In Puzzle Agent, Telltale Games delivers a challenging yet quirky game that is not only hugely enjoyable but also quite affordable. As the amiable FBI agent Nelson Tethers, one’s goal is to solve the mystery of why the town of Scoggins isn’t producing its vital source of government-needed erasers at the local factory. Unlike the quick answers gotten by detectives in television shows, information here is hard to come by thanks to the large assortment of puzzles that stand in one’s way. Tethers’ job, as a member of the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division, is to solve these puzzles and get the factory back up and running.
One of the first visuals that one sees in the game is the title screen, which features an eerie moonlit landscape that outlines the eraser factory. That, along with the equally moody soundtrack, makes it so one can’t help but think that a designer at Telltale Games was a big Twin Peaks fan. Throughout the game it is apparent that despite the rather offbeat storyline and characters, the music ultimately sets the tone for the spooky situation in Scoggins.
Graham Annable, the veteran creator and artist of Grickle, provides the main basis for the game’s look. The animation for the game appears as if it was hand drawn, featuring sharp sketches and sometimes lightly solid lines that make up most of the scenery and character design. Unlike most animated game, these days, Telltale Games decided that Puzzle Agent wasn’t going to feature fluid motion but instead a kind of stop-motion movement for characters. Although this may visually alarm gamers used to the norm, I like that Telltale Games opted to spend more of their time on the story and puzzle elements than on animation that one could fill in the gaps on their own.
The characters in Puzzle Agent are another aspect that makes the experience entertaining. The town of Scoggins is full of peculiar personalities, ranging from the large, simple-minded sheriff to the borderline psychotic guy sitting in the hotel lobby. However, the best characters are the pint-sized gnomes that mysteriously pop up as the story unfolds. Believe me, these little guys can be unnerving and tend to disrupt Tethers’ (and your) quest to solve the case.
As for the puzzles themselves, they consist of a mixed range from the exceptionally easy to the rather frustrating. The former type of puzzles, of course, occur at the beginning of the story and tend to focus on picture arranging and tile turning to arrive at a solution. Despite their elementary qualities, they allow the user to immerse him or herself into the story while getting a handle on how the game works.
It is not long, however, until some of the more challenging puzzles intercede. Many of the tougher puzzles are logic based with one needing to order something using clues or rules outlined by the puzzle’s introduction screen. These puzzles can take minutes with a good sense of trial and error or could require a pencil and paper to logically think out the solution.
However, even with all of one’s brain power, one may start breaking things due to a puzzle’s non-inclusion of somewhat important information needed to help solve it. For instance, during a snowmobile path-making puzzle, one finds out too late that a snowmobile is not allowed to travel through a wooded area. Since that can be done in real life, this information should be provided at the outset. In another instance, a fish logic puzzle seems to lack enough information to accurately find a key that had been swallowed.
Thankfully, the game does provide hints when one’s brain is throbbing from too much thinking. Three hints of increasing assistance can be used to help solve a puzzle. This can be a real time saver if one doesn’t wish to put in an excruciating amount of thought. The hints, however, come at a price; as each hint is used, the total amount of hints that can be used in later puzzles is decreased. So make sure to pick up chewing gum that is stuck to all sorts of surfaces to help the desperate Agent Tethers out in future situations (Scoggins needs the chewing gum to get hints).
Puzzle Agent manages to fill several hours of time before the exciting conclusion, so for $9.95 it definitely feels like one gets exactly their money’s worth of entertainment. It is true that there could be a little more detail in some of the puzzles as well as some more variety, but I feel that Telltale Games wanted to balance challenge with story. If one gets too annoyed with the puzzles, they will lose the momentum of the story. Therefore, by making each puzzle relatively easy to approach but having them contain varying degrees of difficulty, Puzzle Agent makes itself available to all ages of mental prowess.
As one who managed to solve 37 puzzles to get erasers back in production, I think that Puzzle Agent is quite a bit of fun. I find that the music, animation, character design, plot, humor, and puzzles all interact so well in this game. Sure, this style of game has been done before, but so what? There definitely ought to be more of these games produced (it is part of a pilot program Telltale is running), and the next one should be based around a return trip to the town of Scoggins and those gnomes.
Puzzle Agent is rated E (Everyone) by the ESRB for Mild Language, Mild Violence, and Use of Tobacco. This game can also be found on: Wii