The 5 best retro puzzle games – brain-teasing fun

Human brain

I have never been a big fan of puzzle games, they are not exactly my cup of tea. I actually do not like them that much as a whole, but there are a few that really got me hooked at the time, and I still enjoy playing. Whereas a title comes with brilliant, innovative gameplay, genre takes a backseat to it.

Based on this, you might not agree with my list, which – while featuring the three all-time classics – is also focused towards some stunning little gems that, for some reason, never achieved mainstream success.

Anyway, hopefully you appreciate this mix of little hidden gems and masterpieces I plucked out for this group.

Below is my current top 5 retro puzzle games list.

(Affiliate Disclosure: Some of the links below are affiliate links. This means that – at no additional cost to you – if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission)

5. Atomino (developed by Blue Byte, published by Psygnosis, 1990)

Atomino on the Commodore 64

First stage of Atomino

First released in 1990, Atomino was published the following year for the Commodore 64, which is where I played this puzzle game. It definitely took my interest and soon I was hooked. This title has you building molecules from atoms so that there are no atoms left over.

It is difficult at points, but certainly addictive and very unique. Easily a favourite of mine and deserves a spot on the list.

Atomino should not be mixed up with Atomix, the second one being a totally different kind of game which is almost like a molecule version of Tetris or Dr Mario. Atomino does not have much to actually compare to and sadly, there have been no ports or re-releases for modern platforms.

However, there are still a few copies left for sale on * eBay and other retro game shops.

4. Pushover (developed by Red Rat Software, published by Ocean Software 1992)

Pushover on the Amiga 500

First stage of Pushover

Pushover is something you might remember as the “ant game” or something similar, because you actually control a large soldier ant. So you are an ant solving puzzles in an effort to recover some Quavers.

If you do not know, the game was sponsored by Quavers (now owned by Walkers) – which is a British crisp – so the plot involved the mascot dropping their (guess what?) Quavers down a giant ant hill. However, the SNES version of the game does not have the Quavers branding and instead players need to collect cash.

So if you played the game on SNES then you will remember it a bit different to the rest of us. Personally, I played this on the Amiga 500 so I did get to see all that wonderful sponsorship and had a strange urge to try Quavers too.

Anyway, Pushover had 100 levels to get through across the nine different worlds, where the aim is to arrange “dominoes”. You want to order them so that all the dominoes are knocked over in a single push, which then lets you move to the next level.

Definitely something that can be addictive and personally, I loved this concept and still consider it to be one of the best puzzle games from that era of gaming.

3. Puzzle Bobble (Taito 1994)

Puzzle Bobble arcade version

Where there are bubbles, there are Bub and Bob.

One of the last tile-matching arcade games is Puzzle Bobble, a cute and successful game that resulted in ports and different sequels.

The tile-matching games of today all follow a similar system to this game, there are preset patterns of colored bubbles and the player uses a pointer to aim and fire bubbles up at the others. This is still a system used today in this genre and Puzzle Bobble makes it look easy.

Released in 1994 for arcade, this is one of my favorite tile-matching puzzle games and is a classic arcade game for me. There is even a two player mode and I have a few fond memories thanks to this addition to the game!

This actually got a re-release for the Nintendo Switch as part of the ACA Neo Geo collection so we can all still play it today and this is definitely one that is perfect for the Switch.

Last but not least, as James mentioned in his interview, he won a Puzzle Bobble tournament we had arranged for the kids in our neighborhood, so this game will always hold a special place in our family’s gaming heart.

Someday, he will detail his experience on this very blog.


2. Tetris (developed by Atari Games, published by Tengen 1988)

Tetris arcade version

Tetris needs no introduction…

Everyone knows what Tetris is. I love it. You love it. We all love Tetris. It is just a fact and that is well-known, considering all the releases, sequels and clones that exist. Personally, this is my favourite tile-matching game thanks to the fast-paced gameplay and simplicity yet difficulty it has.

