Telltale Games has made a name for itself reinvigorating the beloved Sam & Max franchise, along with infusing other story-driven adventure games with its trademark wit. The developer's upcoming Puzzle Agent will still put story and character front and center, but the gameplay will be a bit different from we've seen from Telltale thus far. Take the Professor Layton games, throw in a dash of that Telltale humor, and layer on top the sharp artwork of renowned artist and animator Graham Annable, and you get Puzzle Agent, an episodic puzzle adventure worth keeping an eye on.
The first thing that struck us during our short demo at E3 2010 was the charming, exaggerated artwork, which stood out for its strong outlines and broad strokes. This wasn't Puzzle Agent's only striking aspect, however. In the opening scene, we meet Nelson Tethers, the lone employee of the United States Department of Puzzle Research, an apparent division of the FBI. His office contains a number of items you might not expect to see in a government office. A replica of a human brain with jigsaw shapes drawn on it sits on a dais in a corner; a giant pawn from a chess set sits in another. And if that isn't weird enough, an astronaut appears in Nelson's office, breathing so heavily that he sounds a bit like Darth Vader. The astronaut lifts his helmet, though we don't see his face. Nelson is taken aback, but a moment later, the astronaut has disappeared. It's a surreal--and memorable--encounter and one that goes unexplained during the demonstration.
Next up is the game's first puzzle: a simple crossword that needs to be pieced together by moving the broken pieces about the screen. The puzzle reveals a single word: Scoggins. A moment later, Nelson receives a phone call. It's his first assignment in the field! It seems there is some drama regarding the pencil erasers used at the White House, and Nelson must head to the town of--wait for it--Scoggins, Minnesota. Coincidence? Seems unlikely. It seems Nelson is about to leave his comfort zone for Scoggins. Population: 754. Temperature: 1.
Once he arrives in Scoggins, Nelson finds himself standing in front of a bizarre man seated silently, smoking a pipe. The agent speaks into his voice recorder, dryly mentioning the staring man in a morsel of giggle-inducing dialogue. Then we receive our first instruction: "Talk to the creepy man." This local isn't a talkative fellow, but he eventually tells us that his name is Bjorn, and he gives us directions to the local hotel. A puzzle follows--a sort of connect-the-dots variation in which we must plan a snowmobile route by connecting the current location with the hotel. Puzzle complete, Nelson heads to his destination, only to find that he has returned to the same exact spot. It seems he was at the hotel the entire time. Whether or not Bjorn has a sense of humor or is a few straws short of a haystack has yet to be determined.
The puzzles we saw didn't seem too complex, but they will surely get more difficult as the game progresses. Should you get stuck, all is not lost: Puzzle Agent features a built-in hint system based on an economy of...chewing gum. It seems Nelson can concentrate better when chewing on the gooey stuff, though there is no gum to be found in Scoggins, except pre-chewed bits stuck under tables. Need a clue? Just shove a lump of pre-chewed gum in your mouth. Disgusting, sure, but it seems appropriate given Puzzle Agent's overall surreal tone. So whether you love snacking on gently chewed gum or simply crave games with surreal flair, Puzzle Agent has got you covered. Curious? You'll soon be able to piece together the pilot episode of this downloadable mystery on the PC, Wii, iPhone, and iPad.