Recently, Telltale Games released Puzzle Agent. While the name sounds relatively simple and safe, don’t let it fool you. This game was absolutely insane.
Based on a series of books put out by Grickle creator Graham Annable, some of his other work includes collaborations with George Lucas, Chuck Jones, Nickelodeon, and most recently he worked as a storyboard artist for the Tim Burton movie, Coraline.
Upon first glance, Puzzle Agent seems like it’s going to be a normal game about a man named Nelson Tethers who works for the FBI as an Agent for the Department of Puzzle Research. While the bit about Nelson’s career is true, Puzzle Agent is anything but normal.
It all starts out one day when, at his desk, incredibly bored, he ends up falling asleep. All of a sudden, a strange shadow casts over his desk, and when Nelson looks up, there is an person wearing a space suit, staring at him. After it writes something on the newspaper Nelson was previously reading, the helmet on the space suit starts to open. As it gets half way, Nelson beings to emit this blood curdling scream, but then he awakens from what appears to be a terrible nightmare.
The first puzzle you put together is the newspaper Nelson ripped up upon waking from his nightmare. Once it is completed, the word Scoggins is written in red across the page. Not knowing what it means, Nelson dismisses it until he receives a phone call from the Agency telling him that he needs to check out an incident at an eraser factor in, wait for it….Scoggins, Minnesota.
Once Nelson arrives, he encounters a crazy old man named Bjorn. The banter between Nelson and Bjorn was really funny, and I liked the sense of twisted, sarcastic humor that was given to Bjorn. Your main task in Scoggins is to figure out what happened at the eraser factory and get it working again. By talking to some of the local townspeople, trying to get some assistance from the ridiculously useless local Sheriff, and by doing some investigations, Nelson quickly realizes that things aren’t what they seem.
Without giving too much away, I met people who that talked about the whispers in their head, somebody attempted to kill me by sending me to an icy grave, I stumbled upon some crazy cult that worshiped Gnomes, and I actually saw the creepy Gnomes. Now, these aren’t your typical cute garden Gnomes. These aren’t like the ones from South Park that were stealing underwear, nor are these like the ones in those travel ads. Imagine a combination between the evil guard Gnomes from Invader Zim, and little red devils.
The game itself is delightfully demented, eerie, slightly sinister, and really out there. The town of Scoggins reminded me of the movie Fargo, and the art style complimented everything perfectly. The entire time I kept thinking about that popular Flash series, Salad Fingers. Although the artists are two completely different people, because of my love for Salad Fingers, it was easy to love the style used in Puzzle Agent. I liked how the game wasn’t pretty or polished, and how the edges were gritty and messy. All of that helped create this twisted world where you have absolutely no idea what is going on.
Another thing that aided that was the soundtrack. It got suspenseful when it needed to, it was relaxing when you were doing puzzles, and I loved how, when doing some “very serious” investigating, Nelsons thoughts were accompanied by some retro gumshoe-style tunes. My favorite “song” was the one that played whenever I’d do the Darrel and Daryl bug puzzles. It had this Radiohead-esque feel to it, so on those, I took my time so I could sit back and enjoy.
The puzzles themselves were well thought out, fun, and challenging. Some were as simple as arranging things together and making it all fit. Some were a little more cerebral, but just as enjoyable. For Nelson to concentrate, he uses gum, but since there is a shortage of it in the town, you need to find pieces of it stuck to various objects like walls, doors, the road, and more. The gum is used for hints, should you get stuck in a puzzle, but even then you can only get 3 hints per puzzle. Sadly, I used an embarrassing 45 pieces of gum throughout the entire game, and after I’d get the hints, the little light bulb went off over my head, making me feel like a complete dufus.
One puzzle that made me feel incredibly stupid was the one inside the hotel. Upon checking in, the owner of the hotel tells you that the night clerk wrote down your room number in a code. The code consisted of some lines on paper, and while I won’t give you the answer, I will tell you this: don’t think too hard. I was trying to think of a special code, a language, a pattern…really analyzing it as if my life depended on it. Just think simple, and read between the lines.
When you think you’ve figured a puzzle out, you hit submit and it calculates the amount of taxpayer dollars you’ve spent. If you’ve gotten it right, your submission will be accepted. If not, you are denied and have to try again. When you do finish, you are given an ‘Agent Performance Evaluation’ that tallies up how many hints you used, how many wrong answers you got, and then you are given a score. One thing that stood out to me was, when you are on the ‘Agent Performance Evaluation’ page, there is a large icon in the upper right corner that says “HOW”. By clicking on that, you are given this lovely summary of how the puzzle works and how to get to the solution. For those who aren’t too puzzle savvy, this is great. If anything, it can help encourage more logical thinking, and the player might learn a thing or two.
Once you complete the game, there are the end credits which are brief, and puzzle free play is unlocked, should you want to go through some of the puzzles again. At the end, I saw that I cost taxpayers $6,807,868.16. What can I say? I’m an expensive gal!
I honestly hope there is a sequel to Puzzle Agent because it was a delight to play. With the way the game ended, I have a gut feeling we haven’t even seen the beginning of Nelson’s escapades, and I want to see more of those freakish Gnomes.
Puzzle Agent is available for either PC or Mac, and can be purchased for only $9.95. If you’re skeptical that you won’t like it, then download the demo and give it a go. I promise you won’t be disappointed.