Puzzle Agent

Continuing to bring you the latest reviews of decade-old games, my new game this weekend was 2010’s Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. I picked this up in a Humble Bundle back in 2013, and I just now got around to playing it because I was looking for puzzle games. I enjoyed it, but it falls on the weak side of “recommend”; certainly play it if you get in a game bundle, but I would not say that it demands a space on your wishlist.

You play FBI agent Nelson Tethers, a master of crossword puzzles who is dispatched to solve a mystery at an eraser factory. For some reason, the factory and the town are obsessed with puzzles. In a Fargo-like, small town in rural Minnesota, you will meet the locals; investigate what could be an industrial accident, missing person, or murder case; solve standard puzzles like logic riddles, connecting pipes, and assembling jigsaw puzzles; and maybe risk your life with garden gnomes.

The puzzles are fine, about an issue of Games Magazine. It would be nice to have some digital scratch paper like you’d have in a magazine; it is easier to erase digitally, but the main option there is “erase everything.” There are 24 puzzles in the main storyline and 13 optional puzzles to find along the way. There are a few puzzles with unclear instructions or missing rule requirements, but it is mostly a fun little puzzle game.

The story is good, if incomplete. It continues in Puzzle Agent 2, which I have yet to play. Given that, a really good or bad time there could round this up or down on recommendations. I am told that Puzzle Agent 2 makes less sense without playing the first game; the first game is a shaggy dog story without part 2. So I am also going to play the sequel, because the first one was worth the time and you deserve to know whether games from 2011 are also good.

The game gets points for a lack of padding. The whole game is 3-4 hours. Low commitment, bite-sized portions if you don’t want to make a long evening of it. It also circumvents the adventure game pixel hunt for what you can click on by letting you “investigate” a portion of the screen to see what is clickable. You can feel clever for spotting it or just ping the map like you have sonar.

The art is a nice, hand-draw style. It looks a little fuzzy on a full monitor, maybe it looks better on a tablet. The voice acting is also pretty good. The sound editing carries a lot of the weight. Much of the menace of the mystery is conveyed via still images with ominous music behind them. It works in a surreal way that walks a tightrope between “absurd” and “off-putting.” I liked it.

If you want a few hours of puzzles and story, this is pretty good.

: Zubon