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Published July 22, 2010

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, from Telltale Games, thrusts you into the strange world of the FBI’s best puzzle research agent. Those familiar with the whimsical nature of the Professor Layton series from Level 5 will be instantly comfortable with the juxtaposition of adventure game roaming and non-sequitur puzzle solving. They will also find a game that exceeds that series in story and setting while falling short on the puzzles.


Nelson is a puzzle-solving superstar.  He is sent to the strange town of Scoggins to investigate an accident at an eraser factory that has affected the White House’s supply. The hand of previous LucasArts employees is clearly evident with such a preposterous mission given to the player, but it sets up some of the cleverest writing and animation I’ve seen in a game in a while. Creative director Graham Annable employs the same wit and style found in his Grickle animations to great effect, given this nearly impossible setup.

What stands out the most in the game is the amazing comic timing found in the cut-scenes between puzzles. The animation in the game has an unusually low frame rate (which worried me that something was amiss with my PC), but the long pauses caused by holding a single image still across several frames made me laugh due to the sheer awkwardness. In this way, the game’s story is equal parts “Twin Peaks” suspense, “Fargo” Midwest humor and “The Office”-like uncomfortable pauses.


It is directly because the story is told so well that I wish the puzzling gameplay lived up to that high mark. Unfortunately, the puzzles rarely feel as engaging or genuinely challenging as those found in the Layton series. Often, the puzzles themselves fit into the physical actions they mean to replace, but sometimes they feel arbitrary. You’ll either breeze through them or find yourself spending lots of gum – the pre-chewed fuel for Tether’s puzzle solving prowess – to get anywhere with them.


The player’s ability to solve these puzzles directly relates to the overall time that they’ll spend with Puzzle Agent. This was about 3.5 hours in my case, but your mileage may vary. Based on the price of entry, this doesn’t seem too steep and the strengths of the story, animation and atmosphere in the game mean that anyone with an interest in seeing more logic-puzzle-based adventure games should rush to download this title.

Full disclosure: I am so desperate to see where the story of Scoggins goes after the “ending” in this game that I’m partially recommending a purchase in an effort to assure a sequel is made.


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