A great experience, and oh yes, there are puzzles
To put it briefly, Puzzle Agent 2 is a collection of puzzles which are wrapped in a striking, memorable package: the hand-drawn sprites that make up the graphics are uniformly gorgeous in their sketchy, sparse style; the writing is an effective mix of understated creepiness and dry humour with little injections of the purely bizarre played for great effect; and the voice-acting of the characters is fantastic. There are more puzzles than in the first game, and they are more challenging, which is for the best. While I recommend it to everybody, it's not quite perfect: it is still very short, the joining of the gameplay to the story is still a little forced, and the puzzles, which after all are supposed to be the point of the game, are probably the weakest part of the package. While I appreciate how entertaining the wild swings in the story line are, it is by now obvious that there's no deeper narrative at work here, just a series of cute one-offs as they strike the writers' fancy. Nonetheless, Telltale obviously know what the strengths of Puzzle Agent are - the visuals and the writing - and makes use of them very effectively.
After Special Agent Nelson Tethers did what was asked from him in the first game, re-opening the eraser factory in Scoggins, Minnesota, the case was officially closed. Tethers finds this an unpalatable state of affairs, given the enormous amount of loose ends remaining, and returns to Scoggins on his own initiative to find out what really happened to the factory's foreman, Isaac Davner. Last Tethers saw him, Davner was being dragged off by the Hidden People, the red forest gnomes that haunt the snow-laden woods of Scoggins, its folklore, and the paranoid fantasies of its residents. In the first game, the atmosphere was moody and understated, making its impact by very carefully doling out only hints and suggestions, with the occasional moment of quirky comic relief. In this game, however, Telltale have chosen to let loose with the crazy, keeping you off-guard with a series of bizarre events and visuals. In the first game, every time you see one of the gnomes it's genuinely unnerving, as each sighting carries great significance and they are few and far between. In comparison, if you see the gnomes rarely this time it's because they are sharing the stage with a large array of crazy. For intstance, within 10 minurs or so of the start, Tethers is woken up by an astronaut walking into his hotel room at night with a mysterious green light streaming behind him, and a word puzzle flying out of his helmet. The effect is less Twin Peaks, more Treehouse of Horror. This might be prudent - after all, there's only so long you can draw out a mystery - but by the end of this instalment there still is a large amount of loose ends, and the game pointedly doesn't care. The story isn't the focus, obviously, but instead the setting is. A number of familiar characters return, though none of them have such a show-stealing role as Sheriff Bahg did the first time round, the focus now being more on how Tethers himself is becoming more drawn into the lunatic puzzle gnome world. I would have liked it if there was more of a coherent story arc, and, to put it bluntly, I don't see this train getting back on any tracks in the future. But if you're going to turn your story into a series of zany adventures, you're not likely to do it any better than Puzzle Agent 2 does. The astronaut fascination goes to bizarre and amusing lengths, and the new character of Korka Tetirdottir is fantastic, especially the visuals for her and her house.
The puzzles are, well, more of the same, but a little harder. There's more variation, including an interactive sequence which is halfway between a puzzle and a quick-time event (also, the only time-sensitive part of the entire game). The puzzles aren't quite as forced and disconnected from the story as in the first game, but not by much. Really, I recommend you don't pay all too much attention to them: the puzzles aren't where the action is, the presentation is. This is, as in the first instalment, is a wonderful little experience with a game attached. Everybody would do well to give it a look - it'll stick with you long after you've forgotten all about the puzzles.