Over the last several years, the team at Telltale Games have become big names in episodic adventure game content. The revitalized Sam & Max franchise (three seasons’ worth), the Strong Bad series, and the revived Tales of Monkey Island have all received much acclaim from gamers across multiple platforms. Recently, Telltale introduced a “Telltale Pilot” program; in keeping with the TV studio-like theme, this program will introduce one-shot games in the hopes of finding the next Telltale series. Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is the first such “pilot”.
Borrowing heavily from the Professor Layton playbook, Puzzle Agent is a series of logic games, puzzles, and other mental distractions strung together by a wacky adventure starring the titular Agent Tethers, of the FBI’s Puzzle Investigations division. Yes, he is its sole member, and it would be lonely in his office if he weren’t so obsessed with puzzles that he doesn’t even really notice. Agent Tethers is called out on a field assignment to Scoggins, MN, home of the eraser factory that supplies the White House with its rubber correction devices. Production has shut down for some reason and it’s Nelson’s job to get things running again. Scoggins is a strange place where the inhabitants are all obsessed with puzzles, making Agent Tethers the ideal man for the job.
There are approximately 40 puzzles in this pilot, which should take (much) less than eight hours to work through if you’re the kind of person who likes this type of thing; I burned through them all in the space of an afternoon. Each puzzle has three hints available, but in order to access a hint you need some gum (it helps Nelson think), which you can find around town. Once you correctly solve the puzzle, you are graded based on how many hints you used and how many incorrect guesses you made before finally getting it; wrong answers are penalized much harsher than using hints, so don’t be afraid to ask for help if you think you need it. After solving a puzzle it is placed in your case file where you can review it whenever you like, as well as accessing all of its hints, but you can’t change your score.
The puzzles themselves may be the main attraction, but just like with the Layton series the characters and story surrounding them are what makes the game entertaining. Scoggins has a population in the low 700s, but you’ll only encounter about a dozen. The animation is done in a pencil sketch style based on indie cartoonist Graham Annable’s Grickle comics, and the solid voice acting is subtitled with word balloons.
Where Puzzle Agent is only a pilot episode, it’s not quite a full game. It felt like it ended too early — and in the case of my review copy, without any credits or actual ending; I’m not sure if that was intentional, given the peculiar nature of Nelson’s occupation. The Professor Layton games have around four times as many puzzles (each), which also allows for greater variety than the 40ish in Puzzle Agent; even with the overall low number of puzzles in Puzzle Agent, several are harder iterations on the same theme (again, just like with Layton) and their difficulty varies wildly. You will definitely need some scratch paper for a few of them, while others are borderline childish (the jigsaw-type puzzles in particular). But for only $10 it’s a solid enough offering for puzzle junkies (especially those without a DS), and clearly there is a deep well of potential content available for any series that might come from this pilot.
Plays like: the Professor Layton DS games
Pros: Brings Layton-style games to gamers without a DS
Cons: Only around 40 puzzles, several of which are repetitive.