Brianbusters: Best Puzzle and Adventure Games

Two genres of games that seem to go hand in hand that I feel get the short end of the stick in gaming are the puzzle and adventure game genres.  Both get slammed with that damning label ‘casual‘ and tend to get noses thumbed at them by serious ‘hardcore‘ gamers, who don’t consider them real games (I have a whole rant on that coming up in a future post).  Well, phooey to that, great puzzle and adventure games are damn hardcore challenging your mental prowess both logical and outside the box (in the case of some adventure games, really outside the box).  And phooey to those who say video games will rot your brain.  Many puzzle and adventure games will make your brain work so hard you risk the chance of it reproducing that head explosion scene in Scanners.  While both genres of games share the idea of pushing your brain to the max, adventure games often tend to focus more on delivery of a great narrative and often feature puzzles that aren’t as mind bending as their sisters, whereas puzzle games are more cut and dry, but do offer some cool ‘stories’ sometimes too.

Here is my list of the top 5 of each genre.  I’m only including games I’ve actually played, so I’m sure I’ve missed some gems.  Sooo, if you know of a great puzzle or adventure game shout it out in the comments, I’m always on the hunt for great games to play.  Coming up next time on Brainbusters, Strategy Games: Top 5 Real Time and Turn-Based.  Enjoy!  Peace Love and Metal!!!

Top 5 Puzzle Games

#5 Picross & Picross 3D

Soduko puzzles have never really been my thing.  I can’t put my finger on it, I just don’t like them.  Maybe it’s too many monotonous numbers for my brain to handle, I am more a logic puzzle guy than a math puzzle person.  But what if those numbers in Soduko were to form something logical, like a picture.  Picross’s clever design gives you a grid of different resolutions (the larger, the more difficult) with various numbers aligning the x and y axis.  Those numbers tell you how many touching blocks are in a line.  For example a set of numbers would read 2 3 1 2, so there would be 2 blocks touching, then a space of x amount of blocks, then 3 touching, and so on (best example I can give: xx__xxx_x______xx).  You then chip away at the grid working out the x and y axis to form a cute picture of something.  Both relaxing and mentally stimulating, and more importantly fun and engaging.

There is also the 3D version which has you chiseling cubes to reveal cute little 3D block art.  Just as fun, but a bit less mentally stimulating than its 2D counter part.  If you have a Nintendo DS and are in need of some brain teasers, these games will keep you busy for quite a long time.

#4 Splice

If you like patterns here is the perfect game for you.  You are given a strand of cells and your charge is to splice it into a certain shape.  You move the different parts of the strand around to achieve this, trick is when you move a piece around it splices into two mirrored pieces of itself and you have to complete the puzzles in a set amount of moves.  Some puzzles can be solved with imperfect spliced strands, but you would be doing yourself a disservice not taking the extra time to work out perfect solutions.  There also special cells in the strands such as ones that double splice or elongate sections of the strand which add to the depth of the brain teasers and add a deeper level of challenge.  The smooth art aesthetic and soothing music make sitting in front of the game nice and pleasant as you drop hours into the dearth of puzzles it offers.

#3 World of Goo

And now one for the architects out there.  The premise is simple, you need to use globs of goo to build a structure to reach from point a to point b.  Where the challenge squeezes in is in the physics and gravity system of the game as well as in the various balls of goo you can use to reach the goal.  Some goo balls are lighter, some heavy, and some you can unattach from your structure and place in another spot.  Having to keep in mind of the weight and types of goo blob restriction will have you racking your brain on how to build the most solid tower or bridge in the most efficient way possible as you build around various obstacles ranging from fiery pits to grinding machines.

The cartoonish graphic style, goofy story and writing, and surprisingly great music just add to the engagement as you plop and place balls of goo gaining a newfound respect for how difficult good architecture really is (and this game is only really covering the basics).  If you really want a great challenge make sure to try to achieve each levels OCD parameters like finishing a stage in a set amount of time or using the lowest amount of moves possible.

#2 SpaceChem

This game damn near has my brain exploding at points with its unique puzzles all boasting open-ended solutions.  Working with chemistry and programming Waldos, you need to devise sets of instructions to create bonds between different types of atoms and molecules.  Since the game gives you a near blank slate/grid to work off of (it tells you that an atom will appear in a certain place, which is always in the same spot, when you instruct it to appear, what the input atoms are, and what the expected output should be), there are no clues or hand holding on where to even start building your program.  It’s all up to you on how to solve each puzzle.  At first this is all extremely overwhelming, but soon as you become familiar with the allocated instruction sets and rules you will be watching hours disappear as you create your own chemical bonding programs. When you solve a puzzle there is the satisfaction of pushing your brain to the limit as well as being able to compliment the artistic side of your mind as well as the programs are of your own creation.

