For some people, the opportunity to put their gray matter to the test is one of the biggest pulls of video games. While it’s true that lot of titles do require some degree of puzzle solving, if you want some real cerebrally-challenging stuff, then you need to test your wits against a dedicated puzzler.
As part of our free online games series, here are 7 of the best puzzle titles you can find on the web without having to open your (virtual) wallet. And the best thing is that all these games can be played through a web browser, no downloads or extensions required.
The list covers some more modern puzzlers, phone ports, and a few classic games – which may or may not have been recreated with the permission of the original rights holder *cough*. Anyway, you should give these games a try, if only to see if you can outsmart a machine...well, outsmart the person who designed the game, really. But that doesn’t sound as impressive.
Amazingly, the first Bejeweled game was released on May 30, 2001 - a very, very long time before Candy Crush Saga used the same ‘match three’ gameplay and became the source of hatred for so many Facebook users.
Bejeweled itself was originally a web-based flash game called Diamond Mine, which was inspired by the 1994 Russian DOS game Shariki – thought to be the first title to use the ‘match-three’ mechanic. Today, you can get your hands on several different incarnations of PopCap’s incredibly addictive puzzler, all free and with the option to play in-browser or download. Personally, that original version will always be my favorite, if only for sentimental reasons.
Play Bejeweled 3 here.
Here we have a title that was originally a massive hit on the mobile platform and can now be played online. TwoDots, the sequel to 2013’s Dots, is incredibly simple yet completely addictive.
All you have to do is connect two or more dots of the same color together using horizontal or vertical lines. This causes them to disappear and results in new dots falling from the ceiling. The game gives you a set number of moves to perform certain objectives, such as creating geometric shapes, that can often be pretty difficult to figure out.
TwoDots follows that classic puzzle template of being simple, colorful, fun, and having some very catchy music. And with 435 levels, it’ll keep you occupied for a long time.
Play TwoDots here.
Bust-a-Move (or Puzzle Bobble in Japan) put a spin on the ‘match three’ puzzle mechanic by introducing a pointer at the bottom of the screen that is used to aim and fire the randomly generated bubbles at the ones stuck to the ceiling. Every so often the bubbles at the top of the screen descend slightly. The aim is to remove them all by matching up the colors before they reach you – simple, elegant and great fun.
Bust-a-move was so popular that it spawned nine spinoffs, the vast majority of which can be played freely on numerous different sites. The two-player aspect of Bust-a-Move adds another dimension to the game – definitely the best way to play.
Play Bust-a-Move here.
For most anyone over a certain age, Lemmings will always hold a special place in their hearts. The game tasks you with guiding suicide-prone rodents across a level, assigning certain skills to selected creatures in order to limit the number of deaths suffered by the group. Get enough of them through the exit and you progress to the next level. It all seems quite simple – until you get to the rock-hard later stages.
If you want to play in-browser Lemmings for free, then simply use your imagination when it comes to typing it into a search engine (or click the link below). There are loads of sites that’ll let you enjoy the game, although whether they have the consent of Lemmings’ license owner is another matter. I’ll just assume everyone will seek out and buy an original copy after trying the ‘free version’.
Play Lemmings here.
Before someone threatens to murder me for including the game that’s doubtlessly caused a lot people great pain (Facebook invites, microtransactions, hopeless addiction), it’s worth remembering that the reason Candy Crush Saga has been installed well over 500 million times across Facebook, Android and iOS is because it’s a very enjoyable puzzle game.
The statistic that best reflects the worst aspect of Candy Crush Saga is that up to and including 2014, players have spent over $1.33 billion on in-app purchases. Yes, it may be enjoyable, but the looming presence of microtransactions takes the sheen off the game. And of course there’s those Facebook invites, which are as annoying as hangnails.
Despite Candy Crush Saga being a bit of a money-making machine, it can still be great fun – at least until it starts begging you for money. Basically a prettier, updated version of Bejeweled, this puzzler makes the ‘match three symbols’ mechanic even more addictive by using fruit instead of jewels. Our brains are subconsciously satisfied by these bright images of food, which is why slot machines so often use them.
For all its cynical marketing devices, Candy Crush Saga was, and still is, a fantastic free puzzler loved by millions.
Play Candy Crush Saga (without Facebook) here.
If, like me, you’re a big fan of retro games, then you’ll likely love the confusingly titled VVVVVV. With its 8-bit graphics and chiptune music, this is a loving throwback to the days when game’s came on tape and took half an hour to load.
Unlike the title that it’s so often compared to, Super Meat Boy, there’s no jumping in VVVVVV; instead, the action button reverses player-controlled Captain Viridian’s gravity, causing him to fall either to toward the ceiling or the floor. This mechanic is used to traverse the game’s many hazards, and needs to be used at the right time in order to land on moving platforms and avoid enemies (amongst other things).
One of the reasons VVVVVV is so often compared to the aforementioned Super Meat Boy is because both games are so hard that you may end up eating your keyboard in frustration. It's still a great game, though.
Play VVVVVV here
It’s amazing to think that a game which was released 31 years ago still has relevance today. When Alexey Pajitnov designed and programmed Tetris, he couldn’t have imagined the effect it would have on the world. Not only does it have a prominent place in pop culture, appearing in countless movies and TV shows like The Simpsons, but it’s been found to have applications far beyond mere gaming. Tetris has been used to help people lose weight, quit smoking, overcome depression, and alleviate symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder.
Is there really anyone who doesn’t know how to play Tetris? The game appeals to our natural urge to put things in their correct place. Few game experiences can match the satisfaction that comes from seeing those lines disappear after a well thought out strategy comes to fruition. Or maybe you’re one of those players who doesn't plan out moves and just sticks the blocks anywhere it looks like they’ll fit – that can also work.
Three decades haven’t lessened the enjoyment that Tetris brings – never was there a better example of gameplay over graphics. As good for a relaxing, five minute game as it is for a three hour marathon. And all without microtransactions. The original free puzzle and still the best. You can play this at about a thousand different sites, so what are you waiting for?
Play Tetris here.
What are some of your favorite free puzzle games? Will you be playing any of these? Let me know in the comments below.