Clapping
This music-based puzzle game, which reminds me somewhat of Wandersong, is only available as a demo. But nonetheless One Hand Clapping is worth highlighting. To play it, you’ll need a set of earphones, a microphone and a whole lot of lung capacity—puzzles are solved by the pitch of your hum or whistle, which is used to trigger certain environmental effects to progress the story forward. Now, personally, I suggest calibrating the game to your singing voice—while whistling a tune to raise a series of platforms, I ran out of breath. But in general this is such a beautiful and inventive game, with a palette and landscape that all but vibrates with color. I can’t wait to see what the full version will be like.
A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build
This game just makes me happy. In A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, as the name suggests, is about building a snowman, but in order to do so, you have to approach it in a very specific way. Each snowman is made of three balls of snow, but building up each section will require rolling it through just the right amount of snow before throwing it on your base. And of course, there are trees and other obstacles to consider, so moving each ball of snow will require careful planning and consideration. Overall it’s wholesome, adorable, low-stakes fun.
rocks and ravens
This soothing, sudoku-like game isn’t particularly long or challenging, but consider it a warm-up for some of the other brain busters on this list. In rocks and ravens, a single diamond and a single rock must be placed in each column and row, but with the added rule that the diamond has to stay out of the corvids’ lines of sight. At the start of each level, some rocks and diamonds may be stuck in a permanent spot, introducing new parameters to work with to complete the puzzle. With an appealing sketchpad type art style, this is one game you’ll probably wish there was a lot more of.
Fragments of Euclid
Fragments of Euclid is a little different than the others on this list—its puzzles are environmental, not mechanical—but it’s a can’t-miss based on its atmosphere alone. As you progress through its many bizarre, black and white rooms, the challenge isn’t just figuring out what button to press or door to pass through, but also, how to even reach them amid the competing visual perspectives and gravity-defying features of your surroundings. The end result is very Portal meets M.C. Escher, which is fascinating if you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to experience his illustrations in a 3D space.
This puzzle game is of the push variety; the general goal is to get an object from point A to point B by strategically moving around certain environmental obstacles. In the case of Generator you must get the battery to the generator, both avoiding pits and using the magnet, which can pull the battery across the floor, or be blocked or pushed to move it indirectly. It’s a short play but a fun one, and a good primer to get you in the mood for some of the more complicated tactical maneuvering games on this list.
Swim Out is a game that manages to make you feel both smart and cool, with an impossibly chic poolside aesthetic evoking an afternoon in a chaise lounge at some boutique hotel. Gameplay-wise, its puzzle is of the “for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction” variety: as your swimmer moves a space, other swimmers will move as well and take up a space as well, adding a certain trickiness to reaching the ladder at the end of the pool. As the levels progress, new types of swimmers with different move patterns are added to switch things up, while barriers and obstacles escalate from ropes and buoys to waves, jellyfish and more. Enjoy this one on a summer day, or when you just wish it was one.