Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent PSN, PC Review

One need only look at one of the early cutscenes for Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent in order to convey the appropriate mood; upon entering a small-time diner in small-town Scoggins, MI, FBI agent Tethers is greeted with the residents’ eyes silently fixated on him as if he were wearing a hat made out of bacon.

That level of awkwardness is prevalent the entire time, which distinguishes Telltale’s puzzle-themed adventure with that of the Professor Layton series; whereas the titular professor commands dignity and respect when interacting with his fellow puzzle-enthused peers, the Scogginians (Scogginites?) aren’t nearly as friendly with the man from the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division.

Yes, in this world, there is indeed a Puzzle Research Division, and Nelson Tethers is the top dog of what is certainly a small division. Tasked with investigating a mysterious accident that occurred in the Scoggins Eraser Factory (the quality of the erasers so renowned, “even the president uses them”), Tethers must investigate the quiet and quirky townsfolk, who more often than naught won’t give him the time of day without first solving their problems through puzzles; there are bugs that need boxing, stove pipes requiring re-assembly, football players practicing inside a convenience store, and many more noodle-scratchers to be solved before this mystery is over. Also, gnomes are involved…

Taking inspiration from mystery-themed media like Fargo and Twin Peaks, Puzzle Agent is a darker, more awkward setting than the neo-European look of Professor Layton. It is no less endearing, however, as the crude-yet-colorful sketchbook style of the 2D artwork mixed in with humorous writing (or lack of…those long pauses and blank expressions tell a story all their own) create a memorable host of characters, strengthened by the sharp voice acting (including bits of Nordic and Canadian accents thrown in for good measure). It’s a style that would fit right at home with an Adult Swim cartoon, only not nearly as violent or inappropriate; while adults will appreciate the deadpan humour and visual style the most, kids can join in on the fun as well.

The game features a familiar point-and-click interface common in most Telltale games, but rather than collecting items, the bulk of the game advances through dialogue leading to puzzles. The puzzles take place in a separate screen and are typically visual-based, which might prove disappointing for fans of logic/riddle-type puzzles; the types of puzzles found here typically involve arranging things in a certain way without conflicting one another (for example, connecting yellow and red wires to their respective sockets without crossing over one another).

While some of these challenges require little more than a keen eye, others can verge on downright impossible, even when using up gum for hints (said gum can be found lying all over each backdrop, as Tethers isn’t too concerned with hygiene when it comes to collecting the chewy brain-boosters); prepare to spend minutes, if not hours, staring into a vortex of pathways and predicaments, until that satisfying moment arrives where the puzzle’s solution is laid out in front, and that one moment of “eureka!” arrives…or, that moment of sorrow when the game verbally smacks you across the face for the incorrect answer. You can retry each puzzle as often as needed, but you won’t feel good about yourself afterward.

The controls are straightforward, using the analogue stick or directional pad to highlight and drag items during puzzle portions, but unfortunately this is one of those cases where PC snobs tout their noses high in the air. The game was clearly designed for use with a mouse, making the gamepad a rather clunky alternative; dragging items across the screen while holding the R1 shoulder button doesn’t feel particularly smooth, and worse still is the transparent fonts used for highlighting key points; don’t feel bad when you find yourself driving to an unintended location on the map as a result.

Control issues aside, Puzzle Agent is a refreshing and entertaining adventure game, filled with memorable characters and a setting that will please fans of the modern mystery genre. If you have a decent enough PC, that would be the ideal platform to get the game, but this is one title you don’t want to miss, regardless of platform.

7 out of 10
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