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• Professor Layton & The Curious Village

developed by Level-5/published by Nintendo/2008.02.10
1 Player (3 save slots)/Flash ROM/Nintendo DS

Layton1-header

A new Professor Layton game was just released for the Nintendo DS, and you might be curious what it’s all about.  But before you jump head-first into the sequel, take a look at Professor Layton & the Curious Village – the first chapter in Level 5’s puzzling trilogy starring the titular professor and his plucky side kick, Luke. It combines elements of point and click adventure games with brain teasers to great effect.

Layton1-01Story

The brain teasers originally appeared in a series of puzzle books called Head Gymnastics by Akira Tago (who also supervised development of the game), which Level 5 president Akihiro Hino enjoyed in his youth.  The genius was combining these puzzles with a fun mystery and an interesting cast of characters.

In this installment, Professor Layton has been summoned to the strange village of St. Mystere by Lady Dahlia, widow to Baron Reinhold. The late Baron has willed his life’s fortune to anyone who can solve the mystery of the Golden Apple. Unfortunately, the apple is hidden somewhere in St. Mystere and no one knows where it is. It’s up to the Professor to solve this and many other riddles along the way, with the help of his trusty assistant Luke and the citizens of St. Mystere.

Layton1-05Game play

Professor Layton uses the touch screen almost exclusively for everything from talking to villagers to moving about town, to writing answers to solve a puzzle. Just about anyone, regardless of gaming experience, should be able to pick it up and play it immediately, assuming they can read.  Don’t take that to mean the game is easy.  There’s plenty of text in the game, and key to solving many puzzles is paying special attention to the wording of a question. Slight hiccups may occur with the game’s hand writing recognition, but it’s nothing a quick do-over won’t fix.

There are over 120 puzzles to be solved, in a wide variety of styles. Very few puzzles boil down to trial and error, with most having specific, logic-based solutions. The difficulty also varies greatly from puzzle to puzzle, so it’s probably not suitable for very young players. Puzzles are presented both with text and often some kind of visual diagram which you may write on, if the need for simple calculations or notes should arise (and it will).

Layton1-02Should you get stumped, you may buy up to three hints using “hint coins”, which you find littered throughout the village in suspicious places. Simply tapping around on objects of interest in the background will yield enough coins (and hints) to get you out of a tight spot – though without a time limit, there’s really no reason to hurry. Meanwhile, players keep score with Picarats they earn for successfully solving puzzles.  The more Picarats you score by the end of the game, the more unlockable stuff you get.

Certain puzzles are exclusive to a specific chapter, but players may tackle these in later chapters by visiting Mrs. Riddleton’s shack, where any missed puzzles are stored. Players can also access the puzzles they’ve already solved through the menu, which is great for puzzling friends and relatives.

Layton1-04Bon Voyage!

Aside from the puzzles, Professor Layton’s primary strength lies in its lavish production values. Beautifully drawn characters and backgrounds in a distinctive style similar to “The Triplettes of Belville“, and music evocative of a Paris cafe, transport you to a wonderfully idealized vision of early 20th century Europe.

The color palette is slightly subdued, almost as if the entire game has been tinted with a light sepia tone, further adding to its flavor. As a nice treat the presentation is rounded out by dazzling cinematics from time to time, easily matching the quality of big budget animated films through stunning use of computer graphics and some voice acting. Thankfully, players can enjoy these scenes again and again through the options’ movie viewer.

Take a Hint

Professor Layton & The Curious Village is a win-win combination of classic brain teasers with a storybook animated film. For my money, Professor Layton is a better game than its competition (Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney, Hotel Dusk, etc), because unlike many point and click adventure games, where the puzzles often require a specific item or have illogical solutions, Professor Layton deviates from the norm to create a much more user-friendly experience. With its unusual cast of characters and setting, Professor Layton is much more engaging than standard edutainment titles, such as Brain Training or Big Brain Academy.

It took me about 15 hours to complete the main game, being very thorough not to miss any puzzles or hint coins, which is a perfectly acceptable length for this sort of game (and its low price). Players can also unlock extra puzzles via wi-fi for a fresh challenge. From what I’ve gathered, the Layton trilogy will likely become one of the DS’s most treasured series. Don’t pass it up!

Layton1-06Quick Run Down

PROs:

  • Polished & Original visual / musical style
  • Dozens and dozens of interesting brain teasers
  • Touch controls make it easy to pick up and play by anyone
  • Free, Weekly puzzle downloads keep you coming back for more
  • Excellent for short bursts of play

CONs:

  • Uneven difficulty may cause some frustration
  • If you’re NOT a fan of brain-teasers definitely pass!
  • Slow pacing may put some gamers off
  • Free downloadable puzzles will require Wi-Fi
  • The downloads won’t be available forever…

One Sentence Review: A totally different sort of game than most, with an added dash of charm and character that makes it hard to pass up.

One Word Review: Sublime!

Professor Layton & The Curious Village (official site)

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