March 21, 2021: Updated the best match-3 puzzle games list
There are few genres that have become as deeply ingrained in mobile gaming culture as the match-three puzzler.
Shuffling around colourful blobs on some kind of abstract grid has become an obsession for many - even (perhaps especially) those who wouldn't necessarily class themselves as gamers.
It's easy to get sniffy about these casual time-fillers games, but they have their origins in classic console gaming. And let's be honest here: who of us hasn't been hooked on a match-3 game at some point in their lives?
Want a little more meat from your match-3 puzzler? Love the mechanics but wish there was something a little deeper on top of them? Let us introduce you to Ticket to Earth, a match-3 puzzler with a compelling story, lavish comic book visuals, and deep tactical RPG elements. It's also a (whisper it) premium game that gives you a fully fleshed-out experience from the get-go. There's nothing else quite like Ticket to Earth on the App Store.
The Puzzle Quest series is one of the most beloved in the business. Adding in a bunch of recognisable Marvel characters was never going to do anything but enhance its appeal. For the uninitiated, Puzzle Quest was one of the first games to combine match-3 with RPG elements, making every grid-clearing round into an epic battle. Having the abstract manoeuvres translate into various attack moves was a stroke of genius, as countless copycats have attested to.
Do you dig Puzzle Quest's take on the match-3 RPG, but don't like its new freemium Marvel wrapping? That's fair enough. We'd suggest that you check out Tavern Guardians instead. It doesn't do anything particularly new or daring, but it is a really good example of the sub-genre. Every match feels tactical, and every board a delicious playground of possibilities.
At first glance Triple Town looks like another cutesy match-3 game. But there's way more going on with Spry Fox's game than meets the eye. Matching three kinds of block will form a single evolved form of that block, when then in turn needs to be matched in order to evolve it further. The result is a strategic masterpiece that has gone on to create a whole sub-genre of its own.
Evergarden takes the basic evolved match-3 premise of Triple Town and ramps everything up to a new level. Its action takes place on a hexagon-based game grid, for one thing, while the 3D art style is a true sight to behold. It's a game that practically begs you to prod it and play with it, and it rewards you for your curiosity with a bagful of beautiful surprises.
Two Dots is one of the cleanest, purest, most achingly stylish match-3 games on the App Store. It (and its predecessor Dots) pretty much wrote the book on elegant simplicity. But that's not what matters. What matters is that Two Dots has you dragging to match up coloured dots in a series of carefully designed one-hit puzzles, and that those dots make a lovely sound when you touch them.
The modern match-3 behemoth that is Candy Crush Saga is remarkable precisely because of how well it nails the classic gameplay loop. This latest iteration doesn't reinvent the wheel, but it does apply a rich 3D lick of paint. We'd complain about its saccharine art style and derivative gameplay, but why complain about a game that's a) already a massive hit b) free to play and c) really solidly made?
Way before King arrived on the scene, it was PopCap that arrived to give the genre of the match-3 games an addictive, all-encompassing spin with the Bejeweled series. Bejeweled Blitz condenses the gem-matching fun into brief one-minute rounds. The visual fireworks are mesmerising and deeply rewarding in a way few games can match. PopCap simply knows how to make incredibly inviting games that feel great to play.
Ruya is a lovely match-3 game that quietly does things a little differently. It spells out precisely what kind of matches it wants from you - a line of three or an L shape, for example. Then it's up to you to meet the order. It also sports a distinctively lovely art style that isn't nearly as gaudy as many match-3 games. All in all, it's a bit of a treat.
You don't have to make things more complicated just to take the match-3 genre in interesting new directions. Tiny Bubbles is one of the most inviting games on this list, with its dreamy graphics and tactile bubble-popping mechanic. But the way it plays with this system and the use of colour serves to constantly keep you on your toes - albeit in a blissed-out state of mind.