Telltale Games is ready to show Japanese developer Level 5 just how much they love them with Puzzle Agent, an original 'pilot episode' of what may some day be a full episodic series. The company's latest is a clever, stylish, and satisfying ride. It's certainly not without its share of logic and technical quirks, and a very brief run time takes away from the package. That shouldn't stop adventure and puzzle game fans from checking out this quirky little game, though.
Nelson Tethers works for the FBI's Puzzle Investigation division, and his latest case is a doozy. He must travel to the small town of Scoggins, Minnesota, and find out why the eraser factory there has stopped producing. Scoggins is the official supplier of erasers to the White House, you see, and a lot of mistakes need undoing there. The tension is thick as Tethers arrives in town to find guarded townsfolk, a bizarre contraption locking the eraser factory, and lots of creepy little gnomes, to name just a few oddities.
The game's basic structure works almost identically to Level 5's Professor Layton series. There's a more or less static background, and you can click on items to pick them up, or on people to chat. Dialogue almost always leads to some sort of puzzle you'll need to solve to move forward. Like Layton, Puzzle Agent will give you text instructions that offer you a problem you must solve, sometimes followed by a set of rules. For example, you must draw a line between several football players to complete a passing play. However, there are also panes of glass between players. Can you complete the pass while having the ball make contact with each glass pane and player only once? Other puzzles have you navigating the forest on your snowmobile, twisting tiles to make shapes in a sea of tapeworms, and all other sorts of bizarre scenarios. When the puzzles succeed, they're very satisfying, and having almost all of them tied into the story keeps plot events moving along nicely.
Puzzle Agent uses Graham Annable's excellent 'grickle' art style, and the results are terrific. From the first scene to the last, this is a great looking game. Everything has a sketched look to it, the thick outlines around all the objects looking more like crayon markings than neat, inked encapsulations. Graphical glitches and weird blue tears cropped up on my (Steam) copy of the game, but it wasn't nearly prominent enough to dampen the effect of the art. The characters, setting, and mood of the game is perfectly in sync with the graphics.
Unfortunately, this game has its share of problems as well. Puzzle instructions can often be a bit on the nebulous side, leaving you to figure out a solution to a problem you may not even understand. Most of the time, the information you're given is complete enough for you to fill in the gaps. Other times, though, I found the introductory text totally incomprehensible, leading to one of this genre's biggest frustrations; blind guesses. It's also quite short – I finished the game in under two hours. There's a few extracurricular puzzles and the like to seek out, but I can't see this adding much value to what is a fairly thin offering.
In spite of everything working against it, though, Puzzle Agent turns out to be a fun, weird puzzle game that Telltale and Layton fans alike should check out. You may finish it the day you start it, but there's some good gameplay and excellent artwork to make an impression on you here. For ten bucks, the right audience should find it worthwhile.