July 25, 2012 8:00 PM | Staff
[Guest reviewer Colin Brown profiles each game in the July Jubliee Bundle, now available at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale]
While it's clear that Professor Layton has no plans to relinquish his stranglehold grip on the DS puzzle solving market, there wasn't really a proper analogue for those of us limited to gaming on our cumbersome desktop towers. Along came Puzzle Agent, a more intimate project from a smaller team at Telltale Games. It followed the same basic formula as Layton's increasingly ludicrous adventures, structured like a point and click with very distinct brainteasers used instead of the more natural or organic puzzles of your average adventure. But while the structure seems the same, it's clear that Puzzle Agent goes far out of its way to carve a distinct niche.
How does it do this? Lots and lots of atmosphere. Puzzle Agent uses one of my favourite settings--the mysterious small town Americana you see in fan favourite movies like Fargo and shows like Twin Peaks--and manages to make it even more delightfully odd and sinister. You are Special Agent Nelson Tethers, head of the FBI's underused but deliriously overfunded Puzzle Investigation division. The famed eraser factory of small town Scoggins, Minnesota has suffered a mysterious "accident" that only your sharp puzzle solving skills can solve.
This is all well and good, but what really sells the mysteriousness is the characteristic Grickle style. The game is entirely based on Graham Annable's distinctive Grickle artwork and animations, particularly the brilliant animated short "The Hidden People". Annable is a master of using atmosphere and dread with minimal animation, favoring brevity and music over objective scares. Fortunately for his fans, Annable and the smaller team at Telltale managed to capture this wonky and creepy style almost perfectly across the entire game. It's not a horror game per se, but I'll admit to jumping back from my monitor more than once.
The only real letdowns are the spotty puzzles in terms of quality and difficulty, and the rather short length, but the fantastic atmosphere and mystery is enough to keep me from dwelling on these slight nitpicks. It's short but sweet, and incredibly engrossing throughout. There's dozens of twists that always keep you guessing, a satisfyingly unsatisfying ending and a wonderful cast of characters with just the sweetest Minnesotan accents, don't cha know. The puzzles may be a tad hit or miss at times, but the atmosphere is relentlessly mysterious. If you're the kind of person who cringes at the sight of a woodchipper, or your ideal meal is a slice of cherry pie and a damn fine cup of coffee, Puzzle Agent is a delightful way to spend an afternoon.
[Get Puzzle Agent and nine other games in the July Jubliee Bundle, now available at IndieGames' co-created site: Indie Royale]