Puzzle Agent Review – Nelson Tethers And The Curious Town

I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d probably have more fun playing Puzzle Agent on the PC or iPad instead

Over the past year, the folks at Telltale games have been aggressively expanding their portfolio by both creating brand new IPs and picking up existing movie/tv show licences which many gamers are fond of. As a fan of story-driven puzzle games, I’ve been incredibly eager to sample the Professor Layton inspired Puzzle Agent, which was originally released for the PC back in June 2010. Due to my phobia of playing games with a keyboard and mouse I have been patiently waiting all year for Telltale to bring Puzzle Agent to a home console.

But was this PS3 port worth the wait?

In a word, “No” but that’s not because Puzzle Agent isn’t a great little game.

The problem is… as much as I enjoyed my time with puzzle solving extraordinaire Nelson Tethers, I couldn’t shake the feeling that I’d probably have more fun playing Puzzle Agent on the PC or iPad instead. The PS3 version of the game is riddled with several interface issues which makes interacting with NPC’s or navigating from one area to another more difficult than it should be. For that reason I’d encourage most games to opt for the PC version but if you’d rather play from the comfort of your couch then the Playstation Network release is still a neat alternative.

On the surface, Puzzle Agent is simply Professor Layton with a unique, pencil-drawn art style. In lieu of Layton, here you adopt the role of Agent Nelson Tether (of the FBI’s Puzzle Research division) who quickly finds himself wrapped up in a perplexing case which requires his expert analysis. While Layton spends most of his time dealing with fantastical elements such as time travel and black magic, poor old Tethers is initially sent to investigate the sudden closure of an eraser factory with supplies erasers to the White House. His investigation takes him to the mysterious town of Scoogins, located in snowy Minnesota where it quickly becomes apparent that something far more sinister is going on.

As Agent Tethers, you’ll spend the majority of the game coaxing information from the locals by freeing their minds of puzzles which are currently troubling them. The game features 30 puzzles in total however a few of these are simply minor variants of puzzles which you have already encountered. While that may seem like a huge problem, the game offers more than enough tile rotation dilemmas, advanced math problems and good old fashion logic puzzles to justify its $10 price tag. After solving each puzzle your performance is ranked on a 10-star scale with factors such as the amount incorrect answers you submitted and the number of hints you used (if any) both taken in to account.

Upon completing the game I was a little disappointed by the lack of creativity expressed by Telltale’s puzzle designers, as not many of the puzzles offer a satisfying challenge. As games like Portal and Braid demonstrate, nothing beats the ego-trip you receive when you think outside of the box to finally solve a seemingly impossible task. Unfortunately moments like that came few and far between in Puzzle Agent and the uneven difficulty curve proved to be incredibly frustrating at times.

On a brighter note, where Puzzle Agent does excel is in the graphics and story department. Telltale enlisted animator Graham Annable to craft the game’s unique visuals and the result is sheer brilliance! Those familiar with Annable’s work will instantly recognize the source of Puzzle Agent’s distinctive look and deliberately halted animation but the rest of us will simply enjoy it for what it is. I was also a fan of the games kooky storyline and assemble of oddball characters who kept the game exciting even when the puzzles themselves didn’t.

Overall, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is a great title but some unimaginative puzzle designs and frequent interface issues prevent it from being an essential PSN Store purchase. Those who enjoy Telltales quirky sense of humor will most likely fall for Puzzle Agent’s charm and for fans of the Professor Layton games this is certainly the next logical step. Ultimately I’d recommend the PC version over this PSN release (especially since it’s currently available for free if you purchase Puzzle Agent 2) but if PS3 is your only option you could certainly do a lot worse!

This review was based on a retail copy of the game for the PS3.

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