9 Elefants offers a reasonably stylish and cartoonish take on Paris, draped over a game that thinks it’s a cousin to Nintendo’s Professor Layton series — but has bafflingly omitted panache, imagination, and fun. The plot involves meandering about unlocked locations, having drawn-out conversations with irritating characters who seem to be in on a massive practical joke. Your father, a professor, has vanished; but rather than help you, Paris’s inhabitants instead demand you solve puzzles, in return for them drip-feeding vital information.
Film noir combines beautifully with graphic novel aesthetics and stealth puzzling in Third Eye Crime, the debut effort from the ex-Bungie team at Moonshot Games. With a story full of twists and turns and a smooth lead character, it's a super-slick offering, and there's plenty of great level design to back up the style. This iOS original turns one particular film noir convention on its head, casting you not as a private detective but as Rothko, a telepathic art thief dragged into a mess he'd have rather avoided entirely.
Monument Valley couldn’t be much more different in tone and approach than developer ustwo’s first game, Whale Trail—a delightful, rainbow-filled float through the clouds as a marine mammal—but both excel at charming you with remarkable ease. In this case, it’s done with a quiet, contemplative trek through illusion-soaked puzzle stages, wherein spinning the perspective or tweaking a dial reveals new pathways to traverse. And it’s one of the most beautiful games we’ve ever played.
Cartoon Network’s mobile division—particularly that behind its edgier Adult Swim-branded fare—has historically been a pretty good fit for goofy, whimsical little arcade-style titles that focus on simple game design while still managing to be fun. Globlins doesn’t really fit that criteria, despite looking decent enough at a glance, with colorful storybook art and a cute, kid-friendly premise involving blotting out tiny microscopic organisms. Most of the puzzles require little to no skill or thought, while the wildly difficult boss battles feel concocted to nudge you towards spending money on power-ups.
Eets Munchies invites tinkering and experimentation. Like its PC and Xbox 360 predecessor—from Klei Entertainment, of Don’t Starve and Mark of the Ninja fame—this puzzle platformer asks you to move and manipulate wacky objects to help a hungry rodent find dessert. Although Eets doesn’t have quite the feverish pull of other similar puzzlers, it does a splendid job at continually introducing you to new elements and allowing plenty of room to learn and get creative.
Thanks in no small part to Bejeweled and Candy Crush, match-three puzzle games have made a curious resurgence in recent years, especially within the mobile market. We’ve seen match-threes dressed up as dungeon crawlers, medical simulations, pet shops, and even a shanty-laden pirate drama. Another Case Solved, the latest such app from Chillingo, tosses a few additional mini-games into the mix and goes the way of the 1940s-era private detective.
Tengami, a new point-and-click adventure game from indie duo Nyamyam, takes place in a dreamlike version of mythical Japan. It’s all cherry blossom groves, abandoned pagodas, and gently rolling seas, painted in pastel pinks and blues and set to ethereal music. Still images are pretty enough, but Tengami is defined by the cues it takes from old pop-up storybooks: secret passages are hidden beneath paper flaps, and new areas spring into existence with each turn of the page.
Oquonie revels in obfuscation. On the surface, it’s a simple isometric arcade adventure, of the type enjoyed by gamers since the likes of Knight Lore and Head Over Heels on ancient 8-bit systems. Taking the role of a dopey-looking cartoon bipedal dinosaur in a suit, you amble about a maze-like office complex, bumping into photocopiers that bestow you with cards and simultaneously spew gibberish via a series of cryptic glyphs.
Eliss Infinity hurls you into an abstract universe where you sort planets for obliteration. They materialize somewhat randomly on the screen and must be manipulated by your digits, making them a suitable size to dump in “squeesars” that periodically appear and wink said planets out of existence. Naturally, there are twists that hamper any thought that you’ll be done with your planet disposal within mere minutes. This upgraded and expanded version of one of the App Store’s best early games remains fresh, tactile, and truly terrific today.
You wouldn't know it from the screenshots – what with that clean, minimal design and little faces on the number tiles – but behind Threes!' delightfully cheery exterior lays a complex and calculated puzzle core. Its number-blending mechanics are simple on the surface and incredibly easy to pick up, yet careless play is quickly punished and low scores prove inevitable without constant consideration for each and every move made on the board. Success is often elusive in Threes!, yet seeking it has quickly become our favorite new single-minded pursuit.