Curious? Check. Smart? Check. Jump In!
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a unique game that managed to break the mold, once and for all. I’m sure by now lots of people have had enough with all the brain games available for the DS. They just make you repeat exercises over and over with the only goal of improving your thinking. Professor Layton, on the other hand, is not focused on improving your brain function, but on testing it. If you thought the other brain games were challenging, wait until you get your hands on this one!
The land of the rising sun has embraced this title with open arms, due to its original approach. The game already has a sequel in Japan, and Level-5 is working on a third title for the series! This will be good news for those of you who learn to love this title, as the adventure won’t just end here.
Professor Layton is an adventure / puzzle game. The latter genre is more prevalent throughout the game, but there’s a story that links everything together and makes the title that much more engaging. A wealthy baron from the British town of St. Mystere passed away, leaving a rather mysterious will: his fortune will belong to whoever finds “The Golden Apple.” There’s no further explanation, and no one had even heard of such item; that’s why the baron’s family decides to contact the famous puzzle-solver Professor Layton. He accepts the challenge and brings his apprentice Luke along with him. The two of them will have to figure things out, which won’t be easy. It’s not just about the apple; St. Mystere is more mysterious than we thought, and its citizens communicate with each other through riddles and brainteasers. To top it off, access to some areas is only granted after solving a puzzle! What got into these people?
Almost every time you talk to a character, you’ll have to solve some kind of puzzle. The difficulty is indicated by the number of “picarats” you could win. Every time you submit the wrong answer, the amount of picarats the puzzle is worth will be reduced. Throughout the game you’ll investigate different areas of the village, the baron’s mansion, and other villagers’ homes. By clicking on different elements of your surroundings, you will find other puzzles, objects, and coins. Coins won’t make you rich; instead, they are the exchange currency to obtain hints. Most puzzles have three hints; in order to unlock one, you’ll have to give up one of your coins. The first hint of each puzzle doesn’t seem very useful, but the second and the third one are better. However, the goal is to solve the enigmas on your own, and that may be why the hints are not entirely helpful. If you get stuck in a puzzle, most hints won’t get you out of it. You’ll have the option of quitting and coming back to it later, but that’s about it. In many occasions, solving a puzzle will be imperative in order to continue with the story, so make sure to use all your brain juice or find a walkthrough!
Professor Layton carries a trunk with him. He saves everything in it, from his journal, which summarizes the events as they happen, to mysterious gizmos, clues, puzzle pieces, and more. The trunk is also the menu screen where you’ll save your game. The puzzles you’ve already solved will be unlocked and available in that menu as well, so you can redo your favorite puzzles or challenge a friend with them. Layton and Luke walk around town when you tap the shoe icon within the game. A couple of arrows (sometimes just one) will show up so you can select the direction you’re taking. It may be the weakest control system of the game, as the controls within the actual mind-benders couldn’t be easier. It’s not too bad though. Everything works with tapping, dragging, and drawing on the screen. I thought the ability to scribble on the screen while solving certain puzzles was nice. Otherwise you might find yourself grabbing pen and paper on the side, which is not as practical.
Level-5 managed to bring enchanting visuals to the DS. The outstanding presentation is what sets this game aside from others. The carefully hand-drawn characters and scenarios will pique the players’ curiosity to start, slowly drawing them into the story and the unique gameplay. Before you know it, you’ll be solving mountains of puzzles that come up after every few steps. The simple animations remind me of old cartoons. There aren’t a whole lot of cutscenes, but they’re well made and help to tie everything together.
The characters are simply charming, and their looks are quite revealing. Many times you’ll know who to trust by judging their “caricaturesque” appearance. Of course your instinct is not infallible, so even if you’re careful you’ll encounter lots of twists and mishaps that will complicate the story in ways you didn’t expect. Your patience and reasoning are your best allies in the game.
When I first started playing, I was pleased with the delightful, magical melody that goes with the story. It has a French feel to it that you will find in artistic movies like Amelie. The sound of the accordion, xylophone, and piano is very relaxing, and the very similar tune within the puzzles helps you concentrate on the challenging mind-benders without too much interference. However, even though it’s the perfect background music for the game, the developers failed to recognize that making them the only tunes is a mistake. You may be hypnotized with them and not turn down the volume, but the truth is, no one should have to just deal with it. If there were more variety in the soundtrack, everyone would have been happier. If you want to know what I’m talking about, just visit the game’s official website.
Some of the cutscenes are accompanied by nice voiceover work. It’s great to see that happen in a DS game, as sometimes developers forget or ignore the system’s capabilities. Considering the great hand-drawn art, voice acting, classic animations, intriguing story, and engaging gameplay, very few games can compare to this one, especially on the DS. The only one I can think of right now is Hotel Dusk: Room 215, but I liked this one even better. Also, you’ll be able to download a new puzzle every week for the next six months through the Nintendo Wi-Fi connection. It’s a nice addition that keeps the game fresh. The only problem is… there are no hints! – At least not yet. It seems like they’ll be releasing hints for the puzzles once in a while, which means you’ll have to wait for them if you can’t solve it on your own. That, or cheat by going online and finding the solution!
This game won’t appeal to everyone, as the puzzles can get difficult and slow down the flow of the game. Nonetheless, many of the riddles and brainteasers will sound familiar; you may have come across some of those at some point in your life. The question is: do you remember the solution? Ultimately, if you’re willing to take some time to solve the puzzles and enjoy this kind of gameplay, Professor Layton and The Curious Village will become one of your favorite games. If you’re not a thinker and what you like is action, you’re better off ignoring it; you’ll save yourself a headache. Are you ready for the challenge? If you smart, curious, and patient, I recommend you to jump right in!
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.7 Graphics
Professor Layton’s hand-drawn art style is unique, and the classic animations enhance the experience even more. The characters are cute and funny-looking. 4.5 Control
Puzzle-solving controls are perfect. The DS and the stylus are a true equivalent to pen and paper – they just feel right. Moving characters around town by clicking on little arrows is a bit too basic. 3.7 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
Classic-style mystery tune is spot on for the game. However, the soundtrack lacks variety. Characters’ voices are nice and add a new layer of reality. 3.9
It’s a fun game the first time around, as you won’t know the solution to the puzzles right off the bat. Conversely, it can become tiring and time consuming. Smaller doses are recommended. Weekly puzzle downloads is a plus.
4.4 Overall Rating – Great
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.