Buyer’s Guide: Puzzle

Easily the most popular type of game on the App Store, it seems like there are thousands of puzzle games vying for your attention. Our task is to sort through the rubble and figure out what’s worth your money.

There’s something for everyone here, from the typical word and match-3 type games to wholly unique titles that may defy categorization. Each of these games can suck up hours of your time, so we don’t recommend buying them all at once. Read through the descriptions, see what appeals to you and enjoy, because whatever you pick, you can be assured it’s a quality title. Just don’t blame us when your brain starts to hurt.

Best Pachinko/Plinko Game – Peggle

Publisher: PopCap Games, Inc.

Price: $4.99

Completely addicting and strangely charming despite its odd whimsy, Peggle sets you on an adventure filled with magical talking animals. Animals aside, the real goal here is to bounce a marble through a bunch of pegs, trying to hit all the orange ones in a limited set of turns. Trying to line up perfect shots will keep you glued to the screen for hours, and there’s just the right amount of luck involved to keep every shot unpredictable. Just be warned: buying this will turn your iPhone into an unproductive, Peggle playing machine. Just try not to start drawing unicorns in your spare time.

Best Multitouch Puzzler – Eliss

Publisher: Steph Thirion

Price: $.99

Eliss initially comes off as a serene experience. The gentle music and simple, soothing graphics take you off guard, and before you know it, planets are colliding everywhere and you’ve lost. But that doesn’t keep this game from being amazing once you get the hang of it. You’ll be using up to five fingers, not just your thumbs, to keep planets of different colors from bumping into one another. Joining or seperating like-colored planets will make them grow or shrink, and you’ll want to guide them into similarly sized “squessars,” circular dotted lines which will mercifully take the planet off your screen. You’ll want to set your iPhone on the table for this one, because you’ll need all the fingers you can get.

Best 3D Object Game – Zen Bound

Publisher: Chillingo Ltd

Price: $4.99

A strange concept for a game, Zen Bound is surprisingly addictive. The goal is to wrap a length of rope around a wooden object, trying to cover as much of it as possible with the limited rope given to you. A certain percentage of the object must be covered before you can move on to the next level. The music and graphics really set a serene mood, and the multitouch controls work perfectly as you spin and twist the object in different directions to get the rope to envelop it. There is no time limit, so you’re free to zone out and spend as much time as you need to wrap things up.

Honorable Mention – SPiN

Publisher: Secret Exit

Price: $4.99

More fun than it sounds, SPiN presents you with a 3D object over a flat silhouette in the background. That silhouette fits the 3D object if it’s presented at the right angle, and your task is to spin the object until the two match. You’re only given a few seconds to do this, and it’s harder than it sounds. Sometimes you’ll look at a silhouette and wonder if someone is playing some sort of sick joke on you, as it looks nothing like the object in front of it. You won’t have much time to contemplate that, though, because if you fail that item another one will come rushing in and the clock starts running again. Colorful graphics and sweet multitouch controls make this a game you won’t want to miss.

Best Match-3 Shooting Game – StoneLoops! of Jurassica

Publisher: PlayCreek

Price: $.99

With a clever prehistoric theme and a unique approach to shooting, StoneLoops! sets itself apart from other games of its type. You’ll be shooting balls straight up from the bottom of the screen, using the touchscreen to position the gun. The balls will snake along a complex path, and if they reach the end before you pop them all by matching three of the same color, you’ll lose. There are 75 levels in the single player mode, and you won’t want to put it down as you progress through them and unlock rewards. Random powerups keep things from getting stale, and the bargain price and fantastic presentation make this one of the best deals in the App Store.

Honorable Mention – Blackbeard’s Assault

Publisher: Warhorse Games

Price: $1.99

Similar to StoneLoops! in concept, Blackbeard’s Assault plays a little differently with the addition of multiple cannons to shoot balls out of. Up to four cannons will be ready to fire, and they can be aimed at different angles from a fixed position on the screen. There are powerups here as well, but you can’t rely on them to save you if you start to fall behind. A ridiculous story with serpents, ninjas and of course pirates keeps things lighthearted as you look forward to the next cutscene. There are only 20 levels here, and the game costs a bit more than StoneLoops!, but it’s definitely a solid choice for a match-3 shooter.