To step the challenge up further, as you progress in the game you take a step further away and need to build factories that produce a specific chemical the game asks for.  For example you have a 3 base factories that produce the base atoms (H Cl O) and you need to build a series of pipes leading to other factories to put all the pieces together to form Hydrochloric Acid (H2O + HCl [HCl + H2O → H3O+ + Cl]) but each factory can only have 2 inputs and one output.  So working out the ordering plus what the Waldos do inside the factories will put your brain in overdrive.  Yes, it does seem rather difficult and a background in chemistry necessary, but that isn’t the case.  You just need to have focus, creativity, and patience.  If you take the time to learn the game you will be greatly rewarded with one of the best puzzle game experiences ever and your brain will thank you for pushing both sides of it to the limit at the same time.

#1 Fez

While on the surface Fez looks like a simple 2D platform game with a nifty 3D gimmick, when you start to delve deep into the games you quickly realize how insanely deep the puzzling aspects of the game are.  I can’t remember the last time when it became unnecessary for me to break out pen and paper to take notes and work out cryptography and how mentally fatiguing it is to piece together well placed, but insanely obscure clues on how to uncover the next puzzle to rack your brain with.  I also can’t think of a game that had me searching the internet to learn more about religious geometrical shapes and numbers, ancient philosophy, and the mating habits of owls.  How this game destroys the third wall is amazing and when you finally solve one of the trickier puzzles in the game, then sense of satisfaction is nothing short of amazing.  While to this day I’m only about 80% from 100% completion, I still feel like one of the smartest people in the world for cracking as much of this game as I have.  Fez also dug even deeper and made me question the meaning of life and reality, no easy feat for a puzzle game.

Combine all that plus the stunning retro-graphic aesthetic and electro-acoustic prog soundtrack, you have yourself not only a great puzzle game, but one of the best games ever made.  A do not miss experience.

Honorable Mentions:

Portal Series (only reason these games aren’t #1 is because there is too much story for it to be a puzzle game and not enough adventure to fall into the adventure category. Nonetheless they are some of my favorite games ever and you should play them)

Professor Layton Series




Trine Series


Puzzle Quest 1



Top 5 Adventure Games

#5 Machinarium

Without shedding a single bit of dialogue  Machinarium is able to deliver a heartwarming and expressive story about an adorable robot and his quest to save his robo-girlfriend.  Oozing pure charm you control you robot pal as you venture through masterfully hand drawn scenes of a lively robot city.  Brain teasing logic puzzles and traditional puzzles will try to halt you at every move as you try to piece together clues to figure out what needs to be done to advance to the next section.  While a few puzzles toward the end of the game will give your brain a good jogging, the game isn’t very difficult as if finds a nice balance and pace to keep the game moving forward and an optional hint system will help you out if you get to stuck.  If you are in the mood for a lighthearted adventure that doesn’t skimp on substance do not miss Machinarium.

#4 L.A. Noire

Ushering adventure games to the current generation, L.A. Noire brings adventure gaming to a whole new level.  Using the guise of a GTA style sandbox game you take charge of Cole Phelps in 1930’s L.A. as you work in the LAPD scouring crime scenes for clues, interviewing witnesses and suspects, and piecing together clues to find the culprit.  With genuinely interesting and pulp cases you quickly get dragged into Cole’s world as you work with him leading up to the conspiracy unveiling.  While the detective parts of the game are tons of fun, the real winner here is the narrative the game delivers and how it unfolds.  Ranking up there with some of the best film noir flick and mystery novels you will be learning big surprises both in plot and character revelations as one of the most adult video game stories unfolds.

The excellent graphics and amount of detail the development team put into recreating 1930’s L.A. are marvels and really add much to the overall engagement in the game.  The bits of action strewn throughout the game also help break up the rather slow pacing of adventure games as going on a crazy car chase or partaking in a shoot-out adds a nice shot of adrenaline to an otherwise slow-moving game (and don’t worry those that aren’t very good at action games, you do have the option to skip over the action sequences, letting you focus on the story and crime solving).

