Puzzle Agent isn’t your typical Telltale game. Usually known for hilarious, episodic, point-and-click adventure games, this is an entirely different affair. Released as part of their pilot project and with a sequel on the way, Puzzle Agent is more Professor Layton than Sam and Max. And by more Professor Layton, I mean the titles share a lot more in common than their quirky settings and hat-owning protagonists.
Puzzle Agent, much like Professor Layton, sees its protagonist Nelson Tethers (part of the FBI’s puzzle solving division) venture into an unfamiliar environment to solve a mystery. A disappearance, in fact. And there’s something suspicious about the townsfolk… Layton fans may begin to recognise some elements there, and the similarities don’t end at the plot. The story gradually unravels as Tethers solves puzzles found throughout the town of Scoggins, relying on chewing gum for hints when stumped, much like Layton’s Hint Coins.
The puzzles themselves are, generally speaking, a little uninventive. There certainly isn’t the abundance of puzzles found in the Layton series, the total number clocking in at 37 compared to the original Layton’s over 150 puzzles. The player is left feeling a little disappointed, and although the game is substantially cheaper than Layton, it doesn’t excuse the lack of originality found. Few of the puzzles deviate from one of several simplistic archetypes, leading to repetition across the mere four hours or so of gameplay.
The idea of a puzzle is to make you feel smart once solved, and in that respect Puzzle Agent repeatedly fails to deliver. Many felt like something you might be given to occupy yourself as a child during a rainy lunchtime, not classic puzzle gaming. Be it simple geometry or rotating block puzzles, many fall flat on satisfaction and difficulty.
As a point-and-click game on a home console, the whole event of pointing and clicking is something that needs to be handled carefully, and here it certainly has been. R1 allows the player to view all selectable objects and flick between them, useful given the lack of mouse and therefore cursor. The only issue with this system came into play during environments with many objects available for selection, the jigsaw-type puzzles highlighting this problem. It can seem somewhat random what item is selected when you move the analogue stick, leaving some objects near-impossible to access.
If one were to judge Puzzle Agent’s visuals based solely on screenshots, they would leave with the positive impression that this game has a unique style and a charming aesthetic. And to a degree you would be correct- the charcoal-like appearance is attractive, is faithful to the Grickle comics the game is based upon and entirely suits the dark, unsettling story. But in motion, something has gone awry. Movements are downright sloppy, at times looking like a stop-frame animation produced by an enthusiastic ten year-old fresh from seeing how Wallace and Gromit is made. Eventually adding to the charm, it is initially so jarring that some- myself included- will find it frustrating that no extra effort was put in during the more animated sequences.
It’s a shame, because musically the game succeeds and the voice acting- though not always perfect and occasionally suffering from some sound level errors- has a certain charm to it. The accents are fitting for the location and are, generally speaking, up to Telltale’s high standard, if not those of Professor Layton.
It’s perhaps unfair to compare an experimental download to a franchise as popular and successful as Professor Layton, but it is impossible not to. So many elements feel torn straight from the book of Layton, but have become mangled in the process. In short, Puzzle Agent simply doesn’t stack up to the standard set out by Level-5, and is impossible to recommend to those who have yet to play through the Layton franchise.
- Charming, unique style
- Some interesting puzzles
- Solid soundtrack
- Repetitive, uninventive puzzles
- Few puzzles across a short time
- Animation is initially awkward
- Some frustrating controls