Puzzle Agent Strikes Culty Coen Chord

Puzzle Agent

Lately, I’ve inundated myself with Telltale. Just yesterday, Episode 4 of their Game of Thrones serial downloaded onto my laptop via Steam, so I’ll be reviewing that for AdventureGamers soon. Then, during last week’s Humble Store spring sale, I snatched up both the Back to the Future series as well as their Jurassic Park game (just in time for June’s movie release), both classic adventures with Telltale’s trademark plot-heavy twist that I’ve so far missed out on. And since each only set me back 3 bucks or so, I consider that a great deal. During the sale, I also got my hands on Puzzle Agent 12, completely unaware that they were Telltale games, but rather because I’m a fan of having some mental stimulation with my gaming. Well, scrolling through my new and improved Steam library, which includes 20+ new games after Humble’s sale, Puzzle Agent ended up being the first game I settled in to play. Installed; double-clicked the game icon; saw Telltale’s logo flash on the screen; turns out they’ve had their hands in a few other pies before The Walking Dead ever became a thing.

Going by visuals alone, Puzzle Agent looks like a something Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network might show on Saturday mornings – y’know, if there was still such a thing as Saturday Morning Cartoons. It is a cartoony game, drawn with bold, thick outlines and in an art style reminiscent of an elementary school child. Humans are recognizable by their general human-like features, like eyes, nose, arms, legs, etc. But there’s something very amateurish – and I use the word lovingly – about the art style, where all humans look vaguely alike and skin tone isn’t bothered with; seriously, I half expect the animation to start shaking in that Scribblevision effect from shows like Dr. Katz (remember that one??).

Nelson Tethers is a lovable but underworked office drone, working in (and apparently being the sole member of) the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division, which seems like a very impractical thing for the government to invest money in. (I’ve gotten just far enough in the game to learn that they apparently also have a Gnome Task Force, so go figure.) Anyway, Nelson winds up being assigned to Scoggins, Minnesota, where the factory that produces the White House’s erasers has had some sort of mysterious occurrence. Once there, he goes all about town on his snowmobile, interviewing locals, gathering clues, and – you guessed it – solving puzzles for the citizens he encounters. It’s basically like one of the string of excellent Professor Layton games on the DS and 3DS, if the Professor did a stint in Deadly Premonition (which I can’t wait to get back to someday!).

I haven’t gotten terribly far into the game yet – somewhere between maybe 15-20 puzzles. But I get the feeling that Puzzle Agent is quite a bit shorter than the Layton games I’ve played; judging by the story, which is moving along at a pretty fast clip, I will probably be seeing credits roll before too long. The story, or more precisely the mood and setting, are pulling me back to the game each night (it provides a nice relaxing few moments in bed before sleep). It’s got a pretty heavy Twin Peaks/Fargo vibe, which completely belies its simple, kid-friendly look. Folks in town are gruff northerners, who’d rather growl at Nelson than help his investigation, and the freezing weather is only matched by the frosty stares he’s served when walking into, say, the local diner. The locals are as suspicious of any outsider as they are simply suspicious, and death, murder, and adultery have already made their way into the plot. Not to mention the blood-red creatures that look like living garden gnomes that pop out of hiding here and there and make the woods unsafe at night. What’s the deal with them?!? It all makes for a very pleasant, David Lynch-style small-town mystery, with puzzles thrown in for good measure. I look forward to continuing my investigation in Scoggins soon…and then there’s still the sequel!


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