Let me preface this review by mentioning it is indeed a review of both Puzzle Agent’s 1 and 2, as both are identical technically and both are very brief experiences, however don’t let that put you off right away, instead read on to find out why you should give these titles from Telltale your time.
Both games put you in control of the FBI’s best Puzzle Research Division Agent, Nelson Tether. He works from his office, but one day, after a strange dream involving a crossword puzzle and an astronaut - yes, this is a real thing that happens - he is sent to the small town of Scoggins, Minnesota to investigate the mysterious closure, and attempt to re-open, the Scoggins eraser factory, which directly supplies erasers to the US President. Along the way you’ll meet various odd characters and funnily enough, you’ll solve plenty of puzzles.
The game's control scheme is your standard point-and-click type affair, whereby clicking on something will prompt Nelson to look at an object, pick an object up or talk to someone, depending on the context. There is no inventory management to speak of, as when you need to use an object you have picked up the game will automatically use it for you, removing the tedious but traditional ‘mix everything with everything’ approach common in point-and-clickers.
The graphics have a Flash quality about them, and while I don’t want to call them bad, because it certainly doesn’t look bad, it’s hard to put into words the style. I could call it cell shaded but it doesn’t look that good, I could say it looked like it was done in MS Paint, but it looks better than that; the screenshots will give you a proper indication. The voice-work on the other hand is much easier to rate; with Nelson’s voice actor in particular being good throughout, and the supporting characters all unique enough to stand out, like Mrs. Garret who runs Scoggins’ hotel.
In all honesty, most of your two hours and three hours game-time, for the first and second respectively, will be spent talking to locals and solving puzzles. The puzzles are key here, and each is its own little mini-game of sorts, where you are given a small splash screen telling you the objective of your current puzzle, and if needed, rules for the puzzle, for example we all know the puzzle where you have five types of animal on one side of the river, and the goal is to get them all across without them eating each other, the rules page will tell you what animal eats what if they are left alone. If you get too stuck though, Nelson can find pieces of chewing gum scattered around Scoggins, and these act as extra hints, and you can use up to three on any puzzle, with each hint being a bit more helpful than the previous one, so if you need to use all three hints on a puzzle, chances are you’ll solve it no problem from there.
Luckily, in both games the stories, while in no way serious (as if you hadn’t guessed that by now) are both distinctly funny enough to keep you pressing forward, with the town's inhabitants offering amusing dialogue throughout, as well as Nelson’s constant urge to talk to his tape recorder to keep track of things.
That is effectively your gameplay, talk to people, discover a new puzzle, solve the puzzle and move on. Simple it may be, but it’s addictive in nature, as the puzzles can be tricky at times - more so in the first game than the second - and I quite happily kept ploughing on to get to the next puzzle and hear where the ridiculous story was going to go next.
The second game sees Agent Tethers returning to Scoggins, this time to investigate the disappearance of a character from the first game, and he’s doing it while on his vacation time so there’s no official support from the local sheriff this time around. Continuing some of the in-jokes from the previous game, it has the same odd charm in story and dialogue, but the puzzles themselves are much, much easier for the most part. There are three I recall giving me trouble, and by my own admission, that’s because I could never admit to being good at any sort of maths, while the other trouble was currency related and it wasn’t localised, and having never been to America, I had no idea what a couple of the coins represented. I found myself using hints on these puzzles, the only time in the sequel I ever used hints, whereas I used them frequently in the original game. It does have the superior dialogue, though, and while slight, the graphics are noticeably smoother and animation slicker.
Thanks to the addictive simplicity of both games, I finished both over a couple of days and have no regrets in doing so. They are a fun distraction from the more serious adventure games that are currently doing the rounds, and they’re both cheap enough to warrant picking up together, with the original game being £3.99 and the sequel £6.25 on Steam. It may only be around five or six hours you’ll get out of it, but that’s no less than most full retail priced games single player efforts. There’s room to replay puzzles to improve your score too, meaning there’s reason to jump back on from time to time, even if just for ten minutes to do a puzzle or two.
- Amusing story and dialogue to see you through both games
- Plenty of puzzles to keep you busy
- Very light-hearted, ideal for short play sessions
- Very short, with both games together clocking in at around 7 hours
- Not much gameplay beyond puzzles and choosing dialogue
- No localisation means a few puzzles may leave you clueless