Best Match-3 Game – PuzzleQuest: Chapter 1 and 2

Publisher: TransGaming Inc

Price: $7.99

Patched quite a few times since release, PuzzleQuest now has double the content and excellent controls for the iPhone. You’ll create a character to begin the game, choosing between stereotypical fantasy characters like wizards, warriors and rogues. As you play through the story mode, you’ll travel around the fantasy world and duel other characters by, you guessed it, playing puzzle games. Different characters will have different abilities to harm their opponent, and the more you battle, the stronger your character will get. The story here is a good one, and the heavy RPG elements mix well with the match-3 gameplay to provide a deep and rewarding experience. If you want some meat to your match-3, you want PuzzleQuest.

Best Multiplayer Match-3 Game – Aurora Feint II: Arena Daemons

Publisher: Aurora Feint

Price: $4.99

Another match-3 title with RPG elements, Aurora Feint forgoes storytelling for competitive online battling. As with PuzzleQuest, you can power up your character by leveling up or collecting items, and sidekick characters called “daemons” can be trained and used in battle. The colored blocks can be slid from left to right as much as you like here, instead of the one space allowed in PuzzleQuest. Online competition and chat support make this a game you could play forever online, as long as you can keep up with the competition. Like most games we’d recommend, the graphics and sound here are excellent as well.

Best Puzzle Platformer – Toki Tori

Publisher: Chillingo Ltd

Price: $1.99

In this game, you’ll guide a cute little chicken on his quest to recover lost eggs. You’ll touch the screen where you want him to go, and lots of powerups (like bridge building) will keep you moving in case you run into a dead end. Well, the powerups won’t do all the work, and most of the fun is trying to figure out where to use them. Toki Tori has four different worlds to conquer, and each has an additional unique powerup to keep things varied. There’s no scoring, but 80 levels should keep you busy for a long while. The charming graphics help make this a special puzzle platformer you don’t want to miss.

Honorable Mention – Go! Go! Rescue Squad!

Publisher: Connect2Media

Price: $1.99

This challenging puzzle game has you in control of a group of firefighters, tasked with saving three types of survivors from a burning building. Some of these survivors will actually help you put out fires and get to the exits, while others make things difficult by blindly running off of ledges. You’ll need to throw them across gaps, open doors with keys and keep the fires at bay to save them all and complete each level. You don’t need to beat every level to advance, and there’s a ton available to keep you busy for a long time.

Best Tile Removing Game – Gaia

Publisher: Quicksand Interactive

Price: $2.99

Similar in some respects to match-3 games, Gaia does require you match at least three of the same textured tiles together. That’s about where the similarities end though. You don’t actually move anything to match up the pieces, though. The game will tell you when enough pieces are together to make a match, and you tap them to make them disappear. Often there will be several matches available, and it’s up to you to decide what order to zap them in. When a chunk of pieces disappears, a new batch will fall in from the sky, encouraging you to try to set up larger groups of matches. There are no instructions in this game, and it doesn’t need them. It’s pretty obvious what you need to do, and it’ll keep you busy for a long time.

Best Mining Game – California Gold Rush

Publisher: Digital Chocolate, Inc.

Price: $2.99

It’s a tough job digging through underground rock in search of gold, but there’s a fortune to be made if you have the stamina. That’s what you’ll need to balance in California Gold Rush, as your stamina is the only thing keeping you from hitting the jackpot. You touch the screen to direct Mandy the miner, and you’ll need to do a decent job guessing where the gold is to be successful. Sometimes dense rock will be in your way, forcing you to choose between taking an alternate path, burning through stamina to break it, or blasting it to smithereens with your limited amount of dynamite. With 30 levels to conquer, you’ll strike gold with this title at just a few dollars.

Honorable Mention – I Dig It

Publisher: InMotion Software, LLC

Price: $.99

If you’re pinching pennies and don’t mind a little less charm in your game, you might just dig this title. We certainly do, despite the often frustrating level of difficulty. You’ll have to deal with a level timer, diminishing fuel levels, compromised hull integrity and a drill bit that tends to overheat when you’re racing against the clock. The main game mode needs to be completed over four real world hours, although gathering the $100,000 in the required time requires almost perfect play. Luckily the game is great fun, so this is a challenge you may want to take on.

