It’s a snow day here in Northern Ireland, and if it lies for more than a week it will qualify for a legendary winter that people here talk about years later. So what better time than now to present a game series that is also set in snow.
Ever since I made a quiet return to PC gaming (via Steam on Mac), I’ve had the opportunity to acquire a lot of curious and recommended titles, not only at good prices during the black friday/christmas/January sales, but also because some games will never truly be available to console gamers…and I’m not only okay with this, but I’ve found it rather exciting because as we know – PC gaming does move on (to an extent), but it’s more like a simple expansion of the library – you never truly get left behind unless your PC can’t handle the requirements. Anyway, lets talk about 2 games I got in the steam sale, and I’m doing them both because to be fair, it’s a complete story when they’re together, and you can’t have 1 without the other (especially the 2nd 1). So…
Puzzle Agent is a game that was created by Graham Annable (A canadian cartoonist who also did the story art for Coraline and directed the movie Box Trolls) while he was working for Telltale games (the company who do episodic games like The Walking Dead, Sam & Max, The Wolf Among Us and more recently Game Of Thrones). Puzzle Agent could be best described as a game with the humour of Monkey Island, puzzles like Professor Layton, and it focuses on a bizarre case that FBI Agent Nelson Tethers has to solve. What department does Tethers work in? The Puzzle Department, of course. A place where Nelson sits at a desk that’s practically in the basement of the J Edgar Hoover Building, and suggesting that the FBI “has somebody for every problem”, even in the area of puzzle solving. After the eraser (rubber) factory in Scoggins, Minnesota stops working, there is a little bit of panic, because this particular eraser factory supplies the rubbers that the president uses in the White House. Any attempts to contact those who work at the factory are useless, because their reply is always a puzzle…This is where they sent their best man for the job, as Nelson Tethers travels to Scoggins, Minnesota (population 754) in order to find out what exactly is going on.
We’ll talk about Puzzle Agent’s strengths for now; First of all, it has a great art style. One that looks like it was created with crayons, chalk and pastels. It is most definitely a cartoon, and though it looks simple enough to be drawn by a child, there is a lot of expert choices in its design, such as its inspired interpretation of real life, as well as how clean and accurate it looks, even within the exaggeration. I love how it’s set in some small, creepy town in Minnesota during winter (Because I love those small town mysteries, and I liked the movie Fargo, which this game evidentially borrows from, as well as David Lynch’s Twin Peaks and believe it or not, Stanley Kubrick.) and despite having a minimalist animation style, it maintains its character behaviour and humour very well.
I’ve mentioned the humour, and yes I found it to be incredibly quirky and charming while being clean about it. It’s also very good when it comes to applying surrealism…and has a fun story full of colourful characters who you might find in small towns. Story-wise it falls into the stranger-in-town archetype that can also be found in movies like The Guard, Blazing Saddles and of course, Hot Fuzz…and you might enjoy the idea of crimson gnomes being part of a town’s folklore.
The music was done primarily by Jared Emerson-Johnson, who is a Telltale Games staple, and it incorporates some surfer guitar, bass and keys that are often heard in Spy movies/stories/games, as well as some strings and piano in the more unsettling parts of the game, and sometimes it reminds me a little of the TV show Dexter.
Is there a big difference in quality between 1 and 2? Yes, a bit. The humour is consistent, as is every other good quality. But I do think 1 has a better story.
Is there anything bad about this game? Perhaps. The puzzles themselves are surprisingly inconsistent in their difficulty. Sometimes they’re incredibly easy, other times they’re pretty hard, but there isn’t really a learning curve, a medium level puzzle or a build up towards harder and harder puzzles like in Professor Layton. There was even a puzzle midway through the 2nd game that was done in the “guess the next number in pattern” style, and then I found out that it requires you to realise it is connected to the mathematical constant of Pi, which didn’t seem particularly obvious…that’s the sort of thing you put up with shortly before and after puzzles like “create a road”, “rotate boxes to create a picture” and “How many Gnomes can each bird carry”. Like Professor Layton, which used gold coins to buy hints for puzzles, Puzzle Agent sort of satires that concept by having Nelson chew gum…that has been stuck to walls and windows around town. While asking for a hint drops your perfect 10 by 1 star, getting the answer wrong takes away a brutal 3 stars on its own…and since Puzzle Agent uses auto-save, it’s hard to fix that if you’re aiming for a perfect play through.
On top of this, it could be argued that as a point-and-click puzzle-adventure game, Puzzle Agent is a bit short. Puzzle Agent 1 is worth it for its RRP of £4, even if it can be completed in about 2-4 hours depending on how well you know the game. But £7 for Puzzle Agent 2 (also 2-4 hours long)…wait for a sale.
Would I recommend the Puzzle Agent series? Absolutely! They’re cute, charming, quirky, funny, quite nice to look at and have a great story and characters that combine Fargo with the likes of The World’s End. The puzzles themselves can either be too easy or brutal, and I do think there could be a longer story. Other than that, I had fun with these games.
Art/Design: ****1/2 out of 5
Music: ***** out of 5
Overall Rating: ****1/4 out of 5
Puzzle Agent 2
Art/Design: ****1/2 out of 5
Music: ***** out of 5
Overall rating: ****