Very Honorable Mentions:
I couldn’t get blurbs out for the rest before the end of the year, but check back here over the next few days as I add them. For now, I’m including links to my reviews and gameplay videos
Stephan Goebel snuck his game in near the end of the year and it just so happened to release right before the huge onslaught of PC ports, so I had a small lull and was able to pick it up and devote a couple of days to it. It took me completely by surprise with its level of polish and cleverness, all with a super simple control scheme of swiping to move your cube around a board. I did encounter a few bugs and I still think the game needs an undo button and a way to see the move counter even after you get a perfect score, but it’s otherwise a fantastic puzzle game. If you like puzzlers at all, you need to play it. I’m so glad I didn’t pass over it simply because it looked like just another cube game, and I’ll definitely be keeping an eye on the developer’s future games. You can read my full review here to learn more about it.
Nada Studio’s Starman: Tale of Light is another game that came pretty much out of nowhere and ended up being one of the best puzzle experiences I had this year. It brings to mind Monument Valley, but without the perspective puzzles. And it has a black-and-white style all its own together with smart puzzles and a soothing soundtrack. It’s not a long game, but I enjoyed every bit of it. I would have liked the starman to move a little faster, but since areas are fairly small, it wasn’t enough to put me off from the game. You just need to have a bit more patience with it. Overall, it was a great experience and I hope we’ll see more from this developer in the future. You can read my full review here and try my walkthrough guide if you get hopelessly stuck.
I probably put more hours into Asmodee’s Onirim this year than any other game. It’s a short solitaire card game that’s about mitigating luck, heavily dependent on risk and reward. While the physical game has seven extensions, this digital version first released with only the original deck. But I was perfectly happy with it. The scoring system was local just for yourself, and it showed you your win/loss ratio and the most cards you’ve had leftover after a win. Very basic, but enough to keep me coming back for game after game to try and improve that ration, instead of playing and writing about other games that were releasing. I played it in bed, while outside, everywhere — I just couldn’t get enough of it. Then they added an Glyphs expansion, which made things more interesting but did complicate the stats. I was afraid to play it too much and have it ruin the win/loss ratio I had worked so hard to improve. But I was still enjoying it and it did keep the game from getting stale. It was like a whole new game. Unfortunately, future expansions brought with them a new scoring system and leaderboards. Onirim likely would have been higher on this list if not for that update. The new scoring system was poorly thought-out and goes against the spirit of the game. I tried to get used to it or ignore it, but I couldn’t. So I haven’t played much since it was added. Still, it’s a fantastic solitaire game if you’re looking for something that’s quick and easy to understand but still challenging. It’s basically the perfect iPhone card game. I just hope in the future they might offer a way to hide the stats or rethink them altogether. The original game is also free now, so there’s no reason not to give it a try. But you can read my initial review here and my thoughts on the scoring system here.
Layton Hawkes has an eye for challenging puzzle games, as he proved with his first two games, Puzzlepops! and Puzzlepops! Trick or Treat. Both games released in 2016 and made my GOTY list. If you haven’t played them, go do so! His latest puzzler, Campfire Cooking, takes things up a notch with a more impressive visual style, as well as a cross-platform release. That means that instead of a game designed to play with one hand in portrait mode, Campfire Cooking is played in landscape and the controls are a bit more complicated. I found it most comfortable on my iPad, but since it has flawless iCloud sync, I was able to play on my iPhone while away from home. Some controls can be a bit tight on the smaller screen, but the unlimited undo button eases any frustration that might come from it. It’s a smart game that adds new mechanics every few levels. And while I wasn’t stumped by every single puzzle, the easier ones were usually playful, so they didn’t feel like filler. Bottom line is, 2017 was a fantastic year for puzzle games, and this is another must-have. You can read my full review here if you need more convincing.
Stranger Things: The Game
BonusXP’s Stranger Things: The Game is an anomaly. It’s a TV tie-in game that isn’t just meant as a cheap advertisement for the series or to make a quick buck off of fans. It’s a genuine, well-made puzzle RPG that’s enjoyable even if you never watched the show. It stands on its own, but offers the fanfare for fans of the show. And on top of all that, it’s 100% free, no catches. It even got a content update with the arrival of the second season of the show. I never got to reviewing the game, since I was so busy with my extensive walkthrough, but I genuinely enjoyed my time with it. I appreciated that it was designed around touchscreens, so you tap to move and tap to interact, instead of using on-screen buttons or a joystick. It felt good on my iPhone. I still hate those owls, but on the normal difficulty level, deaths are pretty forgiving. There’s also a ton of secrets to find. And I can’t stress enough how much I appreciate that they didn’t try to monetize it with timers and IAPs. It would have been easy to do and would have also cheapened the experience. If you somehow haven’t played it yet, you really have no excuse. So grab it!
Calculator: The Game
Simple Machine’s Calculator: The Game is a puzzle game that takes place entirely on a calculator. But this is no ordinary calculator. For one, a cute little snarky AI lives inside it, and he chats with you between puzzles. Second, the math you’re doing is not what you’re used to. There are buttons that reverse the numbers on the screen, swap numbers, hell, there are even portals! The game feels fresh, is entirely free (supported by ads or you can pay to remove them), and offers a solid challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed playing through it and hope they add more content in the future. I haven’t reviewed the game, but you can find my full walkthrough here. (Note: Videos are off because the levels were reorganized several times.)
Cosmic Express is a devious puzzler about making paths for little aliens so that an intergalactic train can pick them up and drop them off at their homes. It’s by Draknek, the same developer behind a favorite of mine, A Good Snowman is Hard to Build. It’s just as tricky — or perhaps more-so, as I haven’t completed the game yet! It’s incredibly satisfying to finish each and every level. I mean it. I feel like I should get a party every time I finally solve a puzzle after messing with it for days. The only problem I have with it is that the controls can be a little fiddly on a small screen. You draw the tracks with your finger, and it works perfectly on an nice big iPad. But on iPhone, I constantly make mistakes and then find them hard to fix. This is the kind of game I would love to play in bed at night, but it’s too clunky on my iPhone. My play style just doesn’t fit the game well — I prefer to mess around with relaxed puzzles like this on the go, not staring at my iPad for hours. Thankfully, it has flawless iCloud sync, so I’m never stuck choosing one device over the other. But I do think this is a game you need a bigger screen for. I highly recommend checking it out if you have one or have the patience to play it on an iPhone. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more challenging puzzler. I do have a walkthrough for most of the game, which I’ll hopefully finish one day.
Follow.trail is a one-man project that may not look all that impressive on the surface, but it’s actually a challenging puzzle game. There’s pretty much endless content, but I’ve been stuck on a level in the 60’s for quite some time now. The way it works is you swipe to mode your little blue square one spot over. Your aim is to clear the board of all tiles and make it to the exit. It’s impressive how difficult the levels get pretty early on, as I’m used to puzzle games with thousands of levels being mostly filler. Yes, it’s computer generated, but there’s nothing easy about the game. Thankfully, it’s very user-friendly, though. There’s an unlimited undo button and in the latest update, the developer even added iCloud and the ability to replay older levels. There are also some secrets to find, but I’ve only found one so far. But if you’re looking for a puzzle game with tons of content that doesn’t feel shallow, this is the right game for you. You can read my full review here if you need more convincing.
Faraway 1 & 2
Wait, that’s not all!
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