Agent A’s subtitle, A Puzzle in Disguise, speaks volumes. Here’s a (quick) game that plays like a point & click adventure game, but is actually a giant escape room. You are Agent A and you’ve just witnessed your boss being killed by an evil miss LeRouge with her kitty—and also, more importantly, an expert in (counter-)espionage. Her primary task consists of… “taking care” of Agent A. The bulk of the game takes place in and around her hideout, where she lays the traps and you attempt to disarm them.
Puzzling in Agent A is simple and difficult at the same time. It’s simple thanks to its interface: there are only two button presses (or clicks if you’re playing on PC) needed: either you interact with something, or you press
B—the “go back” button. Interacting with a trapdoor has Agent A move to that location. Pressing
B simply has you retracing your steps. You pick up stuff with
A, and yes, there’s an inventory, but worry not: contrary to most adventure games, the only manipulation needed in the inventory is dragging something out of it, and over the thing you want to “interact” with. Again: very simple. It almost feels (and looks) like a cool Flash game from back in the day.
While finding your way through the game may sound easy, some of the puzzles are quite challenging, in a good way. We broke through the first two chapters in no time, but in chapter 3, you’re confined to a single room, and the puzzles really ramp up there. In Agent A, you’ll most of the time trigger chain reactions: solving a puzzle nets you a key, which nets you a mysterious slab with a sign on it after finding the secret keyhole, which unlocks another puzzle, after which you collect another key, and so forth.
Some of the chapters, like the aforementioned 3, were a bit too exhausting for us: puzzle after puzzle bedazzled and eventually demotivated us a good bit. After being persistent though, the last two chapters were again brilliantly designed, where you revisit locations of the first chapters where some objects have been subtly changed. Things can be reused, and every now and then, Agent A offers a hint or two (“I bet this can be lowered” or “I think I need another piece first”).
Most of the scenery in Agent A is very static, making it feel inspired by the older Myst series, especially since that classic is also more of an escape room than an adventure game. It is not uncommon to find hints and strange symbols in one location that has you scratching your head, only to see something else a few screens further and yell aha!. I can’t recommend playing without pen and paper. For a particularly nasty rotating lock puzzle, we even cheated a bit by leveraging the Switch’s built-in screenshot ability.
In my view, puzzle games need to be exceptionally well paced, otherwise it can feel like the game simply serves you puzzle after puzzle, coated in a friendly-looking UI that acts as nothing more but the driver. In the middle of the game, I did have that feeling. We “solved” (ha!) this by limiting our play sessions to thirty minutes to an hour, before the puzzle overload or exhaustion kicks in. There was one point where we needed a certain item—as one usually does—but we couldn’t figure out how to get it. That question fermented in my subconsciousness for a day. The next time we booted up the game, we both had a novel idea on how to proceed. That’s also a part of the charm of Agent A: you get to have play/thinking time outside of the actual screen time.
As mentioned before, the game was initially released in 2015 in separate episodes, but buying it nowadays fetches you the whole set of five episodes. We managed to only pay
€1.5 (!!) as part of a massive Nintendo Switch store sale, but it’s usually available for about €16.70 at different platforms, including GOG and Steam. For such a charming game—that won a couple of indie awards—this includes at least four hours of puzzling and head scratching fun. Value-wise, this is an incredibly good deal.
We played Agent A after Dexter Stardust and were initially under the impression that it was an adventure game. It is not: there’s less emphasis on story, dialogue (although Agent A has something to say about everything you click on), inventory management, and much more on the puzzle aspects. As such, it’s hard to recommend for classic point & click fans. The best comparison is, again, an escape room. Do you like puzzling your way out of a room, where an item gained is required in the next puzzle, and so forth? Then this is the game for you.
Overall, we had a blast playing through Agent A. Some chapters are better than others, but that could be personal preference. It’s hard to compare or evaluate the game, but since we both really liked it, I’ll go ahead and award it that label. If I had to put it next to Dexter, though, Dexter would win. My wife begs to differ. The solution? Get both games, they’re both cheap, done by an indie team, and really worth your time!