Everybody loves the feeling of cracking a really tricky puzzle, but it can also be disheartening to be stumped by a game that presents a challenge that is seemingly too complex to solve. If you are curious about the world of puzzle games but are not quite ready to be tested to your limits, consider the following 4 titles which offer up a reasonable challenge for beginners without being too punishing.
4. Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors
Developed by Chunsoft and released in 2009, Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors is the first installment in the Zero Escape series. These games combine the visual novel genre with some light puzzles and branching narratives to create an unforgettable experience.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors begins with the protagonist, Junpei, waking up in a cabin in a cruise liner. He has little knowledge of how he got there, except for a hazy memory of a man in gas mask abducting him. On his wrist is a strange device that has the number 5 on it. As water starts flooding the cabin, you are expected to search the room for clues and helpful items that will assist Junpei to escape. Upon doing so, you find that Junpei is on the ship with eight other hostages who are unwilling participants in the Nonary Games. The objective is to find a door with the number 9 on it before the ship floods and sinks.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors contains the widest variety of puzzles of the 4 listed puzzle games for beginners. Many are math based. For instance, some will require you to do a little addition in unorthodox ways to unlock doors while others will require you to crack codes using the hexadecimal numbering system. If numbers are not your thing, do not be afraid. The game does provide a handy calculator to make things easier. Other puzzles demand a bit of creative thinking and imagination, forcing you to come up with novel ways of combining different items. Although some of the puzzles might have you scratching your head for a few minutes, none of them ever feel unfair or excessively brutal. This makes Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors perfect for anyone who wants to dip their toes into the world of puzzle games but is not ready to have their ego bruised by seemingly unsolvable problems.
Nine Hours, Nine Persons, Nine Doors’ puzzles are accentuated by the narrative which is equally as interesting. As you slowly progress through the story and uncover the mysteries of the sinking ship, you will be required to make decisions that could cost Junpei his life. The choices you make are not superficial and lead to one of many endings. Of course, this means the game must be played multiple times if you wish to view all endings.
3. A Plague Tale: Innocence
Although it received little fanfare, A Plague Tale: Innocence was one of 2019’s most interesting and unique games. It takes place in France during the Hundred Years’ War. The country faces an invasion from the English army in addition to the black plague which is being spread by rats. Lots and lots and lots and lots of rats.
Following the death of her parents, Amicia must protect her younger brother, Hugo, who is ill and is also being hunted by Inquisition soldiers. With soldiers swarming the streets, stealth is a must. Amicia is armed with nothing but a slingshot and must work in the shadows silently picking off her opponents one by one. When they are not evading soldiers, Amicia and Hugo must contend with floods of rats that will pick their flesh from their bones if given the chance.
The only thing that frightens the rats is light, and this is where the puzzle elements of A Plague Tale are introduced. By making use of various environmental mechanisms, as well as Amicia’s sling, you are expected to come up with ways to clear a path through the hordes of rats to allow Amicia and her brother to progress. Some puzzles require Amicia to leave Hugo’s side, but she cannot do that for too long or else Hugo will get scared and start to panic which will only succeed in drawing the attention of nearby soldiers to them. Although the puzzles grow increasingly complex as new items to use are added, you never feel like you are thrown into the deep end. With a little perseverance, every obstacle can be overcome.
The world of A Plague Tale is a brutal one, and much of the game’s themes are concerned with the loss of innocence. Amicia, who is but a young girl, must rise to the occasion and become Hugo’s guardian, protecting him at all costs. With her back against the wall, Amicia is sometimes forced to let others perish for the sake of her and her brother’s survival. If you are ready for an emotional journey that will have you questioning your notions of right and wrong, A Plague Tale is an experience that cannot be missed.
2. Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice
Ninja Theory is a video game development studio best known for bringing the DmC: Devil May Cry series to the world. In 2017, they took a departure from their typical hack and slash games and released Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice. Set in the mythical world of Norse mythology, Hellblade follows the journey of a woman named Senua who travels to Helheim in hopes of rescuing the soul of Dillion, her lover who was violently killed by Norsemen.
Senua is no ordinary woman, however. She has a constant buzz of voices in her head. Sometimes they are helpful and give her a few hints. Other times they are dark and taunt her with her worst fears and insecurities. Senua also sees the world differently. She sees patterns in places nobody else can. Although some might think of this as a frightening curse, it becomes oddly useful to Senua as her journey progresses.
Senua’s condition is an artistic rendition of psychosis. To ensure accuracy, Ninja Theory consulted neuroscientists and people directly affected by mental health issues, as is explained in this Polygon article. The use of binaural recordings helps players to truly experience what it must be like to be in Senua’s head. For this reason, Hellblade is a game best played with a good pair of headphones.
Senua’s unique perspective on the world enables the environmental puzzle segments of Hellblade. Unlocking doors and progressing requires viewing symbols from the right perspective or finding glyphs hidden in the environment. This requires a sharp eye and a bit of creative thinking and, while things may get a bit frustrating at times, finally solving a puzzle does come with a huge jolt of satisfaction.
Hellblade is a haunting experience that will linger in your mind long after you have put the controller down. For those who resonate with Senua’s experience it might offer comfort and solace. For those who do not, it could be a window into a world that is often mischaracterized and misunderstood. If you find that you love Hellblade, you will be glad to know that the sequel, Senua’s Saga: Hellblade II, has been announced for Windows and Xbox Series S/X.
1. Tetris Effect
Originally released in 1984, Tetris is one of the world’s most popular puzzle games and for good reasons. It is easy to learn and criminally addictive once you get into the swing of things. By arranging different shaped blocks correctly as they fall from the top of the screen, players are expected to form solid lines which then disappear and prevent the playing field from filling up with tiles. The longer you can keep this up, the higher your score.
Tetris Effect, developed by Monstars and Resonair and released in 2018, brings the classic game to the modern day. Psychedelic particle effects react in time with the movement of your blocks while the varied soundtrack dynamically shifts in tune to the events of the game. It is a stunning sensory overload that will have you nodding your head to its trippy soundtrack and will have your eyes wide open taking in all the colors. Each level of Tetris Effect combines unique themes and soundscapes to always keep the experience novel. You might be playing in an Eastern themed level with twangy strings and tabla drums one moment and be thrust into an underwater world with bubbles and distorted sounds the very next.
Unlike most of the games on this list that might have a few stressful moments, Tetris Effect is far more likely to lull you into a state of zen where you completely forget about the outside world and become completely absorbed by the game. It strikes the perfect balance between simplicity and splendor, making it the easiest of all the 4 listed puzzle games for beginners to pick up and find their footing. For anyone interested in video games that test their mental skills, Tetris Effect is the ultimate casual experience that modernizes a tried and tested formula.
The above 4 puzzle games offer a good variety of options for beginners who wish to explore the genre. Whether you enjoy working with numbers, shapes or some altogether different, there is something out there to accommodate everyone.