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PSN Review – Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent

July 1, 2011 Written by Tyler Minarik

Telltale games has brought us Sam and Max episodic point and click adventure titles in the past, but it seems they weren’t finished there. A new game from the developer has released, but this time centers around an FBI agent who must solve his way through the case presented to him in Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent.

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent pits you in the shoes of Nelson Tethers, an agent in the FBI’s Puzzle Research Division who is used to quiet days at his desk solving difficult puzzles all day. However, this placid atmosphere comes to an abrupt halt for him when a special case is handed over, involving a dire shortage of erasers, which could keep the president from undoing his many mistakes. Thus Nelson is off to Scoggins, Minnesota, where a large eraser factory has been mysteriously shut down, which is apparently the only source of erasers for the White House. Scoggins is a quiet and wintery town, which has more to hide than it initially seems.

As Nelson investigates the incident surrounding the eraser factory, he encounters a large slew of puzzles, as is implied by the title game. These puzzles range from logic puzzles, to jigsaw puzzles, to pattern recognition puzzles. Each is related to the overall theme of Nelson’s location and what’s going on in the storyline somehow, however no knowledge of the story line is required to arrive at the proper solution. Instead each is presented with a set of rules or guidelines for how to solve the puzzle, which is necessary since there’s a great variety of them and only a few repeat the same sort of design. This great variety in types of challenges is probably Puzzle Agent‘s biggest strength. Most of the time your objective is fairly straight forward from the description, like in jigsaw puzzles where you have to fit all the food on a plate, but many puzzles set players up for failure on the first couple of tries by omitting important rules.

For example, one puzzle asks the player to draw lines between football players to designate who they’ll pitch a ball to, while avoiding glass barriers between them. The puzzle doesn’t tell you that each player can only have the ball thrown to them once, leaving you to wonder why it’s wrong when there’s branching paths laid out, but the rules presented are still adhered to. Situations like this can cause minor frustration, especially if you’re trying to achieve a good score on the game’s rating system, which is based off how many tries and hints you use. Another puzzle, “Changing Chairs,” asks you to put pieces of a puzzle together, which orient themselves as they’re placed on the board. It’s possible to put the puzzle together upside down, with the resulting image appearing correct due to ambiguity about correct orientation. Luckily, these are two of the most glaring examples of such, and for the most part getting stuck on any puzzle is easily passed with the use of hints, which are extremely plentiful, and lower the ranking score by far less than submitting an incorrect answer.

Puzzle Agent also sees some minor control issues throughout the game. When not in a puzzle section, Nelson is able to traverse the small town via a snowmobile, which the player never controls. Instead he walks into a scene, and the player is asked to hold R1 to see objects that can be interacted with. What the game doesn’t mention initially, but is quickly figured out, is that holding R1 and pressing X is the only way to select objects to interact with. It begs the question however, why not just show all interaction icons, and eliminate the need to hold R1? The nuisance controls continue in puzzles where it often times becomes difficult to select the correct pieces, tiles, or grid locations due to them being laid out at a diagonal from the current selection, and the game only recognizing immediate left, rights, ups, or downs. It becomes incredibly frustrating to cycle through every piece of a puzzle twice, except for the one you actually want to select.

Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent is presented through hand drawn cartoon style animations. While the art direction is nice, for the most part the environments and characters aren’t anything that will knock your socks off with their appearance. Animations are stiff, and look like they were ripped straight out of a game from the late 90′s. Some of the puzzles see animations when solutions are submitted and depict the outcome, but these occurrences are very inconsistent. This can get annoying when results don’t play out, and the player is left scratching their head about what went wrong. However, the stiff animations mostly come into effect as the story line plays out between puzzles, providing a flimsy excuse for solving them and continuing forward. Nelson slowly uncovers a plot involving the eraser factory, numerous town citizens, and gnomes oddly enough, which for the most part remains mysterious and never really develops like expected. It leaves the game open for sequels if Puzzle Agent sees success with the niche point and click crowd, but it also leaves a gamer disappointed if they were becoming interested in the story.

Luckily for anyone who enjoys the challenges presented to them within Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, beating the game unlocks free play, which allows you to go back and retry any of the 37 puzzles contained within. With the knowledge of all the answers, players can easily achieve the highest rank, but other than that replayability is extremely limited here. This is a bigger let down when it only takes four hours to beat the game in the first place. While there’s nothing in particular wrong with Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, there’s nothing great to say about it either, and for anyone that does enjoy it, there’s very little to be had. At the current price tag of $10, it’s very hard to recommend, even to fans of Sam and Max games, which share many qualities with this title. Puzzle Agent is too short, and not memorable enough to warrant our stamp of approval, and there are far better games on PSN, and from Telltale Games.

PlayStation LifeStyle’s Final Score


+ Many semi-challenging puzzles

– Extremely short game length

– Irritating controls and rule omissions

5 out of 10

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