Puzzle Agent more puzzling than most games

Spoiler alert! Puzzle Agent has a variety of puzzles, enough to make sure you can’t possibly be good at all of them unless you’re a MENSA candidate. And since I’m not a MENSA candidate myself, I could be wrong about that. It may turn out that even MENSA candidates could be fooled by one or two. It’s definitely worth the money.

It’s game day Friday, and I shouldn’t have to remind readers because every Friday is game day Friday. I feel like a dork opening every Friday column with “It’s game day Friday,” but it almost seems like a requirement of serial writing. I watch the View. The announcer always says, “Today is hot topics day” on Monday even though every Monday is hot topics day.

The Ellen show also announces whatever day it is. In the case of the Ellen show there are so many special days that it’s hard to keep track of them all. But whatever that special day is, they make sure to announce it at the beginning of the show.

I think it fuels some need we have for festival since there are so few of them these days. Just the mention of a fake festival brings a sparkle of hope to our lives, if only for a second. After all, they’ve pretty much robbed us of real festivals. Never mind who “they” is, it never matters when in a rant. In fact, “they” is better because readers can fill the variable in with whoever makes them angriest.

“They” could be the Democrats, the Obama administration and their socialist plot to turn America into an African republic, the Republicans, or the corporate powers that rule the Republican agenda. They could be the liberal media or the Limbaugh/O’Reilly/Glenn Beck cartel. They could be the Jews, the Catholics, the Chinese, the born-again Christians, the Jihadist Islamists. They could be just about anybody but the Tea Baggers because they haven’t been elected yet, but, God forbid, if they are elected it will only take a day or two for “They” to include the Tea Baggers as well.

Anyway, They have turned Christmas into a shopping holiday, New Years into a twenty-seven bowl games (none of which have any impact on the national championship), Halloween into a marathon on SyFy (formerly SciFi), Labor Day into a barbecue and Baseball double header followed by Monday Night Football, and all of them into an excuse for drunken driving. Even the fireworks on the Fourth of July have a corporate sponsor now. Hell, we don’t even get to celebrate the festivals when the festivals occur because most people have traded them in four three-day weekends.

So of course we look forward to celebrating Game Day Friday. It’s one of the few special days that hasn’t been co-opted by Their agenda, whoever They are.

By the way, I’ve recently been contacted by several application developers who want to officially sponsor Game Day Friday with a banner ad. As soon as one of them ponies up the best offer I’ll change the name to the “(Game Developer’s Name Here) Game Day Friday.” But I promise you won’t notice the difference.

Puzzle Hurdles

Puzzle Agent, which was featured as one of Apple’s hot games, is worth the hype. I say this because I don’t always agree with the app store’s recommendations. This one earns it’s recommendation because it’s not only fun, it’s unique.

I’m tempted to use an adjective here, like “pretty” unique or “amazingly” unique but too many years as an English teacher handcuffs me. Unique is sui generis, like “perfect” or “pregnant.” You can’t modify unique no matter how many adjectives you string in front of it. Once you’re unique you can’t become more unique.

This doesn’t mean it will remain unique. Now that it’s out there, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of imitators. But Puzzle Agent will be tough to match because it’s tough to come up with a good storyline as well as good puzzles.

Puzzle Agent combines humor, good animation and brain teasers. Let’s start with the storyline. Most game story lines are tedious at best. Puzzle Agent’s story could be at least make it as a Saturday morning cartoon back when Saturday’s ran decent cartoons. Graham Annabel’s fumbling hero, Nelson Tethers, is the head of Puzzle Investigations, the lowest ranking department of the FBI. He must solve the case of a pencil eraser factory that is mysteriously shut down.

Why is the pencil eraser important? Because these are the President’s pencil erasers and the White House can’t function without them.

This part of the storyline seems a bit of a stretch for me, I must admit. Obama uses a Blackberry; I can’t picture him with a pencil. Perhaps Annabel wrote this during the previous administration when business was done on Big Chief tablets and No. 2 pencils.

Agent Tethers pursues his investigation to Minnesota where he runs into characters as kooky as any in Twin Peaks. But he can’t solve the crime with normal evidence, he has to tackle some very twisted brain teasers. And deal with gnomes. That’s right. An entire army of lawn gnomes that infest the Minnesota backwoods and a secret society founded to serve them.

At the center of the mystery? A lawn gnome infestation.

The Twister of brain games

Most games focus on two or three basic puzzle types, few of them challenging. Puzzle Agent tries to pack as many different brain teasers into the game as is possible. Just when you think you have the hang of the game, the developers throw in a puzzle that seems to come from left field. There are no “match three” puzzles in Puzzle Agent; some of these are pretty tough.

You will have to figure out dinner orders from couples’ appearances, determine the weight of a shipping order from the size of birds, and how to sort bugs with squares. You may be good at one style of game, but the odds are high you won’t be good at all of them. Puzzle Agent offers more than three dozen puzzles, almost all of them challenging.

Which gnome was stolen? Only the negative provides a clue.

Can you find a single straight line to cut through the barriers?

The game provides a number of options to help you through the puzzles. Agent Tethers can collect ABC gum and each piece unlocks a puzzle hint. Each puzzle has three hints available, and in Puzzle Agent the hints are useful and progressively more specific. None of them actually give the solution away.

Earn hints by collecting chewed gum.

Puzzle Agent also provides agent briefings and fairly specific instructions to help solve every puzzle. Most of the time the instructions are clear, but occasionally the wording can be misleading. The game scores your performance with an evaluation in classic bureaucracy style.

Each puzzle comes with an evaluation.

Disappointing finish

I don’t want to give away the ending, but I should warn you it’s straight out of TS Eliot. The game finishes with a whimper instead of a bang (although the ending could be an attempt to set up a sequel.) Annabel tries to justify this with one of those awkward explanations, but it’s clear he’s fumbling on the goal line.

The biggest disappointment with Puzzle Agent is the puzzle free play once you finish the game. You can revisit every one of the puzzles, which is good, but if you really screwed them up the first time there’s no way to improve your score. If you got the worst evaluation possible the first time around, you’re stuck with it. Even if you get it right in free play, you’re still a failure. What’s the point of redoing puzzles if you’re only going to be told you still suck?

But this shouldn’t steer you away from the game. The decision should be based on how well you like puzzles. If you like difficult and challenging puzzles, you’ll like Puzzle Agent. If you only like games with puzzles you can easily solve, you won’t.

Jenny Manytoes rates Puzzle Agent

Jenny Manytoes would make biscuits all over Puzzle Agent. It’s like finding a mouse in a maze only to find a new maze with a mouse of a different color.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
This entry was posted in 5 Stars - Biscuits, Entertainment, Games and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Puzzle Agent more puzzling than most games

  1. Fernanda Paulo Ramos says:

    Is there any other similar game? This one I loved and I already finished it!

    • Nothing with the comedy and sheer variety of puzzles, although other readers may have run across one. You might try Mushroom Age for a distant similarity.

    • Hamlet, the last game without…… the name goes on is about as close as I have been able to find. I will be reviewing it in a couple of weeks,

      It’s much tougher, however, and the hints are far more vague.

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