Puzzle Agent has a really distinctive style, but its diverse puzzles suffer from many inconsistencies.
Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent has been developed in collaboration with cartoonist and animator Graham Annable, and as a result, this is one of the most charming adventure games ever released. Instead of developing the regular point-and-click adventure, Telltale Games came up with this puzzle game that resembles Professor Layton, Fargo and Stanley Kubrick films. Everything about the game is pretty distinctive: its cartoony artwork, the characters, the setting, its plot and more importantly, its puzzles.
The story is quite intriguing and entertaining. The main character is agent Nelson Tethers, who belongs to an obscure branch of the FBI formally known as the Puzzle Research Division. Our agent receives an important call telling him to go to a mysterious small town in Minnesota, called Scoggins. Immediately after that, Tethers is informed that a factory that produces erasers used by the FBI and he White House has ceased its production, so he needs to go there and solve strange puzzles before there is an important eraser shortage that causes a major disaster. Even if the main story seems plain and simple, it’s really not. Telltale manages to deliver the plot brilliantly and the introduction sets the tone for the rest of the adventure in a really exceptional way.
So, to move on with the story you need to explore and interact with all the locals, most of them are quite “eccentric” and each one has a distinctive accent. Similarly to Sam and Max or even Day of the Tentacle you’ll encounter many different elements, that even though they have nothing in common, they blend in really well. You’ll see a mysterious sect, garden gnomes running around and many bizarre people. As I previously mentioned, to create this immersive world Telltale Games hired Graham Annable, his work provided Puzzle Agent with more charm and personality. The diverse characters and backgrounds have a unique style, as their outlines seem to be drawn with charcoal instead of pencils.
The Audio is also really interesting and memorable, mainly because the voice actors have done an amazing job, as they managed to imprint particularly suiting accents to each of the characters. Additionally, the story is really well written and it mixes many laughable moments with a darker tone, that’s because the superb soundtrack creates an amazing sense of immersion.
Unfortunately, those are all the good features about the game. The gameplay definitely has its moments, but instead of relying on the use of objects, here you are required to solve incredibly difficult logic puzzles. These are pretty much standard, as you need to break codes, solve jigsaw puzzles, align arrows, put images in a correct order and so on. The main problem with this approach is that even when some of the various puzzles are quite challenging and fun to solve, some others are poorly explained. Considering that these logic puzzles represent the core of the game, this is a major problem. At the beginning you’ll probably rely on trial-and-error until you succeed, but when experimenting isn’t an option you can try using one of the many hints provided by the game itself. Agent Nelson believes that chewing gum enhances his concentration, so you need to find bubble gum that is usually splattered in the weirdest places you can imagine. Sometimes these hints are also unclear so you’ll end up combining things mindlessly, as there’s no clear explanation of what you are supposed to do.
The main issue here is that some of the basic instructions can be misleading and confusing, so sometimes even if you know the answer, a minor detail may get in the way preventing you from moving on with the story. As most Telltale games, Puzzle Agent is pretty short. The main adventure is about 3 to 4 hours; depending on how much time it takes you to solve some of the most intricate puzzles. Once you finish the game, it opens up and lets you replay some of the puzzles in the order that you prefer, if you consider that some of these are forgettable and that others have multiple solutions it makes sense to try and solve them once again.
Puzzle Agent has some great elements, but unfortunately some shortcomings prevent it from being much better. The adventure is well written, it sounds good, it has amazing and interesting characters and it looks excellent, but some of the poorly explained puzzles end up being mediocre. Maybe if the hint system worked better or the instructions were less generic and more explanatory this game could have been much more memorable. Even still, take into account that Puzzle Agent is following the episodic format so proper of Telltale, so let’s just hope that most of this problems are addressed in future installments of this great looking puzzle adventure game.