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.

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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.

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 gaming memories alive through the medium of Retro Stories. His event recount includes hopes, dreams, broken joysticks, magic, nostalgia and another final boss defeated.

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