Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent

9.0 Overall Score

Written by on July 7, 2010 in

Telltale Games is at it again.  The daring developers of the quirky Sam & Max episodic adventure series introduces the first game in their new Pilot Program.  Similar to a TV series they are hoping to try new games as pilots to determine whether they will become a new episodic series.  This intriguing program will, hopefully, allow the game makers to take more chances in their new titles.

In Puzzle Agent we are introduced to Nelson Tethers.  He is an agent in the FBI’s lesser known US Department of Puzzle Research.  We find him sitting in his unusually large office attempting to solve a crossword puzzle.  He receives a visit from someone or something in an astronaut’s suit that gives him a great scare.  He awakens from his strange visitation to a phone call.  He is being called out to a very rare field assignment to re-open the Scoggins Eraser Factory that has been closed in a puzzling mystery.  This factory supplies the White House with erasers and we definitely want them to be able to correct their mistakes.

Here is where our fun begins. The sketchy animation style of Graham Annable is set in an equally sketchy location, Scoggins Minnesota.  The game has a Twin-Peaks-meets-Professor-Layton-in-Fargo feel to it.   The game also has elements of Nordic folklore sprinkled on top to give it a slightly creepy yet educational sheen.  Agent Tethers must investigate the strange happenings in this small town.  It seems that most of the residents have some sort of puzzle mania.  They are mentally overwhelmed by a desire to complete puzzles in any form.  You must help Agent Tethers to solve the residents’ puzzles so they can then focus on answering your questions and solving the case of the eraser factory closure. You start the game with eight hints available to you.  These hints are in the form of bubble gum.  Why bubble gum?  Because it allows the Puzzle Agent to concentrate.  To his horror he finds the town does not receive any bubble gum over the frigid winter months they are currently experiencing.  So Nelson is forced to make do with A.B.C. (Already Been Chewed) gum he finds along the way.  Be on the lookout for the nasty gum wads as you wander through the game, you may find yourself in desperate need of a hint at any time during the game.

The game also provides another type helpful ‘hint’ while trying to solve some of the puzzles that requires fitting several items together in a specific way.  If you get two pieces that are meant to go together near enough to each other they will snap together when you release the piece you are holding.  After they are snapped together they will move together for the rest of the puzzle.  If you pay attention to this style of hint it will help you solve these puzzle types a lot quicker. The rest of the game’s interface for the game is pretty simple.  The titles of each chapter tell you exactly what your next step should be.  Chapter titles such as “Talk to the Creepy Man” leaves little doubt what you need to do next.  At times you also are not able to do anything except what the game wants you to do.  Using a point and click technique you can search for clues.  If you click on the screen you will see a rippling circle originate from where you click outward until it becomes a certain radius size.  Any clue falling within that radius will have a magnifying glass appear over it.  Any action you can take (i.e. riding your snow mobile) is indicated with an arrow pointing to it.  If any gum appears within the radius a large wad of chewed gum appears over it.  Lastly, if a puzzle piece appears over something then there is a puzzle to solve.  So click all over the screen in every area to make sure you do not miss anything.  When a person has a magnifying glass over them it means you can interrogate them.  When you click on a person you will be presented with a list of questions you can ask them.  The order of the questions does not seem to matter.  If a puzzle piece appears next to an interrogation topic then there will be a puzzle involved.   The nearly 40 puzzles were very clever and challenging.  I really enjoyed how the puzzles reflected something that had been discussed by the character.  They are a mixture of logic puzzles that will remind many of Professor Layton’s adventures.  These puzzles come in many forms so come to this game with an open mind, think outside of the box, and beware the gnomes.

The quirky folks of Scoggins Minnesota are fun and will make you chuckle along your journey to solve the eraser factory mystery.  The characters are great.  Their oddball behavior keeps you wondering if you have stepped into another dimension not just the frozen arctic-like wonderland of northern Minnesota. It is definitely a dry and subtle sense of humor but I loved it.  The locations are stereotypical for a small town.  There is the factory which is the source of employment for most of the town (of course), lodge, the local diner, the inn, the woods, and the lake.  As you solve puzzles and find clues you will move to each of these locations as needed.  There are several other locations shown on the map you receive at the beginning of the game but you can’t visit them during the game.  A possible hint of a future episode?  There are also a few clues that were not resolved during the game.  These hints along with the cliff hanger of an ending make you suspect a future episode may be in the works. The scoring for the game is a combination of the amount of tax dollars spent, the number of hints used, the number of wrong answers submitted, and the number of puzzles solved.  Your reward  for achieving  each level of puzzle solver you become is your job title.  At 100% puzzles solved and no hints or wrong answers submitted is, of course, your title is “Puzzle Agent”.

I learned several things while playing this game.  First was thing I found out was the going tax payer cost for one attempt at solving a puzzle is $75,642.98.  Secondly I learned the lore of the hidden people (aka gnomes).  Lastly I learned that my travel plans will never include a trip to this crazy little town. Improvements I would recommend for future episodes are few.  I enjoy the sketchy graphic style of the animation but when any of the characters get to close to us onscreen they become very blurry.  My old eyes just don’t need that kind of confusion.  I would also have preferred more closure on some of the clues I found throughout the game.  I may have missed the explanations for some of the odd clues but I still have a few questions I want solved in the next episode. This game was very fun for me.  I loved the puzzles, loved the story and loved all the kooky characters in this odd little town.  The game was very enjoyable and tested the limits of my puzzle solving ability.  I am a confessed puzzle maniac and huge fan of Professor Layton.  If you are affected with the same affliction then run out and buy this game on your choice of PC, Mac, Wii Ware, iPod, or iPad.   And, once again, beware the creepy red gnomes are out there!

A copy of the game Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent was provided to The Married Gamers for the purpose of examination and review.

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Author: Melisa Snyder View all posts by

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