The humble puzzle game has had something of a troubled existence over the years. Shooting to prominence thanks to Tetris being the pack-in game with Nintendo’s Game Boy handheld in 1989 and enjoying something of a “golden age” throughout the early-to-mid ’90s in the arcades, puzzle games have, over the course of the last decade and a bit, come to be inextricably associated with mobile platforms.
And you know what that means: free-to-play, monetisation, “fun pain”, get more gems BEST VALUE!!, oh you might be able to beat this level if only you had this £34.99 power-up… no thank you very much.
But lo! It does not have to be this way, for the wonderful world of proper puzzle games has been enjoying something of a renaissance over the last few years — perhaps as part of the general resurgence of arcade-style experiences.
So let’s take a look at six of the best you can easily get hold of on today’s platforms — and if you have any suggestions of your own, we’d love to hear ’em! Let us know down in the comments or, even better, pen us a letter about your favourite puzzlers for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page! Simply click the “Write to Rice!” widget over on the right and speak your brains.
Let us begin!
Tetris is, of course, one of the most timeless puzzle games of all time, having been ported officially to myriad platforms over the years — and unofficially even more times. Even so, some may baulk at the prospect of paying “full price” for yet another version of Tetris, regardless of how pretty it is.
Tetris Effect is more than just “yet another version of Tetris”, though. For starters, it’s produced by the master of synaesthetic interactive entertainment, Tetsuya Mizuguchi — the man who has given us titles like Rez, Lumines and Child of Eden over the years. And Mizuguchi’s involvement has exactly the impact you might think it would: Tetris Effect is a beautiful experience in which the soundtrack and the on-screen visuals respond to how you play the game.
Mizuguchi and company were aiming specifically to explore the idea of “the Tetris effect”, which is the phenomenon where after people have played a puzzle game for a long time, they continue to see falling pieces in their mind’s eye for some time afterwards. To that end, the game’s main “Journey” mode incorporates a “Zone” mechanic whereby the better you do, the more likely you are to be able to get “in the Zone” and clear massive amounts of lines at once.
That’s not all Tetris Effect offers, though. Besides the Journey mode, which unfolds in groups of stages in which you have to clear a set number of lines while the speed of the gameplay ebbs and flows, there are also a wide variety of other ways to play, known as Effect modes. Marathon provides the usual “get 150 lines as fast as possible” action, while creative challenges such as Countdown task you with playing according to special rules — in the case of Countdown, for example, the game drops longbois on you in specific places every few drops, so you’ll need to plan ahead.
Cap all that off with VR support and you’ve got a game which is perfect for both chillout sessions and times you want to make yourself really, really angry.
Puyo Puyo Tetris (2)
Both Puyo Puyo Tetris and its sequel are worthwhile investments if you want to put some serious time into your puzzle games — and particularly if you enjoy competitive multiplayer action. In contrast to Tetris Effect’s mostly single-player action, the majority of game modes in Puyo Puyo Tetris and Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 are built around competitive matches for up to four players at once. This places a markedly different focus on how you go about playing the game — and is definitely a bit of an acquired taste if you grew up with solo puzzling!
Both Puyo Puyo Tetris games offer a variety of different modes to play, including straightforward matches of just Tetris’ line-clearing action and Puyo Puyo’s colour-matching gameplay, plus Swap mode, in which you change between the two games every few seconds; Fusion, in which you play both Puyo Puyo and Tetris on the same board; Party mode, which features special power-ups; and Big Bang mode, in which the aim is to clear out pre-made boards as fast as possible.
Both games also feature an extensive single-player “Adventure” mode in which you can practice your skills; Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 adds a collectible card aspect which comes into play in its new “Skill Battle” mode. You probably don’t need to own both games unless you’re a completionist collector, but either game will keep you and your friends busy for hours at a time, whether you’re playing online or in person.
Soldam has an interesting history. Its original arcade version was a sequel to Jaleco’s single-screen platform action arcade delight Rod-Land, despite having next to nothing in common with Rod-Land in terms of gameplay. And the version available for current platforms is developed by City Connection, a company that now owns the rights to Jaleco’s back catalogue. Rather than being a straight port or emulation of the arcade version from 1992, this is a brand new version of the game with high-definition, cartoony graphics and a rearranged soundtrack.
Bizarrely, Soldam initially released as a physical-only title for Nintendo Switch, but has subsequently become available digitally. It also got ported to PlayStation 4, too — but the Switch’s option for handheld play means that this title feels most at home on Nintendo’s system.
