This review might ruin the game Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, from Telltale Games, for you. If you care about not having Telltale Games' Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent ruined for you, go invest the three hours it will take you to finish, and come back here, bloodied and raw, and see if you disagree. If you refuse, and career ahead, I'll try not to ruin the puzzles for you.
There's a lot of press going around about Puzzle Agent.
It is uniform in two respects: It is quiet, and it is generally negative. I will attempt to make a small noise which, I hope, will aid in the slowly growing galumph of Internet Noise about it. I shall also attempt to remain other than generally negative, while still recording my actual opinion of a game you will either have a) already finished or b) a perfect void of interest toward.
It is too easy and pat for a reviewer of games to say "Puzzle Agent gets everything right... EXCEPT THE PUZZLES." That's a coward's way out, and the regurgitated refuse opinion of a professional pessimist and hater, and it's a lie to boot. The puzzles are fun. The puzzles are puzzles. Some of the puzzles are difficult. Some are easy. They come at you fast and furious and they are puzzles, which is what you asked for. Don't say the puzzles are wrong. The puzzles. are. puzzles. They're not hard enough? They're too hard? Great. You are either too smart for this and should be applying your brain to changing humanity, or you should just have fun and chew your gum and not worry so much about how you score on the puzzles. That said, here's my top 3 of what's wrong with Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent.
1. The whole thing feels a little rushed. I get that it's supposed to be sparse. I get that it's supposed to leave you wanting more and/or feeling unsettled. I get that the ending, edited to be more of the same ending in the update, is as deliberate as the day is the part of the Earth's rotation cycle in which a given face is bathed in the direct light of the sun. Right. Sure. But where the Hell is my hot dish? Sure, Isaac and the gnomes get meatloaf. There's hot dish's cousin right on the ground, but I don't even consider going for that. I'm focused on the possibility of real, honest to gosh Hot Dish. But I don't even get to stay in town long enough to sit down to a single dinner of hot dish? Not once? C'mon. Did I miss the awesome hot dish puzzle? I kept going back to the Inn, I kept asking, and she kept being perfectly nice while not providing me with hot dish. She kept failing to allow me to sit at the table and sup at the wonder that is Hot Dish, even while surrounded by terrible gnomes. Not to mention, I don't get to see the gnomes at night? I don't get to be tortured by them as I lay in my bed, watching their terrible red faces and terrible beady eyes as they creep past me in a regular if at first bewildering pattern, and I try to draw a line with string that will avoid crossing their paths, even as I rotate tiles madly? That seems like an oversight, right? I don't even get to see the aforementioned room, paid for with Problem Number 2.
2. It is funny the first time, the time when Scotch Brand (TM) Taping a Crossword Puzzle together, that you, the player, have just pissed away 75 and a half thousand and change taxpayer dollars. It is funny. If it took you two tries on that puzzle, which it probably won't, but whatever, it is probably even funnier that you just blew more than 150,000 taxpayer dollars. When you head on out to Scoggins and you blow another half million taxpayer dollars on various bullshit, that's funny, too, probably. After the first million dollars wasted, that joke could probably just sort of die off. At the end, when your waste of taxpayer dollars is just a meaningless and large number, that's cool too. A perfect (the lowest?) score had better be the code to unlock something badass somewhere, I'm just saying, or else why bother with the specificity and the tabulation, and with wasting a whole animation sequence, driving home the fact that each suggested puzzle answer costs precisely $75,642.98, right? I can't make $2,798,790.26 come out as the Konami code, but maybe I'm trying too hard.
3. Population 748. Sheriff Bahg. Isaac Davner. All red herrings unless there's gonna be a second episode and it is gonna blow your mind. And they can't promise that a second episode is even a possibility because, of course, they're stretched so thin producing two more series and, oh yeah, that Sam And Max Thing. Pace, dudes.
I'm all out of venom. So far, playing Puzzle Agent feels like reading some really entertaining person's notes on something neat he was working on, something that never got published, and that really, probably never will. It makes me sad. I'd love to see the rest of the game happen. I'd love to see what they have planned for the gnomes and the space theme and WHERE IS MY GODDAMN HOT DISH? Sorry. Got away from me for a second there. I could sort of go on. What about the night clerk? Escher Chairs? The other locations on the map? Why is there a creepy schoolhouse I don't even get to drive past?
But I won't. I won't point out these things, hanging there and suggesting that I have now paid good money for a demo, incomplete if good intentioned. I won't make a stink about this stuff because I'd really like to see the rest of this story get told. The intarwebz be damned, and the people who keep complaining that Nelson Tethers is no Professor Layton be damned as well, although on that I speak from a place of perfect ignorance. I never read the book. I only saw the cinematic video game. That, then, is my own list of what's wrong with Nelson Tethers: Puzzle Agent, a game that takes absurd, simple art, and makes it genuinely creepy, even as it asks you to count how many fish will be swimming into a river from the left side of the screen to the right, while avoiding fishy indecision.