Puzzle Agent Review
There are plenty of puzzle gems on the PlayStation Network; they’re all relatively cheap and often quite distinctive and challenging. I’ve really enjoyed many of those experiences and Puzzle Agent ranks among those titles that are original, refreshing, and genuinely humorous. It’s unfortunate that a clunky control interface cuts down on the fun factor, and can even impact the solvability of certain puzzles, but it’s still worth playnig. The game’s old-fashioned cartoon style is surprisingly appealing, the writing isn’t great but can be quite comical, and there’s a good variety of puzzles to tackle and complete. Also, if you really want the highest reating possible, you can always go back and solve them faster.
Like I said, Puzzle Agent features an interesting visual palette; it’s very similar to older cartoons you might find on the Cartoon Network. The drawing is purposely childish and the animations are minimal yet effective. The different areas you will visit are simple yet clean, and the puzzle design is more than competent. It really is devoid of any bells and whistles (and that’s the point, of course) but after a time, it starts to grow a little tiring. And as you can’t explore the environment, you’re always limited to what Telltale puts directly in front of you, so you have no opportunity to really indulge in the backdrops. That being said, the focus remains firmly on puzzles so the graphics are hardly a crucial element.
The sound is in much the same boat, just because it too relies on an understated presentation. There are virtually no special effects and what we do hear is minimal. However, this only solidifies the overarching theme and I found the audio to be quite pleasant; the voiceovers can even be a highlight, especially during comedic sequences. The sound can get a little muddled here and there and not all the voice actors are equally capable. And yeah, the almost total lack of a soundtrack is a drawback, even if we don’t necessarily require heavy rock tracks to accompany our puzzle-solving. But the audio remains decent throughout and that’s a definite plus.
As you might’ve guessed, this game is all about puzzles. Behind that lies a strange and funny story about an agent who works for an obscure branch of the FBI. Yep, that branch solves puzzles and as far as we can tell, Agent Nelson Tethers is a one-man operation. He is sent to the small Minnesota town of Scoggins, where something is happening at the local eraser company. By the way, it’s the same company that provides the White House with all their erasers. Agent Tethers will meet all sorts of kooky characters along the way and realistically, some of them have that easily recognizable Minnesotan accent. For a frame of reference, watch "Fargo."
Anyway, the puzzles you encounter can range widely. For instance, when you first arrive in Scoggins, you have to work your way to the inn via snowmobile. On a mini-map, you must place logs so Agent Tethers can bounce along in the right direction; the goal is to pass both traffic lights as described by a citizen. Then there are puzzles that test your visual acuity and other problem-solving abilities, and the pacing is just about right. You’ll get some puzzles straight away while others will stump you. If you’re a little confused, you can always spend a piece of bubble gum and get a hint. Yes, gum lets you think better.
Now, the problems are obvious; it doesn’t take a critic to spot them immediately. First off, the control interface just doesn’t translate well to a gamepad, as it can often be difficult to select the correct puzzle piece and overall, it’s just plain cumbersome. It’s not so bad for certain challenges but it can get immensely irritating at times. Secondly, some of the puzzles just seem a tad too obscure. The imagination and creativity behind most all the challenges is impressive and one always wants to solve the next puzzle, but occasionally, the difficulty will spike. When this happens, you tend to use up a lot of hints, especially because the first hints aren’t all that helpful.
It’s the control that brings this one down. Telltale would’ve been well advised to simply let us move a little hand around with the left analog stick; it’s merely emulating a mouse, of course, but it would’ve been more functional. Also, it can be a little tricky to select parts of the environment due to this wonky control. The good news is that you spend the majority of your time concentrating on new and even tantalizing puzzles, so you don’t have to waste too much time with the drawbacks. You just have to ignore them and focus on the task at hand. If you do this, the game becomes pretty entertaining and will definitely tax your problem-solving skills.
Puzzle Agent is a decent puzzler that is humorous, relatively well written and presented, and plenty challenging. The spiking difficulty due to puzzles that simply seem bizarre and obscure can stop you in your tracks but hey, isn’t that a common trait of the genre? It’s the clunky control that might annoy you, and in some situations, it really becomes a crutch. I’m a little late on this review but I always wanted to take a look, and besides, it gives us a decent idea of what to expect from Puzzle Agent 2. I’ll try to get to that one, too, if I have time.
The Good: Unique, comical style and presentation. Decent writing and humor. Creative and original puzzles. Can be addictive.
The Bad: Some puzzles feel odd and obscure. Clunky, sometimes irritating control interface.
The Ugly: "Okay...trying to select the piece I want is getting frustrating."
7/4/2011 Ben Dutka