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OTDSOT: Puzzle Agent 1&2


Let me ask you a question. Have you ever wondered what beavers are thinking? Sure, they look innocent, gnawing at wood and padding mud with that odd tail, but I swear there's something about them that puts me on the edge. While we're at it? Why are hockey players so violent? Why is maple syrup so sticky? Where does the money for all that free healthcare come from? Why does Canada hide these secrets from us? What are they planning? Or could it be...there's something not even they are aware of under their noise?

This musing has nothing to do with the Puzzle Agent series, it just seriously bugs me. However, something even stranger is going on with Nelson Tethers, who has a bizarre dream about an astronaut one day and ends up with a piece of paper with the word "SCOGGINS" written on it in red, seemingly in a way that gives the feeling of falling off the page. Turns out his next assignment is in the town of Scoggins, Minnesota. That would be what the internet would call a "mindfuck."

An indie series from Telltale Games, the guys single-handly keeping the adventure game alive in the modern day, Puzzle Agent is a Steam downloadable and a surprising little experience, bizarre from beginning to end and with a plot resolution you will not see coming.

As mentioned before, Agent Nelson Tethers of the FBI Puzzle Division has been put on assignment to help get an eraser factory that supplies the White House with it's stock of pink mistake fixers. However, he soon finds that there's far more going on that simply the factory being down and locked up with a strange puzzle lock. Corrupt police, a mysterious group obsessed with puzzles and even possibly gnomes constantly cross his path and these elements are only the tip of something unbelievable that Mr. Tethers just can't let die, even when he's told to. And boy, is the reveal a doozy.

My thoughts are...somewhat less productive.

Puzzle Agent 1 and 2 has the compliment of truly being original plot wise. I can't even give vague hints at what I mean because it would simply ruin the massive surprise of the whole experience, but I can certainly say I have never found another work with a similar plot. However, the way it's told is pretty cool, taking inspiration from Kubrick, Lynch and the Coens, mainly the film Fargo. It's how the makers advertised it and it's accurate, with a blend of subtle dialog and bizarre characters mixed with really trippy dream sequences and dramatic musical ques that work better than they should. Everything comes together far better than it has the right to, even with a heavy use of cutscenes. There really isn't another game with a story quite like this game.

That said, there's some great comedy mixed in, coming from simple dialog to the odd sayings and actions of the characters, like Tethers constantly recording with his tape recorder or a simple talk about a "hot dish." It's not laugh out loud (except for one really surprising scene in number two I won't spoil), but it's very amusing and endearing.

The very first minute of the game. It gets weirder.

The second game does get a tad confusing, though. The dreams are never actually explained upfront, as with a lot of strange events, but it's not quite as bad as many have said. With the pieces set on the board, you can connect the dots yourself and figure out the ultimate fates and supposed plot holes, even if the explanation I've come up with for the dreams is a tad farfetched. Do be warned not everything will be explained to you.

What makes Puzzle Agent even more of an odd duck is that the series is mainly about, as you probably figured out, puzzles. It's also rather diverse, ranging from making a football play without breaking glass to programing something on the right path. The game also offers a hint system, needing you to use a piece of gum, although this affects our final ranking. When not doing puzzles, you'll be traveling around Scroogins with an overhead map, checking out various areas for gum, puzzles and conversations in order to find information and to move the plot along. It's a mix of adventure gaming with a more strait forward system of solving puzzles with given instructions. It's actually pretty refreshing if you have ever dealt with getting stuck in a game because you can't figure out what object works with which and when.

That woman better be careful or she'll make a pig out of herself. I apologize for nothing.

Replay wise, there's not too much else to do after finishing these two, but you can try puzzles again after the endings and try to do better, get better rankings and work for achievements in Steam. There's so many of them that it works out great, plus you can go back into the game to find any you've missed the first time. The cutscenes are also so well done that getting to see them again is nice...but you can skip them if you wish.

The design of the Puzzle Agent series is pretty interesting. It's a cartoonish style made possible by Graham Annable, an animator who's worked with Nick, Disney and even Chuck Jones. His style here is simple but manages high emotion with exaggerated expressions, but not too exaggerated. It makes the dramatic moments work while balancing well with the comedic style. It's weird because the stills I've seen of this game before playing it painted something different than what I ended up getting, you have to see it in motion to get how grand it is.

The 3D Models are surprisingly well handled.

The only issues at play are that some things, when zoomed in, lose some quality. Also, although it may just be because of my video card, the "yes" and "no" on the menu when choosing to quit weren't showing up, although they were there and can be selected. If you happen to come across that, it's no big deal. Other than that, everything works as it should and looks just fine.

For the most part, the music is minimal, but this works to the series' advantage. The pieces blend well with the atmosphere of the area you're in and don't distract too much, while the puzzle music is simple and keeps your mind in a thinking mood. When the score does pick up, it's a huge deal and always builds suspense and shock perfectly, such as any dream with an astronaut or the appearance of the Little People and their bizarre whispering, which can actually drown out all other sound in a surprisingly eerie effect.

The voice acting is very strong as well, although I've sadly had some trouble looking up the voice actors for the game. What I can say is that the man who handled Nelson Tethers matches up with his suit and tie personality with a plain but comedic voice, easily stealing the show. The rest of the cast pull off great accents that aren't too distracting and even some very well done dramatic moments, such as when you finally get to meet [SPOILER DELETED].

The Puzzle Agent series is something I'm very glad exists. It doesn't exactly do much new in the gameplay department, but it does manage a bizarre story that I don't think anyone else could have thought up with a simple but enjoyable experience. Both games are also pretty cheap, easy to pick up and play and it reaches to pretty large audiences. Despite some story hic-ups in the second part and recycled puzzles at certain points, it's overall a fun few hours, giving a rush of nostalgia for those who enjoyed puzzle books as kids while at the same time telling a surprisingly mature story.

Puzzle Agent 1 and 2 each get solid four Little People out of five from me.


Check out my other game reviews and more at On The Dark Side Of Things.
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About Darkseidone of us since 5:01 PM on 09.09.2010

Hello all, my name is Darkseid, aka Jonathan aka Jake. I'm a massive JRPG nerd, but I'll play anything if good (even if I suck at FPS and 2D Fighters). My favorite games include Beyond Good and Evil, Odin Sphere, Persona 4, Psychonauts, Super Smash Brothers Brawl and Kirby Super Star Ultra, among many others.

I'm also a big fan of anime and superhero comics, thus the name and avatar. Also love villains, by far my fave characters. Fave anime would include Code Geass, Baccano, Monster, Paranoia Agent and many others.

I'm a writer for site-in-limbo Teh Pwn Shop and hope to one day be a novelist, so I blog to practice writing and hopefully apply it in a way that can one day earn a living.
Steam ID:JKDarkseid


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