DOS has its share of entertaining puzzle games, some of which are hybrids that combine platforming or adventure with puzzles. One nice thing about playing old puzzle games from this era is that the art style carries the experience where the graphical fidelity fails. And in a puzzle game, you don’t need photorealistic graphics or fully voice-acted cinematic cutscenes.
Today, I bring you the 30 best DOS puzzle games that are worth checking out. If you want, you can download DOSBox to play these games (a lot of them are now abandonware).
If you like Snake, you’re going to love this game. It’s not an infinite-growth puzzle like Snake. Instead, each level places a minimum length requirement on you and once you exceed that limit you can advance to the next level.
What you have in Pipe Mania is a dispenser churning out green goop, which must be linked through empty squares to form a pipe. This pipe shouldn’t run into the boundary or itself. You cannot rotate pieces as they drop in, and there is a slight delay as the goop flows into the pipe pieces you’ve arranged.
The Fool’s Errand
A story-based meta-puzzle game in which you play a character from Tarot, the Fool. You’ve been given a map by the Sun, which contains several jumbled pieces and your goal is to find 14 lost treasures that are scattered all around the world. During your journey, you pass through 4 different kingdoms where NPCs give you clues on how to find these treasures.
The Fool’s Errand plays like an interactive storybook and contains several visual puzzles. Each puzzle is unique, it’s like playing a series of minigames.
And the type of puzzle you solve is directly related to the story’s progression. For example, the result of a crossword might give you a clue on which location to visit next in your search for the 14 treasures.
The Incredible Machine
I’m sure we’ve all seen those children’s cartoons with incredibly complex devices that perform simple tasks. Like Tom rigging up a trap with 500 different moving parts that stretches across the entire hallway, just so he can drop a ball on Jerry’s head. These types of devices are called Rube Goldberg devices, named after the American cartoonist who made them popular.
The Incredible Machine is a puzzle game in which you design Rube Goldberg devices to perform simple tasks. You must set off a chain reaction of gears, bands, pulleys, bars, etc. to put a ball in a box or turn on a light switch. For each level, you’re provided with an assortment of seemingly random tools and creatures that have certain affinities for other objects (mice run toward cheese).
The Island of Dr Brain
Dr. Brain is a talented scientist with grand plans for a new project that will change the world. However, the battery he developed to power his machine has been stolen from the island and you must go there to retrieve it. As the player, you navigate your way around increasingly complex booby traps and safety systems set up by Dr Brain.
This is an educational action-adventure puzzle, similar to Castle of Dr. Brain (which was released just a year ago by the same company). To complete the puzzles in this game, you’ll need basic knowledge of things like elements on the periodic table, music, literature, etc. It’s excellent for kids and adults alike.
Secret Island of Dr Quandary
Developed by MECC, it has no relation to The Island of Dr. Brain as both of these games are set within entirely different realities. However, this is also an educational action adventure in the same vein as Sierra Online’s puzzle games. You’ll need to solve puzzles that test basic maths and critical thinking skills.
Everything starts at a carnival organized by Dr. Quandary, where you win a doll by participating in a shooting event. However, this doll is secretly a gateway to another place that’s filled with traps and puzzles. To get out of here, you must find the Fixer Elixir.
A mythical race forgotten by time has created archipelagos (island chains), these hold several mysteries of the past and answers for the future. These precursors who created the islands are known simply as “Ancients”, and they also created a race called the “Visitors” who rebelled against their creators and killed them. However, the blood of these dead Ancients is doing something terrible to the islands which are now filled with misery and suffering.
As the player character, it’s your job to explore each archipelago and destroy certain objects responsible for spreading the blood of Ancients through the islands. You have a first-person 3D view. Once you destroy all malevolent objects in an area you must also find the nearby obelisk and destroy it.
Originally released for Atari Lynx in 1989, Chip’s Challenge was eventually ported to MS-DOS PCs and even Windows 3.1 PCs as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack. The story of this game centers on a high-school nerd, Chip McCallahan who wants to get into an exclusive club of teen scientists called the Bit Busters Club. To gain entry, he must prove his aptitude to Melinda the Mental Marvel by navigating through her Clubhouse which contains some very difficult puzzles.
You probably know what molecules and atoms are if you completed primary school chemistry class. Well, in this game, you align atoms on a 2D arena to form molecules from scratch. But don’t worry- you will not have to know molecular weights and formulas by heart to do these puzzles.
