Puzzle Agent review
Something strange is going on in the town of Scoggins, Minnesota. As Nelson Tethers, the one and only agent in the FBI's Division of Puzzle Research, it's your job to investigate the mysterious circumstances surrounding the closure of the town's eraser factory and the populace's sudden puzzle obsession.
Best described as "Fargo meets Twin Peaks," Puzzle Agent is an experiment, the first title in Telltale Games' Pilot Program. The program is designed to foster innovation and creativity in the gaming market by testing out titles that are a little offbeat and run the risk of not being embraced by mainstream consumers. Successful pilots can then go on to become part of the developers stable of episodic games, such as Sam & Max and Tales of Monkey Island.
One would wonder why Telltale Games felt it had to take a chance on Puzzle Agent, though, since the gaming public has already embraced it. Basically, it's Professor Layton. Anyone who has ever spent a little quality time with the professor will feel right at home in Agent Tether's shoes. Puzzle Agent is part point-and-click adventure, part brain teaser. By wandering around Scoggins and chatting it up with the townsfolk, you undercover various puzzles to solve. Each one is presented as a FBI case file in a manila folder. Difficulty ranges from simple to head-scratchingly hard but even the most challenging puzzles in the game can still be overcome with a little persistence and liberal amounts of chewing gum, which Tethers finds stuck to buildings and furniture around town (yuck!) and uses to "buy" hints. For the most part, Puzzle Agent's brain teasers are enjoyable and charmingly quirky. One will have you trying to find a rubber band in a man's tapeworm-ridden stomach, while another will have you figuring out which gnome statue was stolen from a display case. Another will have you judging a ladies arm-wrestling contest based on eyewitness reports. Some of the game's puzzles can be fairly repetitious, though, which is perhaps its biggest weakness. One of the earliest puzzles, which has you navigating Tethers on a snowmobile around obstacles to reach a certain destination, is repeated a few times. Another one involving trapping bugs in boxes is repeated twice, and in a way that neither enhances nor furthers the storyline. Successfully completing a puzzle earns you a star rating based on the number of wrong answers given and number of hints used, though no discernible punishment or reward makes the rating system seem inconsequential.
Flaws in the gameplay, however, can be somewhat forgiven once you're immersed in the game's creepy atmosphere, visual style and storytelling. Grickle cartoonist Graham Annable is responsible for bringing the town of Scoggins and its residents to life through a simplistic art style that looks like it came straight from the funny pages, and is quite unlike anything else out there on the games market. But it works, especially when combined with Telltale Games' usual knack for humor and some surprisingly startling moments involving mysterious red gnomes. The storyline is intriguing enough to make you want to play to the end, although some might feel that the ending is a bit lacking. Like an episode of Twin Peaks, Puzzle Agent will leave you with more questions than answers. Despite its flaws, Puzzle Agent is certainly worth the price of admission ($9.95) if you're the type of person who is into puzzles and who likes a bit of dry humor, unsettling atmosphere and the occasional jump. The fact that it's a "pilot" leaves hope that future installments of the series can address the few issues it has, and make it a worthy addition to Telltale Games' roster of titles.