Puzzle Agent 2 Review
A year ago I reviewed the first Puzzle Agent game and called it—if I remember correctly—“a sluggish tree-sloth of a game.” That's not exactly a rave, so as you might imagine, I wasn't so much raring to play and review Puzzle Agent 2 as I was dreading it. My main issues with the first game were its fuzzy, hand-drawn graphics and its slow, meager gameplay. While my feelings haven't changed much regarding the series' aesthetic approach, this time around--and I don’t know if I’ve changed or if the game has--I find myself unexpectedly enjoying series creator Graham Annable's minimalist style.
Puzzle Agent 2 continues where the first game left off. Googly-eyed FBI Agent Nelson Tethers has just wrapped up a case in rural Minnesota involving a shuttered eraser factory, a missing factory foreman and mythical a race of forest gnomes called “the Hidden People”. The Bureau’s closed the case despite Tethers never having located the foreman but that just doesn't set right with Tethers. Intending to get to the bottom of things, he cashes in some vacation time and heads back, unofficially, to the snowbound little town of Scoggins.
Upon his arrival, Tethers gets the distinct impression he's not quite as welcome as he was during his last visit. The quirky residents seem to behave even more strangely than usual and are outright reluctant to speak to him. Undaunted, Tethers continues his investigation and soon, in addition to having kooky exchanges with the looney-tunes locals, he's having nightmares and hearing whispers. The more he digs, the more it all points to the world being threatened by some far-reaching governmental conspiracy—or by a group of tiny, pointy-hatted, magical men.
Either way, Tethers can only do what he does best: follow his nose and solve puzzles. As in the first Puzzle Agent, Tethers uses puzzles to dig up clues, analyze information and get people to talk to him. The puzzles in this game are of the same variety as the first game, and ask you to do things like rearrange photos into the proper sequence or determine the next number in a series of numbers. Not many of the puzzles are truly challenging, but if you find yourself stuck you can access up to three hints per puzzle.
(Note: The only thing that helps Tethers concentrate is gum chewing and since Scoggins has banned gum sales, he has no recourse but to collect old gum wherever he can find it. The exchange rate is one wad of gum to one hint.) For the most part, puzzles are clever and of a reasonable difficulty. Granted, there are a few movement puzzles where you're asked to shift objects around a board that suffer from seriously clunky and uncooperative interactivity but they’re only a few of the many puzzles that can be found just by clicking on the screen and “pinging” the environment.
Aside from his usual brilliant puzzle-solving, Tethers also interrogates the locals and this time there are a few new characters, including a Scoggins anthropologist and an alluring lady puzzle fanatic with an indeterminate foreign accent. Unfortunately, new acquaintances are sadly as rare a find as new locations. The game basically revisits everything and everyone you've already seen before and is in many ways, far too similar to that of the first Puzzle Agent.
The good news is, the game does improve significantly in one area--its narrative. The original game's setting, characters and story were seemingly indebted to 90's TV series Twin Peaks (mixed strangely with elements of the movie Fargo) and Puzzle Agent 2 seems to confirm that connection. Starting with an FBI agent having dream visions then moving on to him receiving weird messages under his hotel room door, hearing about strange doings in the forest, meeting with his superior at the local diner where they make a “sublime” milkshake—the references are many. The story also digs deeper into the uncanny happenings in and around Scoggins and is skillful enough in creating multiple threads of oddness to make you wonder how in the heck the story could possibly end. And although when revealed, the ending might a bit too abrupt for some gamers or its solutions a bit “pat”, it’s also wonderfully unexpected.
Puzzle Agent 2 is by no means perfect but it does improve on the first Puzzle Agent and demonstrates the potential of the series. While the home-spun graphic style and slow moving action still might not appeal to everyone, adventure fans are likely to enjoy the clever puzzles, bizarre character dialog and amusingly convoluted storyline. So here’s looking forward to another Nelson Tethers adventure! ...and here’s hoping next time he gets to go someplace else.