Instead, you just look at the screen to see an image of the molecule with color-coded atoms arranged in a specific pattern. All you have to do is assemble as many molecules as you can by using atoms scattered around the playing field. If the atom’s path is blocked by a wall or another atom, it can’t move.
A couple of Swiss students wanted to create a version of Boulder Dash that could fit on a single 880 kB floppy disk. It was meant to run on Amiga A500 and A2000 systems, as well as DOS PCs. Once PC hardware improved, gamers found out that Supaplex was running at 2x speed (because it featured hardware-dependent programming).
To fix this, a version called SpeedFix was created by disassembling, debugging, and reassembling the game. There are 111 levels in the official version, but fan-made copies have added several custom levels. The gameplay is similar to that of Boulder Dash, a 2D maze in which you dig through underground caves while avoiding falling boulders.
The Lost Vikings
One of the most unique puzzle games ever created, The Lost Vikings is a side-scrolling platformer with 3 unique characters. You can start with any one of these, and each character has special abilities unique to them. At any point, you can swap between the three Vikings to solve environmental puzzles that present themselves.
Erik is the fastest runner; he can also jump and break through certain walls with his helmet. Baleog is the brawler, armed with a sword for melee and a bow for ranged attacks. Olaf is the flying tank; he can block enemy ranged attacks with his shield that also doubles as a hang glider.
You are the lemming master, guiding a group of these furry little creatures through hostile environments to make sure they all make it out safely. Each level requires that you successfully rescue a minimum number of lemmings. To aid you in your journey, you can assign 8 unique powers to certain lemmings.
These powers allow the lemmings to alter terrain, control others in their group, destroy blockades, etc. At the start of each level, a trapdoor opens and you’re greeted with a constant flow of lemmings. Depending on the number and type of obstacles in their way, each level is graded on a scale of 1 to 4 in terms of difficulty.
You’re given a play area that’s divided into two sections- one active, the other static. Both sections contain several blocks, and your goal is to make sure that the left section (Active) matches up to the right section (Static). You cannot move individual blocks, instead, you must select a rectangular area with several blocks inside.
Blocks can only move along the edge of this rectangular area, in a clockwise or counterclockwise direction. Certain spaces will be empty, and gravity makes sure that blocks fall into empty spaces. Metal blocks cannot be moved, and explosive blocks will destroy any other block they fall on.
Originally designed by Ian Upton in 1989 for the Atari ST, the rights to this game were purchased by Audiogenic. Who then proceeded to release a PC port the next year in conjunction with Mindscape. Loopz is a game in which you mix and match shapes on a 2D playing board to create loops.
These shapes can be straight lines, 90° angles, or compound shapes comprised of multiple lines. Once you finish your loop, all constituent pieces shall disappear. Lines cannot overlap with the edge of your loop.
This is a tile-matching puzzle; your playing board contains cards with several different colored symbols on each one. When you click on two cards with the same symbol, they will be turned over and marked as complete. However, this can only be done if there is a direct line of contact between the cards or if they are placed along the edge of the board.
You can’t link two cards if the link has to go through other symbols. Once a card is turned over, it becomes “neutral” and acts as a link for other symbols. Cards that are adjacent to each other can be linked, even if they’re placed diagonally.
Blockout is a Tetris clone created by a couple of Polish developers. It’s different in one key aspect from the regular Tetris- 3D. Instead of watching your blocks fall from the side, you’re looking down into a 3D pit.
Just like Tetris, cubical blocks of different colors appear one at a time from the top and gradually descend into the pit. You can rotate each block along any of the 3 axes, and move it horizontally as well as vertically.
Tetris is the most popular puzzle game of all time and the 3rd best-selling game of all time (behind Minecraft and GTA V). There are countless versions and variations of Tetris, each with modified visuals and rulesets. But they all adhere to the core concept of a falling block puzzle.
You have a pit with blocks of various colors and shapes that must be arranged so that they cancel out each other before reaching the top. New blocks are constantly falling, and you can rotate these blocks so they form a horizontal line after settling down. Once a line is formed, the blocks will disappear and you gain a row of free space.
This is a match-three puzzler, inspired by the Sega classic “Columns”. You have colored blocks falling into a pit, by matching three or more of the same color, you can make them disappear. Horizontal, vertical, and diagonal groupings are allowed and you can reposition or rotate falling blocks to achieve this goal.
A tile-matching puzzle game that’s heavily inspired by Taito’s Puzznic and Plotting. While the original version of Brix was made by MicroLeague, Epic MegaGames published an updated version with superior sound and graphics in 1992- just one year later. At the start of each level, you’re given a play area with square blocks containing symbols.