Best Organizing Game – Frenzic

Publisher: The Iconfactory

Price: $2.99

Perfectly suited to the touchscreen, this game has you trying to fill in six empty circles (all on the outer edges) piece-by-piece with pie-sized slices. The next piece to be placed resides in the middle circle, and all you need to do is tap the outer circle you want that piece to go in. You only have a few seconds to put each piece down, and you’ll be pretty stressed as you try to quickly fill in each circle. You get an extra life if you manage to fill a circle with pieces of the same color, although this is harder to do than it seems. The tricky part is quickly figuring out which circle needs which piece. Online leaderboards let you compare your scores to the rest of the world, and we recommend you get in on the action.

Best Positioning Game – Ancient Frog

Publisher: Ancient Workshop

Price: $4.99

In this bizarre title, you must move a frog to a tasty fly, but you’ll have to individually move each foot along the way. Footprints act as steps that help guide you where you need to go, but the score is kept like a game of golf. On a par 4 level, for instance, you’d like to move the frog’s legs 4 times or less. His legs are pretty long, but he can only stretch so far… think twister if you want to imagine some of the trouble you’ll get this guy into. The graphics and sound are absolutely fantastic, and this hidden gem is one of the best games we’ve tried on the platform. Don’t miss it!

Best Sokoban Game – Naboko

Publisher: GTSystem Software

Price: $2.99

A modern take on the classic game of Sokoban, Naboko has you pushing squares to try to clear a path through a maze without getting yourself stuck in the process. The difficulty ranges from easy to incredibly challenging; there are over 2,537 levels! There are also multiple filters that help you narrow down which level you’d like to try, based on factors like number of boxes, size, etc. Undo and redo buttons help you get out of trouble, and the simple control scheme means anyone can give it a try. We highly recommend it.

Best Mahjongg Game – Mahjongg Artifacts: Chapter 2

Publisher: G5 Entertainment

Price: $2.99

Not content on being just another Mahjongg title, this one offers up a ridiculous story of a woman searching for her boyfriend-turned-evil-god, told in comic book fashion. You can choose to play 99 different layouts in classic mode without the story, or you can play endless mode, well… endlessly, but we prefer the quest mode, which is where the story is at. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to see what’s going on, because the tiles can be pretty small on the already small screen, but a magnifying glass is available. We just wish we could see what was happening on the entire board at once, without having to magnify. Luckily, the controls are great and there’s plenty to do here. If you’re a fan of Mahjongg, you don’t want to miss this one.

Best Word Game – Wurdle

Publisher: Semi Secret Software

Price: $1.99

In this game, you’ll have to use your detective skills to find as many words within a square grid of letters as possible. Simply drag your finger along the letters needed to spell the word, whether it’s in a straight line or a zigzag pattern. Three letter words are easy to find, but the longer ones are where the real points are at. You’ll only have one to three minutes to get your sleuth on, so speed is key. You’re able to upload both overall and individual word scores online to see how you stack up to the competition, although doing this will dump you out to Safari. For word puzzle fans, this is a must have title.

Honorable Mention – The New York Times Crosswords Daily 2009

Publisher: Magmic Inc.

Price: $5.99

The definitive crossword title on the platform, this app gives you years’ worth of crosswords from the NYT, dating back to 1997. It’s easy to fill in the puzzles, you just need to click on the square and type the word. Don’t let anyone tell you the puzzles are easy though; there’s a reason they’ve been keeping people busy for decades. With over 4,000 puzzles, it would probably take over a decade to complete this game if you wanted to solve them all. Online leaderboards give you something to compete against besides your own persistence.

Best Numbers Game – PathPix

Publisher: Kris Pixton

Price: $1.99

In PathPix, the goal is to create a picture using numbers that connect to one another by bright, bold lines of color. Ranging from very simple images to spawling and complex masterpieces, Pathpix is a logic game that rewards your dedication with an interesting bit of math-made art. You’ll also get a nice historical or literary quote as a reward as well, so it’s like a whole high-school curriculum in one game: math, art, history, and literature. PathPix currently has 169 puzzles to choose from, and this game is so addicting you might just feel the need to solve them all.

Nothing screams replay value like puzzle games, and after this smorgasbord of recommendations, you may not need another buyer’s guide for months! With that said, we’re going to do one again next week anyways, just because.

If you think we missed out on anything special, let us know in the comments, or just go ahead and tell us your favorite game on the list and why. We’d love to hear about it. In the meantime, we’ll be trying out the best strategy games so we can tell you what’s worth buying next week. Enjoy!