Sometimes, you want to take a break from the high-octane action-packed nature of triple-A gaming. Occasionally, what you want is to sit back and take on a good chin-stroking puzzle game, full of the kind of intellectual challenges that will make you feel like a god-level genius for solving them. Happily, as you might expect, the Xbox Game Pass service is full of them. Some of the greatest puzzle experiences ever constructed have found a home on Microsoft’s subscription service, so without further ado, let’s take a look at the 15 best puzzle games on Xbox Game Pass.
1. Grim Fandango Remastered
When point-and-click games ruled the roost, strong narrative and intriguing puzzle design went hand-in-hand. Arguably the kings of this kind of design were LucasArts, who churned out hit after hit in the 90s and early 2000s. The Secret of Monkey Island, Day of the Tentacle, and the excellent Grim Fandango were all adventure-puzzle exemplars, full of clever brain-teasers and great writing. This remastered version of Grim Fandango cuts out all the glitches and crashes and leaves you with a truly great game.
2. Superhot: Mind Control Delete
Contrary to appearances, Superhot: Mind Control Delete is much more of a puzzle game than a first-person shooter. Time stops when you’re not moving and starts again as you move, so the challenge is all about figuring out how to take out the enemies around you in a stylish and effective manner. There’s a story, too, but honestly, the gameplay is the star of the show here; you’ll want to try puzzles just to see how many different ways you can solve them.
3. The Wild At Heart
Do you like Pikmin? If so, you’ll love The Wild At Heart, which is essentially an irreverent 2D take on the Pikmin franchise. It presents plenty of fiercely difficult puzzles at which you must throw hordes of tiny helpers, each of which is specialised to do something different. Combining them in certain ways and figuring out what order to do things in will help you surmount the challenges here, but there’s also a cute coming-of-age story to enjoy alongside the puzzles.
If you’re not attuned to its aesthetic and puzzle logic, Myst is fiendishly difficult. It gives you next to no instructions when you arrive on its beautifully-rendered island; instead, you’ll just have to figure things out as you go, toying with contraptions and trying to work out what affects what. The full-3D remake on Xbox Game Pass is vastly superior to the stiff FMV-based original, so play that one if you’ve got a hankering to try one of the most influential puzzle games ever made.
The core concept of Superliminal is fascinating; you can change the size of objects with forced perspective, meaning that if you can make a door look big, then it will become big. You’ll need to fundamentally change the way you think about puzzles to solve Superliminal’s challenges, and although the experience is a very short one indeed, it’s as long as it needs to be given how much it makes our brains hurt (in a very good way, of course)
Unpacking is a lesson in how simple game design and visual storytelling can come together to create something greater than the sum of its parts. Each puzzle in Unpacking comes in the form of a series of rooms as your protagonist moves from home to home, bringing their possessions with them. You must organise said possessions in a logical way, with some items unable to be placed in certain locations. It’s far more arresting than it sounds, although it’s also extremely relaxing.
Much like Unpacking, Gorogoa chooses to eschew dialogue, instead telling its story entirely visually. Unlike Unpacking, however, Gorogoa has an elliptical, obscure narrative, with its puzzles unfolding in an abstract manner. The art here is gorgeous, and although the puzzles fall back slightly too often on “click the thing to see what works”, they’re clever and well-implemented. Mostly, you’ll want to stick with Gorogoa just to see how its dioramas evolve and change.
8. The Pedestrian
The Pedestrian is a rather intriguing little puzzle-platformer with a simple idea at its core: what if road signs were animated? You are a little figure who breaks free of a road sign and must travel across a landscape of other signs, solving puzzles as you go. The game cleverly uses the iconography of signs to incorporate its puzzles into a 3D environment, and although it never quite makes the most of this concept, it’s a great experiment that will hopefully yield more fruit in future.
9. Next Space Rebels
This compelling puzzler lets you loose on rocket blueprints and allows you to build whatever your imagination can conjure. Of course, there are some right and wrong answers, which is extremely refreshing for a game like this; Next Space Rebels lets you fail, learn from your mistakes, and grow to achieve success next time. The experimental puzzle gameplay is all wrapped up in a fun little story about growing a social media channel, too.
10. Bridge Constructor: Portal
The Bridge Constructor games do exactly what they say on the tin: you must construct bridges that don’t fall apart at the first sign of bearing a load. The addition of Portal mechanics adds a brain-bending new dimension to building your bridges, as you must incorporate portals into them as well. Other gadgets from Portal, such as the Aerial Faith Plates and propulsion gel, make an appearance here too, so this is a great game for Portal fans who want a little more puzzling.
11. Tetris Effect: Connected
Tetris is one of the most iconic puzzle games ever made, and there’s a good reason for that: its simplistic design coupled with its fierce addictive qualities make it a mainstay of gaming, no matter what the current hardware looks like. This is a multiplayer addition to the Tetris Effect experience, and it contains all the same beautiful light shows, sensory overloads, and classic Tetris gameplay you’ve come to expect from Effect (and the devs’ other games such as Lumines and Rez Infinite).
12. Hypnospace Outlaw
When it was released, it was somewhat overlooked by many journalists and game publications (although certainly not by others), but make no mistake: Hypnospace Outlaw is a special game. It’s a simulation of the kind of day-glo mess that was the 90s internet, all primitive social media pages and embedded songs that won’t stop playing. The game is also hiding a darker, more interesting storyline beneath its exterior, one with themes of surveillance and tech company responsibility.
13. Genesis Noir
Genesis Noir is a puzzle game with a difference; it’s not really about the puzzles here. Don’t get us wrong – there are certainly puzzles to be solved, but they’re not the star of the show. The focus here is on the game’s brilliantly dazzling black-and-white jazz odyssey aesthetic, and it’s staggeringly beautiful when it’s in motion. Occasionally, Genesis Noir can get a little too abstract and obscure for its own good, but for the most part, it’s a compelling odyssey for the senses.
14. Katamari Damacy Reroll
While Katamari Damacy Reroll looks like a quaint wish-fulfilment game on its surface, underneath that exterior it’s actually a rather difficult little puzzler. The titular katamari is a ball that can stick to anything, provided the thing is smaller than the katamari itself. That’s pretty much all the help you’re getting; you’ll need to roll your katamari around a series of environments, picking up what you can in order to grow your katamari’s size and roll up even larger stuff. A series of themed challenges and environments spice this one up a little, making it more than just its core concept.
15. Surgeon Simulator 2
Part puzzle game, part physics sim, Surgeon Simulator 2 returns to Bossa Studios’ wildly successful doctoring sim. Bob is once again beset by a number of troubling ailments, and as a surgeon, it’s your job to fix them. However, you’ll have to contend with a tricksy physics engine, some rather uncooperative tools, and your own lack of manual dexterity in order to overcome Surgeon Simulator 2’s challenges. If you loved the first game, you will, of course, find plenty to like here as well, so be sure to check it out if you’re a fan of Bossa’s other output.
These are our 15 favourite puzzle games on Xbox Game Pass. As you’ll know if you’re a subscriber, the nature of the service means these games could be swapped out at any moment, so you may find that the ones we’ve listed aren’t actually on Game Pass depending on when you’re firing it up. However, hopefully, by then, even more great puzzle games will have been added in their place! What are your favourite puzzle games on Xbox Game Pass? Which ones have we missed? Which ones would you like to see on the service?