Puzzle Agent, your tax dollars at work.

It was great to hear about Tell Tale Games’ latest release, Puzzle Agent for a few reasons.  I’ve enjoyed their work in the past, specifically their Wallace and Gromit games .  Also, except for Maniac Mansion and Day of the Tentacle, I never really played Lucas Arts adventure games.  I’ve been making my way through the original Monkey Island and Sam and Max games so that I can play Tell Tale’s contributions to the series – I hear they’re fantastic.

I’ve seen criticism leveled at Tell Tale that they only produce games based off of existing properties or other licenses that aren’t their own, like the aforementioned Wallace and Gromit.  The disparagement bugs me as it’s rather unfair.  Who cares as long as the games do a good job representing the license and most importantly, are good games?  The original Monkey Island games are considered canon among adventure gamers and attempting to continue the series could have easily earned Tell Tale denunciation from the gaming community.  I mostly bring the point up as a prominent blogger/indie developer’s Twitter comments leveling such accusations were annoying me; the last straw earning an “un-follow”. 

Returning to my original point, it was nice to hear that Tell Tale was releasing a game that hopefully would start a new series of their own.  I ordered Puzzle Agent and after a few minutes of playing realized that it would be a good game for my girlfriend Liz and I to play together. 

Puzzle Agent stars Nelson Tethers, an agent from the FBI’s Department of Puzzle Research.  After sleepily spending an afternoon in his office he is rudely awakened and tasked with investigating the shutdown of an eraser factory in Scoggins Minnesota. Heading out to the snow-bound town he is soon embroiled in a strange mystery fueled by the town’s residents and their Scandinavian heritage.

As you may expect, Puzzle Agent’s game play heavily features puzzles and riddles as Nelson conducts his investigation.  Essentially the game’s plot is built around these obstacles that aren’t always directly related to the story; basically the story is a delivery method for the puzzles.

The puzzles in Puzzle Agent range from kinda lame to enjoyably difficult.  My personal favorite being the logic riddles.  My least favorite are the “puzzles” where you’re fitting pieces together.  I actually really enjoy physical puzzles but this game implements them in a fashion that’s a bit insulting; when you’ve placed pieces together successfully the game lets you know by locking them together.  This mechanic takes away the need to actually think about piece placement – you just move pieces around until they lock, even doing so accidentally.  There’s a system in Puzzle Agent where you collect ABC (already been chewed) gum which can be applied to getting hints if you’re stuck on a puzzle.  My suggestion would be to apply the locking puzzle piece mechanism only if you use a bunch of hints and clearly are having problems.

The hint system itself also could use some work.  There was really only one puzzle Liz and I got seriously stuck on and the hints were utterly useless.  By the time we had used our fifth hint the game should have been more direct in getting us to the answer.

The story in Puzzle Agent is a lot of fun.  The residents of Scoggins and their Scandinavian traditions create a rich atmosphere that brings depth to a game that is otherwise just a bunch of brain-teasers.  I absolutely love the evil gnomes who are slowly revealed to be behind the disappearance of the missing factory foreman.  It’s great when they enter a scene–the shot cuts back and forth, wordlessly, between Nelson and the glowering gnome; it slays me every time.

The voice acting in the game is top-notch and matches the character represented perfectly – from Bjorn the old cultist who is always hanging around, to nosy sheriff Bahg who aims to keep the town quiet and uneventful.  Graham Annable’s art style embodies the town of Scoggins and its people very well – nothing felt out of place.

Unfortunately, as the plot gets crazier and crazier, Puzzle Agent ends on a cliff-hanger with little explanation.  I guess I can’t blame Tell Tale as they’re trying to build a series and ending the game in such a manner means that I’ll have to buy the next one to find out what happens. 

Except for some occasional hiccups Puzzle Agent is a well made game that was fun to play.  I’d like to see the next one beef up its puzzles a little, adjusting its hint system to compensate.  For its low retail price Puzzle Agent was well worth the purchase.

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