The Tail of the Serpent
Another move-based puzzle, in The Tail of the Serpent you play as the head of a snake, stringing together shapes and then strategically maneuvering them into the matching slots on the screen. Of course, there are rocks and oddly configured spaces to keep things interesting, and every single move poses the threat of failure, whether you’re maneuvering yourself into an immovable position, collecting shapes in the wrong sequence, or some combination of both. How the snake can move and what effect it will have on certain blocks can be a bit of a mystery, and you’ll need to really think outside the box to get some of the shapes on the rocky spot where they belong. See how far you can get through the game’s 25 levels.
Pieces of Cake
Built in Pico 8, Pieces of Cake isn’t necessarily as sophisticated as some of the others on this list. And yet, it’s among the puzzle games I’ve revisited the post over the past few weeks. The game assigns you an ingredient of a random quantity, with the goal of creating the highest scoring pie you can. You have to carefully choose and place your ingredient tiles, stringing together combos by linking them with similar tiles or ingredients to build up multipliers. When tiles combine to stack their scores, they collapse on themselves, leaving the open spaces for tile placement unpredictable. The pie is “done” when you fill up all the tiles, and it only counts if you include the requested ingredient in the right amount. So far, my high score is 228 for a single pie, which is pretty good.
One thing I have learned about puzzle games: the simpler they are in premise and aesthetic, the more likely they are to be the hardest thing you’ve ever played. As one player of Constellations writes, “This game makes me seriously question if I’m worthy to have a brain in my skull.” I feel their pain. In Constellations, you are given a long piece of string on a series of different pegboards, with a “key” at the top of the screen giving clues as to how to segment that string across the pegs. Certain visual elements of the key hint as to where to wind or bend the line and how long each segment should be, and once the right pattern has been created, the puzzle is solved. I am so terrible at it and it is tremendously difficult. But nonetheless, this game is terrific.
Like Empty, Vignettes is a brightly colored, aesthetically minimalist game that uses perspective to present a puzzle. Players are given a common household object on the screen and must “discover” a new one by twisting and turning the image until it transforms and reveals a new item. The game requires a lot of exploratory critical thinking but the sense of discovery at “finding” something new is delightful. Some objects even have more than one potential solution, leading to branched paths that you can view in the menu so you know when to keep going.
Cosmic Express is a chipper little game where you’re both the train conductor and the engineer. The goal is to design a track that can pick up all the passengers and drop them off before reaching the station. The trick, however, is that you can only carry one passenger at a time, and there’s only so much space to run your track; curving and winding and bending to get the right order down can be harder than it initially appears. The game has a lot of additional charm in its presentation, particularly the pastel color palette and the cute compact biodome where it takes place. But even more satisfying is the sense of fulfilled duty as you figure out the route and get people to where they need to be.
In Seek Etyliv, the combat relies on how the player navigates across the board, making them “fight” enemies by figuring out the strategic move patterns that will leave them vulnerable to damage. Only once they’re asleep can you strike and defeat them. As you plan and execute your attack, other items like shields, bottomless pits, chests and swords will come into play, though how they’re used and by whom will change depending on the puzzle. With soft sepia tones, poetic excerpts and unpretentious pixel art setting a sentimental tone between levels, it’s a lovely little take on the dungeon crawler, as well as a unique one.
Like Sokobond, Mitoosis takes its creative cues from science and, as the name suggests, is based on the concept of cell division. The objective is to fill all the open space in each level with yellow or red cells, each of which can be multiplied with a sliding motion to occupy an empty spot. Rows made up of three cells will disappear instantly, which must both be worked around and used to your advantage. With a tutorial so smooth you barely notice it’s there, Mitoosis is smart, fun and uncomplicated, just about everything you want in a puzzle game.
This game is an absolute delight from concept to execution, especially if you’re a language nerd. In Sethian, you must use a rudimentary translation system to decipher the strange symbols of an alien language, conversing with a computer to get answers on the nature of its being. It’s such an interesting look at linguistic patterns and structure; trying to find the right glyphs and punctuation to communicate an idea based on what little you can glean from the dictionary creates a growing sense of panicked curiosity that is downright intriguing. I would love to see something like Sethian incorporated into a larger game. But for now, this version will do.
Everything about Lyne is immensely pleasing: the soft jeweled tones of its palette, the pan flute lilt of its soundtrack, even the smooth fluidity of its drag mechanic. It also exhibits an a wordless intuitiveness in its tutorial levels that is impressive as it is easy to understand. In Lyne, the goal is to fill the board by drawing a line from one goal, represented by a shape and color, to another, passing through each matching obstacle while never double crossing. As the levels progress, new shapes with new rules (such as an octagon that must be passed through at least twice) appear, gently increasing the variety and difficulty of the puzzles while retaining its low stress-free atmosphere. And not only are there hundreds of prebuilt puzzles to play, there are infinite procedurally generated ones as well, making it very easy to incorporate Lyne into your morning mental warm-up routine.
Baba is You
Baba Is You is a wonderful exercise in critical thinking and problem solving, where the objective is to break the rules in order to win. Each level has a certain set of parameters, ie “BABA IS YOU” “WALL IS STOP” or “KEY IS OPEN” but the catch is that these rules are written out as actual words that can physically move around on the screen and be rearranged to win. I truly love this game; there were certain puzzles that had such a surprising and delightful solution that I literally cried out loud. Of all the games on this list, Baba is You is my favorite.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.