Feb 182008

I have just finished playing Professor Layton and the Curious Village, a game I cannot recommend highly enough to anyone who has ever enjoyed thinking. The combination of straight-up puzzle solving and adventure game, charmingly presented in 2D, will leave you wanting more and wondering why nobody did this before. Brain game shovelware may well be doomed. The Professor puts that genre to shame and begs the question: “Why didn’t anyone do this before?”

The premise of the game is simple enough—well-known puzzle-solver Professor Layton is summoned to a village to solve the riddle of a hidden inheritance. With his assistant Luke in tow, he heads off to the town of St. Mystere (sigh), where it rapidly becomes obvious that the missing “Golden Apple” is the least of the mysteries confronting him. The townspeople have a strange penchant for posing puzzles and riddles (which can get annoying), and soon enough crimes ranging from a murder to a “doze-and-dash” are plaguing St. Mystere, demanding Layton’s attention. The story is pretty entertaining, even though you’ll probably figure out most of the mystery about the time you finish the easiest of the bonus puzzles.

Resolving most of these mysteries, and sometimes even moving around the town, requires you to solve several riddles. The simplest one is to the right—some of the puzzles, like this one, require nothing more than clear tracing of lines. Others require some pretty subtle thinking. I have seen some complaints about the difficulty, and I cannot entirely give these credit. The puzzles of the game generally don’t require any more knowledge than typically possessed by a fifth grader. The difficulty comes from a requirement for creativity and mental discipline. A child playing this game may need assistance from adults in spots, but then again, an adult playing this game may need a childlike outlook to achieve some of the necessary lateral thinking. In short, if you have kids, play this game with them. You will all have a great time. And don’t worry; if you don’t have a 10 year old to help you, a limited number of hints are available.

The tale of Professor Layton is conveyed through 2D animations and drawn backgrounds. The character design is excellent, with endearingly wacky villagers that are full of personality. The game features a substantial amount of voice acting, which actually works out quite well, though I suspect it cut down on the amount of music available. The soundtrack is passable, and works to help set the tone, though having some more variety would have been nice.

The game isn’t perfect. Although the touch control is essentially seamless, the movement system seems unnecessarily elaborate. The village mostly runs out of puzzles before the game runs out of story. As I mentioned the mystery itself is a little easy to get (though it requires a little leap), and also more or less solves itself. A little more involvement from the player in solving the larger riddles would have been great. The game is also a little short—the 15 bonus puzzles and additional downloadable content should provide your fix until Level 5 delivers the sequel that the bonuses page promises is coming. There are already 3 Professor Layton games out in Japan so this will mostly be a matter of localization. A longer story might also have helped get the player a little more emotionally involved; as is the story ends just as you’re really starting to fall in love with the characters.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a pleasant little game with a story and characters just wacky enough to make the numerous brain-teasers seem a natural part of the world. The puzzles themselves aren’t crushingly difficult, though a few can get a little frustrating. The story and presentation makes it much more engaging than the standard brain-game shovelware. Cute enough to engage a child, smart enough to stump an adult, Professor Laytonis charming fun anyone who loves thinking can enjoy.

  6 Responses to “I Love Layton”

  1. What is the deal with Ramon?

    At the risk of making an obvious point, I think the main reason nobody has done this before is that there wasn't a DS before. Having a wide array of logic and spatial puzzles doesn't map well to a 4-10 button controller. I mean, it is certaily feasible (for the programmer) but it would be prohibitively annoying for the player. And limiting the variety of puzzles obviously doesn't work. Not suprisingly, it has taken a few years for third parties to grok the possibilities of the DS. I shall add this game to my huge and ever-growing list of things to do after i'm done writing.

  2. I see your point, but I disagree. A keyboard and mouse would be sufficient to operate all the puzzles in Professor Layton, and it's likely that the PC gaming market would be amenable to such a game. I personally think that dedication to gaming conventions got in the way. Adventure games have been obsessively disguising their puzzles as gameplay for so long that it actually took some creativity to say, "Hey, let's just not bother hiding them."

  3. Ah, i disagree with the estimation that the PC gaming market would welcome something like Layton…. That is, unless the matchsticks were rendered in 1080p with realistic wood textures and they actually ignited and the flame gave off sparks rendered in real time with a realistic particle engine…

    …aside from that, you are obviously correct….

  4. Who do you think the bulk of the PC gaming market is? Hardcore gamers like to think that they, with their insanetron graphics cards, are the dominant users, but in fact the bulk of PC gamers are ordinary people playing Bejeweled and Diner Dash. That segment might really go for Layton if they could get it.

  5. awwww, but i like my stereotypes…

  6. I'll have to go with MWC's last comment. Since I don't own a game system, I'm limited to my PC (or Mac…snicker). I'm pretty much over my blowing-thing's-heads-off game days, so a game like this would actually appeal to me.

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