10 Best Horror-Based Puzzle Games
Whether it’s a survival horror title like the resident Evil series or an FPS like the BioShock series, almost every horror game has at least some puzzle game elements. But, some horror titles, like the recent Monochromatic Underwater Horror Game Silt, focus primarily on solving puzzles.
Instead of having puzzles as an additional element of the overall gaming experience, players experience these games for their challenging puzzles as well as the horror aspects. While it can be hard to imagine these games as scary, titles like We were here prove that puzzle games can be effective horror experiences.
Pit of Babel (2020)
Co-created by Maceo bob MairPit of Babel is a surreal 2020 short indie game based on the biblical story of the Tower of Babel. In a dark world of sand that resembles human limbs, players must protect and feed small red creatures known as Rotters so they can be thrown into a strangely pulsing meat grinder. This reshapes creatures into Tetris blocks that the player must use to build a tower.
As the tower is built, the player completes short snippets of stories written about two travelers who meet while trying to reach the place where the Tower of Babel once stood. Overall, this game offers a distinctly chilling experience that explores themes like individuality and whether sacrificing yourself for a unified structure is worth it.
Irisu Syndrome! (2008)
Years before popular meta-horror games such as Doki Doki Literature Club, the free game 2008 Irisu Syndrome! had already introduced the concept of a horror game that looked normal at first glance and played with computer files. Shapes of different colors fall from the top of the screen and players must shoot white squares to collide shapes of the same color before they reach the bottom of the screen.
As the player progresses through this simple yet challenging game, he slowly discovers the story of a university student named Kyouko Irisu and her three friends through files that appear on the player’s computer. Depending on the quality of the game, characters will live or die on a camping trip. While the experience isn’t as elaborate as modern examples, it’s still an efficient and historically significant game.
Accommodation is a 2020 indie horror game and a remake of the original 2016 game of the same name, which was one of many unique Flash games. As a young girl named Tabby, the player is stuck in a time loop in a house that wants to kill her and her family. To save the family, Tabby races against time to find various things that can be used in puzzles around the deadly house.
Through the game’s multiple deaths and gruesome endings, the player slowly learns to solve the puzzles and backstory behind the cursed building. Earlier this year, the game received a major update that includes a new campaign where the player instead controls Tabby’s sister, Melody. With an eerie pixelated art style and unsettling music, Accommodation Perfectly combines environmental puzzles and a horrifying narrative.
Inspired by obscure Japanese games from the 90s, Tamashii is a 2019 platform game where the player explores a glitch-filled world as a being known as “Unnamed Soul”, which was created by an ancient god called the “Patriarch”. Since an evil force, known as the witch Feucirl, corrupts the sacred temple of the patriarch, the player must defeat the witch and secure the god’s legacy.
As the player navigates through the temple, they will have to solve puzzle rooms and win boss fights by creating clones of themselves to activate different types of switches. Scary retro aesthetics and challenging platform puzzles make this game an interesting experience for horror and puzzle fans.
We Were Here Series (2017–present)
Starting with the 2017 free game of the same name, We were here is a series of cooperative puzzle games with horror elements. Although there is an overarching story, each game can be played alone and in any order. In each episode, both players are trapped in an abandoned medieval castle known as Castle Rock in Antarctica. To progress through the castle, they must work together to solve puzzles.
Since the players are separated and each has only half of the puzzles, they must communicate with each other using walkie-talkies. Because of this, part of the challenge comes from players having to convey what they see while solving the puzzles. The award-winning combination of spooky castle environments and cooperative escape room gameplay has led the series to have three sequels so far, including the 2022 title We were here forever.
A Rose in the Dusk (2017)
Developed by Nippon Ichi Software, A rose in the twilight is a scary puzzle platformer of 2017 for PS Vita and PC. The game follows a young princess named Rose who wakes up in the castle to find that the Curse of Thorns, which takes away time and color from things, has affected the entire castle, including herself.
Rose discovers that she can use her own bright red blood to restore color and time to objects. With the help of a friendly giant, Rose must solve puzzles to find out what happened to the castle and escape the dangers lurking there. Unlike the beautiful and cute art style, the game isn’t afraid to show Rose dying in horribly gruesome ways.
Cube Escape / Rusty Lake Series (2015–present)
Beginning as a Flash series in 2015, the cube escape/ rusty lake franchise is an ongoing series of point-and-click adventure games inspired by twin peaks and other surreal horror masterpieces. Although each of the games features different settings and characters, they all center on a detective named Dale Vandermeer who investigates the death of Laura Vanderboom, which appears to be linked to magic cubes and a mysterious hotel known as the Rusty Lake.
This non-linear puzzle series currently consists of 15 main titles, all of which contribute to the complex narrative. There is also an official short film, Paradox – A Rusty Lake Movie. A 16th part entitled The past inside should be released this year.
Set in the same multiverse as the Megami Tensei franchise, Katherine is a surreal 2011 puzzle game centered on a failed journalist named Vincent Brooks. While afraid to commit to his longtime girlfriend Katherine, he begins having an affair with another woman named Catherine. At the same time, he begins to have supernatural nightmares where he and other men have to scale a ruined tower while being chased by demons.
To reach the top, Vincent must rearrange the blocks before the tower falls under him, which will kill him in real life. This game and the extended re-release titled Catherine: Whole body, which includes a new love interest named Katherine, has a beautifully vibrant aesthetic, and explores mature themes that most games don’t.
Walk of the Year (2013)
Based on an ancient Swedish divination ritual known as “Årsgång”, walk of the year is a 2013 adventure game about a man named Daniel Svensson who decides to use this ritual to see the future of his lover, Stina, after learning that she has been proposed. But, this ritual is incredibly dangerous, and he will have to solve various puzzles while encountering creatures from Swedish folklore.
While all of this is happening in the 19th century, a modern folklorist named Theodor Almsten learns of these events and tries to save Daniel from the consequences of his actions. With a beautiful storybook-like art style, walk of the year is a beautifully terrifying mystery that players will want to solve.
One of the best puzzle platformer games to date is still the 2016 game On the inside, who is a spiritual successor of Limbo. The game follows a young boy who lives in a dystopian society where an organization controls the minds of some humans using parasitic worms.
As he explores the organization’s facilities, he must solve environmental puzzles, avoid dangers and flee enemies. The game’s dark visuals help convey the horrifying realities of this world.
NEXT: 10 Best Horror Games That Feature Body Horror
Classic Pokémon Scarlet and Violet features can bring back
About the Author