As far as puzzle detective games go, the Professor Layton games on the Nintendo DS have been the leading brand for a while now. Telltale Games would like to change this with their own game, Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent. Telltale's new property is the end result of a collaboration between themselves and Graham Annable, an accomplished animator. The game will be the first in a new venture for Telltale, the 'pilot project' which, given enough positive feedback, will see games made into a fully fledged series, Telltales' speciality.
Puzzle Agent is the story of Nelson Tethers, an agent in the US Department of Puzzle Research who is one day visited by an astronaut. Yes, an astronaut. The unexpected meeting between the characters leads Nelson on a journey to Scoggins, Minnesota to find out why the town's eraser factory, that supplies the White House with its erasers, has shut down. Nelson must solve the mystery whilst being hindered by mazes, logic puzzles, riddles and the occasionally unhelpful townsfolk. The distinct art style used in the game really makes the game it's own. It's strange, it uses much of the same gameplay ideas as Professor Layton but the game just seems so different. Surely an accomplishment that Telltale can be proud of. One aspect that really splits the similarity between the two games is that Puzzle Agent's puzzles are more story based whereas Professor Layton's puzzles were more random.
The story of Puzzle Agent is set to be more of a David Lynch experience. The story, the characters, the whole art style, it all adds to an experience unseen in any other game. All of these aspects were made clear during Telltale's demo. Tthat's not to say Telltale won't be featuring their distinct humour however, that's all there too. During the demo, there was a varied amount of gameplay that was explained as it played out. Players are first allowed to explore their surroundings, often helped by on-screen hints directing where to go. Usually following the story will uncover puzzles that will allow players to continue through until the mystery is finally solved.
Puzzles themselves are easy enough to understand. It has to be solved but there are a few features buried in this simple gameplay ideal. Some puzzles will be too difficult to the point where players will have to rely on the hint system. Luckily, when Nelson chews gum, his cunning detective skills increase. Gum is essentially the game's hint system. Each puzzle has up to three hints that can be used and to use them Nelson must chew gum that he finds on his adventure. When a puzzle is solved, players will be awarded points based on how fast they completed the puzzle and how many hints they needed to use. The points system has no real value in the game other than to boast when a high, or even a perfect, score is achieved.
Puzzle Agent has been described as the Professor Layton for consumers who don't have access to a Nintendo DS. Though this is true, Puzzle Agent looks set to be a game worthy of its own audience without a constant comparison to its biggest inspiration, Professor Layton. There is no word on when the game will be made available but the confirmed platforms it will be released on include the PC, Mac and WiiWare. An iPhone and iPad version is also being worked on with a bonus feature to 'scan' environments for an easier way to play for those who find touching specific points on the devices difficult.