As much of a feel-good story as it has been to see Telltale find independent success both reviving the moribund format of the classic adventure game and spearheading honest-to-goodness episodic gaming, it's fair to say that the mechanical similarities from one Telltale series to the next has led to a certain amount of adventure fatigue. It's part of what made the original Puzzle Agent, released as part of a pilot program, so refreshing, though it's not the only thing. While inarguably derivative of Level 5's Professor Layton series, the puzzle-first format still felt like a nice change of pace, and the Lynchian-lite story of an unconventional FBI agent investigating potentially supernatural weirdness in quirky small-town Minnesota paired nicely with the textured style of artist Graham Annable's doodles.
A corker of a cliffhanger ending left me hoping the Puzzle Agent story would survive beyond the pilot format, and to this end, Puzzle Agent 2 makes good. Understandably unsatisfied with the conclusion of his last case, an obsessed FBI Puzzle Agent Nelson Tethers defies orders and returns on his own nickel to the secretive hamlet of Scoggins, Minnesota to further investigate the disappearance of the foreman at the local Presidential eraser factory, as well as the nature of the creepy little forest gnomes known locally as the Hidden People.
It picks up the story in a way that makes the original Puzzle Agent required playing to make much sense. Not a particularly big deal, since it was relatively short and immensely enjoyable. Plus, Puzzle Agent 2 expands on the folksy mythology in a number of ways that make the original taste like weak tea, with the weirdness expanding well beyond the confines of Scoggins. Some questions are answered, but those answers lead to even more puzzling questions, and entirely new, equally surreal mysteries are introduced as well. I'm reluctant to go into any particulars here, simply because it's so enjoyable to see it all unfold with fresh eyes.
As much as I enjoyed the continued adventures of Agent Tethers, it's a damn shame that the experience is undermined by weak, repetitive puzzle designs. Beyond chatting with other characters and watching the story unfold, the puzzles represent the bulk of the experience here. Of the 30-odd discrete puzzles contained within, it felt like the majority of the puzzles fell into one of four or five very specific formats.
The bigger issue is that I rarely found the puzzles particularly challenging. The game grades you based on how many attempts you take to successfully solve a puzzle, as well as how many optional hints you indulge in. More often than not, I was solving puzzles on my first try, no hints, A+. The rare exceptions tended to require specific knowledge outside of the game, which, frankly, felt like a cheat. On more than one occasion, I found myself second-guessing a solution because it seemed far too obvious, only to find that my solution was correct. Don't take this as bragging, it's just that the original Puzzle Agent was consistently more successful at stumping me, and that challenge is what makes solving puzzles fundamentally enjoyable. I also felt like the puzzles weren't integrated into the story as elegantly as they were in the original, which took greater care in contextualizing the puzzles.
My experience with Puzzle Agent 2 wasn't a complete wash, and with the way it leaves the story, I hope it doesn't represent the end for the weird world of Nelson Tethers. The $10 price tag and the brief run-time makes it a pretty low-risk proposition, even if it doesn't satisfy the puzzle-solving compulsion as well as it could have.