The first playable version was made in 1984 and the most recent official version was released in February this year, as Tetris 99; a battle-royale version where 99 gamers play Tetris together until only one is left standing.

Tetris is one of the most beloved series in gaming and one of the most popular also. It is definitely easy to see why this title has been able to stand the test of time and let us hope that it will carry on far into the future as well.

Personally, I am always game for a Tetris tournament, especially when we play the arcade version, which is by far the best ever released (at least for me).

 

Honorable Mention:

Intelligent Qube (developed by G-Artists, published by Sony 1997)

Intelligent Qube, on the PlayStation

First round of Intelligent Qube

Intelligent Qube (or “Kurushi” in Europe) is a classic puzzle game for the original PlayStation, that has players clearing cubes as they run around platforms. It is a 3D brain twister, where you need quick reflexes and strategic thinking skills.

Dying results in a game over, and clearing a Forbidden Cube results in being unable to get a perfect score.

Despite not being quite as popular outside of Japan, a few sequels did come from this. All in all, It is a pretty good retro puzzle game that pleasantly surprised me at the time.

Okay, number one is next, now! And the winner is…

 

1. Lemmings (developed by DMA Design, published by Psygnosis 1991)

Lemmings Amiga version

It is hard to not feel for these lovely critters…

As far as puzzle-platformers go, Lemmings is without a doubt the most well-known of the genre. At least for those who grew up during that time or enjoy retro games; newer gamers are definitely missing out with this one.

Lemmings is a simple idea, help these cute small rodents reach the exit by avoiding obstacles that would kill or trap them. You need to get a certain number to the exit in order to win the level. It is simple but in practice can actually be quite difficult thanks to all the different problems and the limited number of uses of different skills.

Plus there is the option to “nuke” the remaining lemmings so they all blow up which is a way to reset a hard level or remove any lemmings left over that can’t reach the exit.

It is hard to not have a special place in your heart for this game; Lemmings is a true classic and one of my favorite games ever. There have been ports, expansion packs and sequels released over the years.

You can find a re-imagined version on mobile devices and it is possible to find Lemmings on Xbox One and PlayStation 4 as well. Surprisingly, there is not a Nintendo Switch version yet but let us face it… This will probably change very soon.
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And that’s all for this list retro folks, hope you are not too… Puzzled by my choices, lol.

Jokes aside, I hope you enjoyed my post, but if you think that I left out some great puzzle games, please do not hesitate to let me know in the comments below.

See you soon for another retro list!

About Andrew A.

Andrew is the founder and owner of RetroGamingLoft. He considers himself a natural-born gamer and is on a mission to keep our younger gaming years alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

10 thoughts on “The 5 best retro puzzle games – brain-teasing fun

  1. Kat

    Ah, you mentioned tetris! Yay! That’s the one I was hoping you would mention and discuss. I used to play this on a small board game and would spend hours of time doing various patterns, but also on the retro computers too! I swear that if you haven’t played tetris then you need to, as this helps one figure out how to fit things in real life lol! I’ve also got fond memories of lemmings, so it’s good to see both of these mentioned. I haven’t heard of the others you have shown in your review unfortunately. Makes me wish had was allowed to play the arcade games more when I was younger! Thanks for sharing. 

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Kat and welcome to my blog; I am glad that you enjoyed my post. 🙂
      I agree, I have always found Tetris to be very educational. it is one of the few games I have never heard a bad word about it, especially from parents who are not into technology and video games. That says a lot, lol.
      I would say that Tetris helps us considering alternative solutions and prompts us to never give up. Even when pieces keep heaping up, just do not lose heart. On the contrary, keep thinking there must be a way out.

      As for Lemmings, well… Another absolutely educational title, but – unlike Tetris – its apparently playful nature prevented it from being seen like that by non-gamers. Not a big deal at the end of the day, the game is super fun, incredibly hard to beat and its longevity is basically unlimited… I agree (again), lots of fond memories.

      Thanks you very much for your nice comment, hope you become a regular here.