There’s a timer, and you have to finish the level by making all square blocks disappear within this time. By matching two or more blocks of the same type, you can eliminate them. Later levels add environmental obstacles such as lasers, gravity reversers, barriers, acid, etc.
Also known as Oxyd 2, it’s the sequel to Oxyd. A game in which you attempt to restart oxygen generators on a planet by activating them in pairs with a rolling black marble. Oxyd 2 is more of the same, but this time the levels are larger and more complex with new interactions between pairs of Oxyd generators.
Boppin’ is a weird puzzle game, and it features adult themes such as seppuku. There’s even a story, featuring a couple of stick figures in a fictional world that’s inhabited by video game characters, existing entirely in the minds of people. You start each level with blocks arranged inside a level.
Refractors bounce blocks at a different angle when you throw them into one. Blocks always fly at 45° and will reward you with points when they hit other blocks of the same type. If your block hits a different type of block or a wall, it will take one life (you start with 5 lives).
After observing the runaway success that was Tetris, Infogrames decided they wanted in on the action. So they hired a Russian mathematician to develop a concept for a similar game that involved calculations and strategy. The result was 7 Colors- a game in which two players start at opposing ends of a board, choosing rectangles filled with different colors.
Players take turns choosing colors. Once you pick a color, all blocks of that color bordering your starting zone will be added to your territory. Whoever is the first to control more than half of the board wins.
This game was developed by Red Rat Software in collaboration with Smiths’, to promote their deep-friend potato snack known in Britain as Quavers. In Pushover, Quavers mascot Colin accidentally drops his packet of snacks into a giant ant hill. The only one who can “rescue” this lost packet of Quavers is G.I Ant, a giant soldier ant who solves puzzles.
Pick ‘n Pile
Pick ‘n Pile is a falling block puzzler, similar to Tetris- but with a few unique twists of its own. For starters, you’re dealing with explosive blocks of various colors that crash and blow up once they touch the floor. If a block hasn’t exploded, you can match it with other blocks of the same type to make them disappear.
This is one of the Taito games that inspired Brix, it’s a tile-matcher that was released on arcades way back in 1989. Within a year, this game was ported for home consoles and personal computers. Graphically, Puzznic is similar to another Taito tile-matcher called Plotting.
There is a 4-slot marble container on each level, you can fill this up with marbles of different colors. Once the repository is full, it explodes and unravels a tile within the level. You have to keep unraveling tiles like this before the timer runs out.
You start with 3 lives, and there are 4 different colors. You must collect 4 balls of each type to complete one cycle. Once you’ve collected all the balls, you’ll finish the level.
In Hexagon, your goal is to capture as many cells as possible out of 58 on the playing field. You can move one cell at a time, or two cells. If you move one cell, your piece will replicate and add a new one to the targeted cell.
If you move two cells, you will lose your starting piece and move to the targeted cell. Any cell bordering your targeted location will be transformed into your piece. At the end of the game, the player with the most cells under their control wins.
This is based on a Japanese game of the same name, in which you play a warehouse worker. Your goal is to move cargo boxes from the starting point to the end location.
The more boxes you can move, the better, but you also have to minimize the number of moves you make. You cannot move boxes through walls, and you cannot move them if other boxes are in the way.
This is a unique type of Mahjong solitaire based on a different ruleset. Here, all tiles are considered open but you can only match them if 1-3 orthogonal line paths can exist between them without touching any other tiles. Unlike normal Mahjong, tiles can be stacked in layers of three with upper tiles blocking lower ones from view.
Sid & Al’s Incredible Toons
This is a clone of The Incredible Machine, with a similar concept- you design Rube Goldberg machines out of available parts to fulfill a goal that’s given to you for each level. However, the background is a cartoon stage instead of a lab. The two characters in the cartoon are a mouse and a cat, both trying to ruin the other guy’s day (clearly inspired by Tom & Jerry).
An official sequel to Tetris, this game was designed by Alexey Pajitnov- the same person who made Tetris. The difference between this and Tetris is that the pit is now three-dimensional, however, the blocks remain 2D. You view the pit from above, similar to Blockout.
A good puzzle game exercises the mind and forces you to think outside the box. By solving intricate and increasingly difficult problems using the limited set of tools provided, you gain a sense of pride and accomplishment. Some of these old DOS puzzle games have a story, others don’t.
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