In Soldam, your aim is to clear lines of coloured fruit by making a complete horizontal line that is all the same colour. In order to change the colour of fruit, you need to surround them on either side with the colour you would like to change them to — it’s best thought of as being similar to the tabletop game Othello or Reversi. And while you can only make horizontal lines, the colour-swapping can be horizontal, vertical or diagonal — so you need to be a bit careful you don’t accidentally mess up a huge combo with an unfortunately placed piece!
Soldam features a few different ways to play, including two difficulties of the standard single player game, in which you simply have to survive for as long as possible. There’s also a simultaneous two-player mode and a “puzzle” mode, in which you have a limited number of specific pieces to clear an entire screen. It’s a truly, truly charming puzzle game — not to mention something a bit different from the usual “match-three” action we see in a lot of today’s puzzlers!
Soldam is available for Nintendo Switch and PlayStation 4 — though the latter only seems to be in certain territories at the time of writing.
Magical Drop from Data East provides a rather different puzzle game experience to the other titles we’ve seen so far: rather than starting slow and cerebral and gradually accelerating as you progress, Magical Drop starts frantic and only gets more chaotic as you continue playing.
In Magical Drop, you control a small clown character at the bottom of the screen. At the push of a button, your clown will pull down all the orbs of the same colour in the column he is standing beneath, and at the push of another button, he can chuck them back somewhere else. Your aim is to stack three like-coloured orbs vertically; when this happens, any orbs of the same colour that are orthogonally attached to the stack you created will vanish. There’s a strong emphasis on clearing out the board as quickly as possible, as well as setting up combos and chain reactions.
Magical Drop has a variety of different ways to play, with the exact options available to you varying according to which specific installment in the series you’re playing. At the very least, you can expect a single-player mode, in which you need to keep clearing the board as the ceiling descends, and a two-player (or versus CPU) mode in which you compete against opponents, adding rows to their board as you set off combos and chain reactions. It’s fast, it’s frantic, it’s fun — and perhaps most importantly, it’s full of waifus.
Magical Drop 2’s Super Famicom version is available via the Nintendo Switch Online service and as part of the Evercade’s Data East Collection 1 cartridge. The arcade version of Magical Drop 2 is available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox. The arcade version of Magical Drop 3 is also available for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4 and Xbox. Finally, the original arcade version of the first Magical Drop — known as Chain Reaction in the west — will be available as part of the Evercade’s Data East Arcade 1 cartridge in November of 2021.
Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S
There are many, many, many picross (or “picture crossword”) puzzle games available for various platforms, but one of the most enjoyable out there is Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S. This is a game that has its roots as a mobile game, but its port to Nintendo Switch brought a variety of new features while excising all the mobile game obnoxiousness from the mix.
Picross puzzle games challenge you to figure out where to “paint” squares in a grid using numerical clues, and Hatsune Miku Logic Paint S offers a friendly introduction to the genre with its simple, small puzzles before letting you loose on much larger, more difficult challenges. The game also features a showcase of Miku art and a variety of catchy Miku backing tracks, making it one of the most consistently uplifting and cheerful games in existence.
Published by Freedom Planet developer Galaxy Trail, Petal Crash is probably the least well known puzzle game on this list — but that doesn’t mean it is in any way a “lesser” game. In fact, this game deserves a whole lot more attention than it’s had to date, because not only does it provide a gorgeous, authentic-feeling homage to the Game Boy Colour and Neo Geo Pocket Colour aesthetic, it also incorporates a genuinely original central mechanic rather than simply adapting the same old line-clearing or colour-matching systems we’re all very familiar with by now.
In Petal Crash, you slide blocks around a grid, attempting to create “Crashes” by slamming two blocks of the same design into one another. If you do this, shockwaves send other blocks nearby flying — potentially creating even more matches! And, as with most puzzle games that feature a competitive angle, the more combos you create in this way, the more powerful your attacks.
Petal Crash features several ways to play, including a competitive story mode against computer opponents featuring some surprisingly evocative writing — not something you might typically expect from a puzzle game — as well as a two-player versus mode and single-player challenge modes. There’s a lot here to enjoy, and the deliberately lo-fi presentation makes it an absolute treat for the eyes and ears.
What are your favourite puzzlers? Let us know via the usual channels — or even better, pen us a quick note for the Rice Digital Friday Letters Page and let us know about your favourite hidden gems!
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