Whatcha gonna do when…a puzzle agent comes for you…?
Although I am completely infatuated with the waves of adventure-puzzle quest games like Professor Layton that have cropped up in recent years, I am myself puzzled as to why the world of video games has altered from sorting out problems with heavy arms warfare to encountering bizarre innocent civilians who will hide desperately needed clues that can easily be found on GameFAQS. Enter Nelson Tethers:Puzzle Agent, a man who’s based his entire career in investigating such peculiarities…and doesn’t seem to have been busy in recent months.
Harboured in the dankest basement of the FBI lies the ‘Puzzle Research Division’, an intriguing branch of the federal government which hasn’t seen much action…ever. Nelson Tether’s usual afternoon nap is however interrupted by, low and behold, a case! With the White Houses’ supply of pencil erasers dwindling dry due to the mysterious closure of the eraser factory in the mysterious Scoggins, Tethers is sent to investigate. Sending in the lone agent of the puzzle department seems like a bad move, but when the locales seem to have a crazy fixation on the brainteasers they believe are being whispered into their ears, he seems like the best choice, despite his amateur discipline and constant blank stare.
The principle of the the game follows the standard Professor Layton formula of scouting areas of quizzes, ranging from jigsaw puzzles to standard logic and maths conundrums. There’s a very good mix for puzzle fanatics to get stuck into, and can keep you coming back for hidden quizzes just due to how addictive they are. Other subtle hints of charm make their way in to separate the Tethers from the Laytons. Tethers has to collect gum if he want clues to problems, seeing as anygum, even if it’s stuck under the table proves to be his vice. Sending off a guess for an answer costs thousands in tax dollars, creating some sort of bizarre anti-scoring system where fewer guesses will cost the public less money. It’s little touches like this which manage to give Nelson Tethers flickers of identity under its clearly defining aesthetic.
If Telltale are willing to beef this series up with a full episodic season, then I’d be right on board
Though it’s not a visual spectacular, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is awesome in its sketchy design. Animated by the infamous Grickle artist Graham Annable, the title holds its own in the graphical departments just as much as it’s more visually delightful counterparts. The characters look like polished doodles scrawled during a boring phone call, the hard pencil outlines making no effort to spruce itself up to respectable standards. Yet the scrawblings accompany the dry humour perfectly, and despite its ineffective efforts to wow your eyes, it certainly charms your funny bone.
Although the plot starts off with wry wit and a silly spring to its step, it evolves into a bizarre and complex mystery which delves into the villages’ incredibly peculiar Nordic mythology. Retaining its humour throughout, Puzzle Agent plays its cards very close to its chest to keep you puzzling with its combinations of the funnies and the eeriees. Trust me, no game has ever been able to make a garden gnome more sinister than this one…seriously.
It’s this bizarre plot and funny etchings which, although give it strength to stand alone as a franchise, also offers subtle jabs and the games it’s mirroring so well. The low quality production values are done so well, it just makes it funnier to behold. The sketchy animation would seem poor at a glance, but just adds to that underdog feeling of Nelson’s quest. Some of the voice actors for the citizens could’ve done a better job with the script before them and the bizarre accents they all seem to be trying to copy from one another, but their weird inflections and unusual dialects just add to the strangeness of the town of Scoggins.
Unfortunately, although the puzzles gradually become more difficult over time, it seems Nelson’s lack of confidence translates to the games length. My addiction that Puzzle Agent brought out so well in me proved to be the game’s downfall, and although the game is nicely rounded off narratively, I was blitzing the entire investigation in only a matter of hours. This ‘Pilot’ episode of sorts felt like it was something of a taster, a trial to dangle above gamers noses to see if they’re willing to bite, and if Telltale are willing to beef this series up with a full episodic season, then I’d be right on board.
If you’re a large or small fan of adventure-puzzle games, but the gorgeous aesthetic and creatively genius titles on the market are getting more prettier than brainier for your tastes, Nelson Tethers:Puzzle Agent is certainly right up your alley. Its fiendish puzzles, underdog charm and hilarious dry humour all make for a brilliantly enjoyable, if slightly underwhelming few hours. A brilliant title for beginners and veterans of puzzles alike, Nelson Tethers:Puzzle Agent is certainly a game worth testing the waters with, in hopes a full blown franchise could come out of it.
The Bad: Feels very short, Difficulty curve sometimes dips causing some easy puzzles to crop up half way through