      Reply
  2. Charles

    Thank you Andrew. I had never heard of five of these games but can you guess the one that I had heard of before? Well of course it was Tetris LOL. That’s definitely a fun game and I wonder how it became so widely popular. The other games sound equally good so I guess that game just Got more momentum or something.

    The last game you mentioned lemmings I had never heard of before but maybe it was before my time.

    The one with the cubes looks pretty cool maybe because it is 3D. The one with the atoms also sounds really interesting. Do you have to actually know chemistry in order to win the game?

    Now that you got me thinking about puzzle games I am thinking about playing area flat. It was a flash game I played when I was younger. I don’t know if it qualifies as retro but I always had a lot of fun playing that. There was another online arcade game called snowball fight that I got really into. The main game I play now is Pokemon Showdown.

    Well thank you for this article and I will probably be back in the future.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Charles and welcome to my website!
      Tetris “finished” runner-up on this list, but it is definitely the most popular puzzle game ever, lol.

      Speaking of Atomino, you have to know very, very basic chemistry notions to play it, not to win it.
      In any case, the manual clearly explains how to play , so no worries at all.

      The Area Flat I know is a shoot’em up, not a puzzle game. Are you sure the title is correct? Not sure about its year of release (2008, maybe) but the graphics and the gameplay are definitely old school, so in a sense, it could qualify as retro.
      As for the Snowball Fight – apart from the well-known Snow Bros – the only game I know involving snowballs is Snowcraft, a very platform game that I played almost 20 years ago on a Pentium. It was fun anyway, very basic but fun.

      Thanks for taking time to read and leave a comment, hope you become a regular here! 🙂

      Reply
  3. Adyns68

    I am still a big fan of the Tetris game. It is awesome and very challenging. I do not think that it can fade with time, for me, it is one of those games that you can play all together, no matter the generation. The best one for me is also arcade ( or hatris arcade). Well, it took me the whole night the first time, to get a good score and after it was much easier to play.

    Thanks

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Adyns, nice to hear from you again!
      You are right, Tetris – like most puzzle games – is basically for everyone and is super fun when in a group. No way it can fade, we are talking about an all-time classic. I never played it all night long (that happened with other games, lol) but I remember getting stuck on the 8th level for months (arcade version). The day I cleared it, I reached level 20 in one sitting. I think I got rid of an obsession, lol.

      Thanks again for your comment, glad to have you as a regular here! 🙂

      Reply
  4. janhesa

    wow!nice site its talk about different game.i play tretris i can say that it really cool especially to the brain function because you must focus on the game and you must make quick decisions.

    well thank you for this article and i will probably back in the future, keep it up the good work.

    Reply
    1. Andrew A. Post author

      Hello Janhesa and thanks for stopping by.
      Yeah puzzle games require special concentration, more than with any other genre of games, but they are also very rewarding.
      The good thing is that even non-hardcore gamers like them, so they are great to play in a group
      Grateful for your comment, I will do my best to keep on providing my readers with engaging content!

      Reply
  5. Boniface-AndroidBix

    Dear Andrew,

    That’s a nice review of best retro puzzle games that are brain teasers and fun to play.

    Personally, I from time to time look for brain games to of course be entertained when life becomes too busy, to also train my mind to take speedy decisions, improved focus, memory among other crucial life skills.

    Of the 5 best games you’ve chosen I’ve played a type of Tetris before and it was so addictive at that time until I had to stop playing. Since I’m not into Action based and racing games, I’ll re-look into this list and take on a few.

    Thanks.

    Boniface- AndroidBix 

    Reply
  6. Andrew A. Post author

    Hello Boniface and welcome to my site!

    Glad to hear that I made you want to try the puzzle games that I mentioned.
    They are a genre of games that – especially today with iPads and Smartphones – one can play anywhere at anytime.
    If you have never played Lemmings, I am sure you will instantly love it! Same goes for Puzzle Bobble.

    Thanks for your nice comment, I hope you stay tuned for more retro posts!

    Reply

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