Games that Don’t Suck: Puzzle Agent 2
“Scoggins’ only exports are erasers and weirdness.”
So says FBI Puzzle Agent Nelson Tethers, and he should know, as Puzzle Agent 2 marks Tethers’ second trip to the eerily charming town of Scoggins Minnesota. The original Puzzle Agent has proven to be a family favorite at the Macenstein house, so it was with great pride that we received an advanced copy of Puzzle Agent 2 to test out. (It’s now available on iPad $6.99, iPhone/iPod $4.99, and Mac and PC $9.99).
The plot of Puzzle Agent 2 has you once again assuming the role of agent Tethers – this time returning to Scoggins Minnesota to wrap up some loose ends from the eraser factory explosion case in the original Puzzle Agent. Unfortunately for you, the FBI has deemed the case closed, so you’re more or less on your own, forced to use your vacation time to investigate.
As you make your way though the case, you’ll find all your favorite characters from the first Puzzle Agent have returned, as well as a couple new ones. Without giving too much away, the mysterious “Hidden People” from the original also factor quite heavily into the story, and they lend a nice creep factor to the game’s already eerie atmosphere whenever they show up.
As the name implies, Puzzle Agent 2 is mainly about solving puzzles, although for the most part the puzzles themselves have little to do with the case, and merely serve as roadblocks in advancing the story. In general, the flow of the game is somewhat non-linear, and you can complete the game without solving all the puzzles (although any unsolved puzzles will be available to you at the end of the game in a sort of “free play” mode. As for the puzzles themselves, the difficulty varies wildly. I would say in general most are as difficult or slightly more difficult than the ones found in PA1, while some are quite basic and are almost filler. There were also two puzzles in particular, that I felt were just plain unfair. The first involved binary numbers, which I felt was a little outside your average person’s field of knowledge, but the second was not really a puzzle at all, it simply had you enter in 9th and 10th digits to the number Pi, and assuming you don’t know them, you have to go look them up. Also, one of the hints for that puzzles is “It’s part of a really big number”, which is not true, it’s actually part of a really LONG number. So to my mind these two puzzles required an internet connection or at least a trip to the library in order to complete, so iPod touch users away from WiFi, beware (these actually turned out to be two puzzles that were not needed to solve to complete the game, incidentally). That being said, the rest of the puzzles were solveable, enjoyable, and challenging enough that you could legitimately feel smug for completing them (that is until my 9 year old told me she already beat the game).
If you do find yourself getting stuck on a puzzle, you can always ask for a hint. Each puzzle allows you to see three hints, and each hint costs you a piece of chewing gum. Gum seems to the be “thought” currency of choice in the Puzzle Agent series as Tethers claims it helps him to think, and you’ll find it strewn across most scenes in the game waiting to be clicked on.
Just as with the first Puzzle Agent, the game really draws a great deal of its charm from Graham Annable’s somewhat crude illustrations and not-all-that-fluid animations. 90% of the game is simply dialogue, and the Muppet-esque “fish eye”-looking stares of the characters and long awkward pauses can at first seem a little off-putting, but eventually you realize that it all helps create the mood of Annable’s “Grickle” universe where Puzzle Agent is set.
Despite the seemingly simple visuals and audio of the game, for some reason we found Puzzle Agent 2 had quite a few audio stuttering problems that popped up on both the iPhone 4, iPod Touch 4th gen, and iPad 1 (I haven’t been able to test it on an iPad 2 yet). The game played flawlessly on the Mac, however. Hopefully an update will smooth things out, because while the audio problems don’t do much to hamper the game play, they DO jar you out of the immersive “Scoggins” experience, which is a shame, as the game really builds in atmosphere as you go.
My only other issue with the game would be that while it is not necessary to have played the first Puzzle Agent in order to complete this one, I feel it would definitely make the game more enjoyable. There are a number of inside jokes and call backs and to the first game, and the introductions to the characters are handled better in the first as well.
Puzzle Agent 2 is a worthy successor to the wonderful original, and well worth picking up if you are a fan of brain teasers. However if you are thinking of getting Puzzle Agent 2 but haven’t yet tried the first one, I would definitely recommend you give that one a try first, as it will make this installment all the more enjoyable.