Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent cribs quite liberally from Professor Layton, and relies heavily on its art style, but it’s still my favourite of Telltale’s episodic games to date.
— Obviously the most noticeable thing about Puzzle Agent is its offbeat, crayon-drawn art style. What’s interesting here is that the game relies on stop-motion like animations reminiscent of old, low-budget cartoons. The effect is actually quite good and and the choppy movements are consistently utilized even when smooth animations could have easily replaced them (e.g., a snowmobile driving in a straight line).
The system made me wonder if other art styles not conducive to animation could successfully adopt a similar approach.
— Aside from the visual style itself, PA is a very atmospheric title in the vein of the old LucasArts adventure games. The characters are bizarre and expressive, the Fargo-esque setting is unique (at least for a videogame), and the great music and voice acting enrich the overall experience.
— PA was clearly designed with the iPhone/iPad in mind. The player never walks his avatar around the screen, and clicking most places sends out a helper-shockwave. As this shockwave expands, it highlights any points of interest that can be clicked on to initiate conversations, puzzles, scene transitions, etc.
— The actual puzzles in PA are a bit of a letdown. This is due to two main reasons: lack of instructions, and the inability to jot down notes in-game.
A lot of the puzzles are quite obtuse, sometimes to the point where a hint needs to be purchased just to figure out what the game wants the player to do. Unfortunately this seems like a concession to the game’s hint system (all puzzles must contain 3 individual hints) as some cases actually contains an additional screen that explains the controls and the goals of the minigame.
The secondary complaint deals with the nature of the puzzles themselves. Many of them are common math/logic problems that are meant to be solved in a series of steps. However, the player is often forced to visualize and work through them without any in-game aids. This artificially inflates their difficulty, especially when compared to the visual jigsaw puzzles.
These points certainly don’t ruin the game, but do I hope the various minigames are improved in future episodes.
– Many puzzles are completely optional and make exploring the world feel more like a non-linear, interactive experience.
– The actual hint system is quite clever. The game starts off with the protagonist trying to solve a crossword, and, having some problems with it, eventually reaching over for some gum to help him concentrate. As we soon learn, the town he visits is experiencing a gum shortage. This forces the player to pick up old, discarded pieces of gum to aid Agent Tethers in his puzzle solving endeavours. Yes, it’s quite gross, but perfectly fits the mood of the game and gives the designers a great excuse to sprinkle virtually all parts of the environment with a useful collectible.
Old gum also seems to be a reusable resource, reappearing in new spots as the Agent Tethers travels around town. This provides the player with an unlimited source of hints and prevents him from getting stuck on any one puzzle.
– As a nice little touch, the time of day on the title screen changes up periodically while the camera slowly scrolls around the Scoggins eraser factory.
– The UI of the game is very flashy but intuitive, with lots of animating widgets composed of labels and icons. The unskipable puzzle submission is a tad long, but the overall interface is a joy to use (especially when compared to many other adventure games).
– Agent Tethers uses a tape recorder throughout the game to narrate his experiences. This provides extra personality and context while clearly outlining what must be done going forward.