#3 Ace Attorney (All of Them)

If you never played an Ace Attorney game, you must be thinking to yourself, “A game about being a lawyer, how can that be fun”.  Well, you haven’t met Phoenix Wright and his band of crazy characters yet.  Between Phoenix’s own idiot savant yet noble personality as a defense, his hamburger loving sidekicks, a braindead and horny judge, his frumpy Ascot and purple velvet suit wearing prosecutor frenemy, a super fat, turbo gay french chef, and a coffee chugging, robotic vision apparatus wearing vengeful prosecutor who will stop at nothing to see Phoenix lose a case you will be nothing short of plenty of WTF-ery to keep you sucked into the masterfully written story.   Presented in an almost all text-based format accompanied with pictures of the characters and scenes you need to help Phoenix piece together clues found both in the court room and outside where you adventure around talking to witnesses and suspects and do a little hidden object searching looking for clues.  But the real fun is in the court room where you cross-examine witnesses picking out anomalies and contradictions in their testimonies and presenting the right evidence to back your claims up.  The fact that you can only make a few mistakes per witness also adds to the tension as you need to be sure you have something to back up your claim when you yell “OBJECTION” (and yes, you can actually yell ‘objection’ at the game and it will react).

As the game went on from the first game improvements were made, especially when clue hunting.  But every game in this series is a must play for adventure fans and just about anyone who likes a good laugh backed up with witty and intelligent jokes.  If you have a DS in the house these games are must plays.  While chronologically is the best way to experience the games, each one is self-contained enough to warrant skipping around the series a bit at no loss.  For Iphone/Ipad users they were just recently ported over so you can get you laughs on while on the can or goofing off at work or subway.

#2 Day of the Tentacle

One doesn’t simply make a best Adventure game list and not include a Lucas Arts game in it.  I could have seriously filled all the other spots on the list with the amazing games from Lucas Arts creative peak during the 90’s/early 00’s, but that would have been boring.  Just know that if it’s an adventure game and has the name Lucas Arts on it, be sure it’s quality and you should play it.  Of all the Lucas Arts game the one that I had the most fun with was the Maniac Mansion sequel, Day of the Tentacle.

Taking charge as uber-nerd Bernard, future freaky cat-lady Laverne, and the rotund metal head Hoagie (who strikingly resembles Dino Cazeras of Fear Factory), you need to stop the evil Purple Tentacle and his master plan to take over the world after he inadvertently drinks some toxic sludge and grows a pair of arms and an evil psychosis.  Through a course of events the 3 characters must travel through time in Port-A-Johns to stop Purple but things go wrong and the group becomes separated in the past, colonial America, the present, and a future version of America where tentacles keep humans as pets.

The writing and dialog is laugh out loud funny as well as the solutions to the logic puzzles the game is littered with.  Pushing old ladies down the stairs to save the world has never been so much fun. DotT also introduced and popularized the new streamlined SCUMM interface which took over adventure games from the clunky interfaces that plagued older versions of it as well as overly complicated interfaces of the Sierra classics.  The graphics were also revolutionary for its time with a look that made it seem like you were playing a quality Saturday morning cartoon, and having played through the game recently, I attest they still hold up and look wonderful to this day.  By far one of the most genuinely funny games ever made and a great introduction into the wild world of Tim Schafer and Co.

#1 The Longest Journey

Rivaling some of the best, deepest, and complex sci-fi/fantasy novels I’ve read, the story of April Ryan and her journey to align the balance between the parallel  worlds of science and magic is a journey I feel that every gamer and lover of great storytelling must partake on.  To give away anymore of the story would be doing the game grave injustice, but trust me when I say you haven’t played a narrative quite like this yet.  Totally engaging is quite the understatement when trying to talk about it and the quality of the writing and voice acting quickly overshadow some of the games shortcomings.  The graphics are a bit dated, even for its time, and some of the puzzles are more obtuse than the warden in The Shawshank Redemption (just use a walkthrough, I won’t make fun of you, promise), but man, that story.  And the world that creator Ragnar Tornquist created just blows my mind.  The characters are so unique and interesting that I want to hear every bit of dialog they have to say and the worlds are so detailed and gorgeous that I feel compelled to learn every ounce of back story to them as humanly possible.

I honestly can not speak highly enough of this game.  Not only is it what I consider the best adventure game of all time, I also consider it one of the best games and stories of all time too.  Play this game!

P.S. Check out the sequel, Dreamfall, too.  Seeing some of the locals and characters of TLJ presented with modern technology is awesome, and the story to that is also just, damn, wow.  Note to Mr. Tornquist and Funcom: Where the fuck is the third and final entry in the trilogy?  No one gives a damn about MMORPGs anymore unless you’re WoW or GW2.  Want to make mad cash, give the fans the third game, trust me, we will buy it.

Honorable Mentions

Kings Quest 3

Hotel Dusk

The Blackwell Series (Deception in particular)

I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream (seriously, click the title and watch that intro speech)

Broken Sword Series

SuperBrothers: Sword and Sworcery E.P.

To The Moon

The 7th Guest


About RiffRaff

Just takin' it easy for all you sinners.

Posted on October 29, 2012, in Video of the Week and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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