Indie Game of the Week 197: Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise

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Mento

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I pencilled this playthrough in about a month ago, and since then two things have happened: the death of Sir Sean Connery, the original (movie) James Bond, and the news that IO Interactive of Hitman fame are working on a game adaptation of that same spy franchise. It's in both auspicious and inauspicious circumstances that I decided to boot up Yak & Co.'s superspy parody adventure game Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise, in this case for the Nintendo Switch. The choice of platform turned out to be an interesting one, if not necessarily the best one: as a game that uses the touchscreen medium on other systems, notably iOS and Android, it's one of the few games I've found to take advantage of the undocked Switch's touchscreen (there's also a cursor option, if you prefer to keep the system snug in its little cradle). This lead to a few user interface problems I'll discuss in more detail a little later.

Agent A: A Puzzle in Disguise is what it sounds like: a point-and-click adventure game wrapped in a spy thriller façade. Specifically, it's one of those first-person adventure games that usually have a whole bunch of hidden object puzzles, ubiquitous on Steam and other digital platforms as the HOPA genre (and I've plenty of experience with those). Agent A lacks the hidden object scenes but has everything else: the Layton-style puzzles that might involve sliding blocks or spinning dials; codes and numbers to memorize (unless you have a notepad handy, virtual or otherwise); inventory puzzles that often focus around collecting a whole bunch of the same object to open one extremely secure receptacle somewhere else; and an unfortunate habit of concealing necessary areas through obfuscation, like putting something on the side of a building or edifice and hoping players know to click the side of said structures to pan the camera around to find it. The last of those makes the game's pacing a little uneven as a result, and the puzzles aren't really challenging but for that added wrinkle.

The game's art direction not only looks good, but the slightly minimalist style makes inventory items stick out all the more. Agent A doesn't require a whole lot of pixel hunting.
The game's art direction not only looks good, but the slightly minimalist style makes inventory items stick out all the more. Agent A doesn't require a whole lot of pixel hunting.

On the plus side, the game looks great, with an expressive angled Saul Bass-ian style to its environments that does a lot of the heavy lifting with regards to establishing the game's '60s-'70s superspy personality. Imagine the vibe of No One Lives Forever in a more cartoon style and you have the idea (other aesthetic comparisons that come to mind include that Marvelous Miss Take art thief game from a little while back, or Invisible, Inc. to an extent). The protagonist's inner-monologue when looking at objects or when providing running commentary on current events is ridiculous, and I'm not sure if the intent was to make a game a full comedy or if it's just hard to write adventure protagonist dialogue that isn't innately corny given everyone's fondness for the genre's screwball Sierra/LucasFilm roots. I didn't mind the script's direction either way though it had its share of whiffs, and that's coming from someone who regularly makes terrible goofs in Giant Bomb chat.

When the touchscreen interface is working, it's perfectly fine. I didn't even have too much trouble with some of the password input screens, even though they often put characters too close together in the in-game keyboards to be all that touchscreen friendly. One issue that kept cropping up was the uncommon decision - at least in my experience, though I don't play too many games on phones or tablets - to make it so pressing two fingers on the screen will cause you to backtrack to the previous screen, typically the one direction you can't access otherwise (because, in the first person view, it's behind you). All too often the game must've interpreted my meaty digits as two fingers combined like that one "special dialling wand" joke from The Simpsons, because unless I was tapping the screen gently I'd find myself reversing course while trying to access a panel or some such. It happened just often enough to be irritating, though not often enough that it made the game unplayable. I've not read any serious literature about the technical shortcomings of the Switch touchscreen - I imagine it's been downplayed this generation for a reason - so I can't say if it's a failing of the software or the hardware. Either way, a mouse or a touchscreen more suited for that purpose might be recommended; I'd argue perhaps a tablet over a smartphone though, as there's a lot of detail that might be easily missed on a smaller screen.

Honestly have no idea what's going on with the dialogue half the time. You're meant to be a suave superspy, but you sure don't ever sound like one.
Honestly have no idea what's going on with the dialogue half the time. You're meant to be a suave superspy, but you sure don't ever sound like one.

Overall, I had a fine enough time with Agent A and would be happy to play any sequels, like the one it hints towards in a post-game teaser. There are puzzle adventure games just like it all over Steam, as previously stated, though few have Agent A's sense of style and I appreciated how intricate some of the puzzle rooms were - close but not quite to the level of the Victorian clockwork precision of Fireproof's The Room series - and I think its broader Get Smart comic personality is also ultimately a step up, if only for distinguishing the game from the crowd. (Now, if only these guys were given the Archer license and a few of that show's writers...)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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beard_of_zeus

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Oh, hey I picked this up on the Switch earlier this year for like 3 bucks. I basically agree with your writeup, I found it pleasant, with a great art style, and better/more interesting puzzles in general than I expected. I definitely found the dialogue as nonsensical as you mentioned as well.

I just played with the Joycons, so didn't run into any of the touchscreen issues you mentioned.

...like putting something on the side of a building or edifice and hoping players know to click the side of said structures to pan the camera around to find it.

This definitely got me stuck most often in this game. There's a bit near the end where you take a boat to that lighthouse and I totally did not realize you could go around the backside of it. I think that was the one time I had to consult a walkthrough, haha.

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whitegreyblack

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I played this one on Steam earlier this year and thought it was super stylish and just fun enough to keep me pretty happy throughout the experience.

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