thewoj's Puzzle Agent (PC) review

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  • 25 out of 26 Giant Bomb users found it helpful.

Layton's Next Apprentice: Nelson Tethers

The first release in Telltale Games' pilot program, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is a game that catches your eye immediately. The art style is unique and sets it apart from the crowd. Seeing the game's ad splashed across the top of the Steam store homepage, it stands out in amongst the ads for things like Battlefield: Bad Company 2 and Prince of Persia: The Forgotten Sands. A goofy looking man, wearing a winter cap, brandishing a revolver alongside a red gnome, against a backdrop of snow, lets you know that this is not your standard mystery. Once diving in to the game, it's not hard to see the puzzle-based adventure game very much in the style of the Professor Layton games dressed up by a plot that is just as much of an old-fashioned mystery as it is a Twin Peaks-esque head-scratcher. Nelson Tethers is the star agent of the United States' Puzzle Research Division, a unit within the Federal Bureau of Investigation. He is chosen to investigate the unexplained shutdown of the Scoggins Eraser Factory - the default supplier for the White House's erasers. Throughout the course of the game, Nelson finds himself following the classic adventure game path of moving through new locations, meeting new people, and obtaining clues that can explain the recent shutdown of the factory. Once he finds out that the factory's doors are closed for reasons far more sinister than he once thought, Nelson has to decide whether he is in over his head, or if this is a puzzle only he can solve. 
 
It's unfortunate then that the puzzles of this game often leave something to be desired. While minor complaints like a lack of information on the menu screen (such as inventory), or relatively large hit boxes on some doorways (a nuisance for Layton fans who are used to clicking everywhere in search of something new), there is one glaring issue that Puzzle Agent has. In a game that takes so much from Layton's handbook, it is disappointing that it does not have the complexity or variety that those puzzles have. Within the three hours it took me to finish the game, I realized I had to play multiple variations on the same puzzle several times. Many of the puzzles were easy as well, with the only challenge often being unclear directions. This lack of variety and clarity ends up being the game's biggest flaw, and it feels like the puzzles were often set aside in favor of developing the story.
 
The story is the real highlight of this game, alongside the wonderful artwork of Graham Annable. Telltale Games are masters of the craft when it comes to the stories in adventure games, and this one spins a yarn that will leave you hanging on by a thread. It is full of great humor and wonderful characters, many of whom are more than meets the eye. Nelson himself has a quick wit and a wry sense of humor that carries him throughout the story as a charming protagonist who is hoping to get his next big break. The voicing on the characters is well done also, and it feels like they are really channeling the northern Midwesterners (Yoopers) for a lot of their inspiration. However, as this is only a pilot release, that means many characters and parts of the story do not get the expansion that they deserve. Being a pilot, this does hold the potential for future releases which build on the world and puzzles this initial outing has set forth. 
 
All things considered, I really enjoyed the time I spent with Puzzle Agent, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who is a fan of puzzles, especially those of the Layton variety. As mentioned before, this is only a pilot game for Telltale's program, so if it is successful, I think we can look forward to seeing more adventures of the affable Nelson Tethers. If nothing else, this game deserves a purchase so that Telltale gets a chance to iterate on the idea and create the adventure that the Puzzle Agent deserves.
7 Comments
Edited by Tiwi

Good review I agree in most of your complaints. Did you also get stuck on the "follow the trail" puzzle?

ALSO: Did you notice the name of the house in the woods,"skogens brorskap"? it's norwegian and means brotherhood of the woods. Also the little gnomes are called "nisse". just wanted to point that out :-P

Posted by RecSpec

Damn, I really need to pick this game up.

Posted by TheWoj
@tiwi: Which puzzle was the "follow the trail" one? If it was one of the snowmobile puzzles, I was never stumped on any of those.
Thanks for the bits of info though!
Posted by Tiwi
@TheWoj: the one where you have to turn the pieces so you don't run into any of the black gnomes
Posted by amlabella

I actually noticed this review yesterday, read up a bit on the game, and ended up purchasing it. Finished it earlier today and really enjoyed it, so I guess I should say thanks. Great review, I pretty much agree on all points. The puzzles and hint system leave something to be desired, but the story and characters were fantastic and justified the $10 price tag for me. Hopefully we see future Puzzle Agent releases because this is certainly a great start. (And this whole pilot program seems like a cool idea on Telltale's part).

Posted by Korne

Its not a Yooper... its a U-per, as in someone from the upper peninsula of Michigan

Edited by TheWoj
@Korne: As someone who lives in Michigan, and just took a vacation to the Upper Peninsula last summer, I can tell you that it is "Yooper", and not only does it apply to people from the UP, but also Northwestern Wisconsin, as they have the same accent. Throughout the region you will find things such as T-shirts that have the word "Yooper" on them. 
 
@amlabella: @RecSpec:
Glad the review helped in your decisions! I'd really like to see where TTG can take this, so its good to hear I can sway even just a few.

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