Review by corran450

"Corran450's Review Series Vol. 8: Professor Layton and the Curious Village"

By now, I'm sure many of you have already heard of Professor Layton and the Curious Village. A quirky little game that is now one of the most popular titles for the DS, it seemingly came out of nowhere, and is all about puzzles. Well, some of you are probably on the fence about it, like I was and that's why, for my first game review of 2009, I've selected this gem. From developer Level 5, creators of the much loved PSP sleeper hit Jeanne D'Arc, comes this delightful mystery with an engrossing story, innovative game mechanics, and charming graphical style that begs to impress. And impress it does.

Lurking within it's point-and-click front hides a puzzle game, but puzzles more along the lines of Brain Age rather than Tetris or Lumines. The main point of the game is to solve brain teasers, trick questions, and riddles (using the touch screen and stylus) posited to you by the townsfolk of the titular village. These puzzles range from block sliding (get the ball from point A to point B in as few moves as possible) to complex math equations (if a train leaves Chicago going 40 m.p.h. heading towards another train leaving New York going 30 m.p.h. etc.).

Now I know you're all thinking, "Puzzles? How lame is that?" but let me tell you that Professor Layton's major draw is that little thrill of accomplishment you get when you discover the correct answer to a tricky question. And there are some major stumpers, let me assure you. Each puzzle also has three hints that you can purchase with "hint coins" found scattered in various hiding places in the village. These coins are limited in number, adding to the difficulty of the game.

There are over 130 puzzles to be found in the game, all of varying degrees of difficulty, measured in the number of "picarats" you receive upon solving the puzzle. These picarats are used to unlock bonus materials about the development of the game. You may also receive one of three items (a scrap of a painting that you must assemble, a piece of furniture for Luke or the professor's room, or a segment of a strange gizmo that once assembled helps locate hint coins) that, upon completion of their respective collection, unlocks more bonus puzzles accessible from the main menu.

Add to these the veneer of a point-and-click adventure that involves exploration of the tiny burg, questioning the locals, and finding clues to solve the mystery. When you mix it all together, you've got a solid puzzle game, in bite-sized pieces that will keep you coming back for more.

Some of the puzzles will seem tacked-on and random. Characters will say things like, "I won't let you pass until you solve my puzzle." Just remember when this happens that under all the gloss and polish, this is a puzzle game. If they didn't put puzzles in it, it wouldn't be much of a puzzle game, would it? Besides, this feeling passes. You'll grow to anticipate asking everyone in town if they have any new puzzles for you, just so you can get that satisfying puzzle-solved feeling again. It's worse than crack, I tell you!

Our story begins with the famous Professor Hershel Layton, and his ward, Luke on their way to the curious village of St. Mystere (never heard of that particular saint) to solve a dispute over the inheritance of the late Lord Augustus Reinhold. Reinhold's entire estate has been left to whomever can solve his final puzzle, the mystery of the Golden Apple. Along the way, Luke and the professor meet many unusual characters, including Lord Augustus's widow, Lady Dahlia, his simpering attendant, Matthew, and many others. Mysterious disappearances in some way connected to the tall, sinister tower in the center of town, along with the murder of a puzzle seeker intent on finding the Golden Apple, and the intervention of a suspicious police detective serve to thicken the plot.

All in all, Professor Layton and the Curious Village serves up an engrossing mystery with Agatha Christie-like overtones. For those of you who don't regularly indulge in mysteries, that's a good thing. The characters are very original and your interactions with them can be downright hilarious. Unfortunately, the game sort of defeats itself in that, by the time you've trained your mind to think in the right direction to solve the puzzles it presents, the big twist at the end of the story is painfully obvious. However the resolution is very satisfying, while at the same time, leaving it way open for the sequels that our Japanese counterparts are already enjoying.

The graphics of Professor Layton are highly nostalgic; they remind me of some of the cartoons I used to watch as a kid. The characters are all drawn very uniquely, and you'll have no trouble telling them apart. The scenery is colorful and interesting, and very well-detailed. Most of what you will be seeing, though, is the puzzles, and they are well developed. Any time there is a graphical element to the puzzle, the "pieces", so to speak, are clear and easy to evaluate. If the puzzle is just a verbal riddle, they are usually accompanied by an amusing drawing depicting the situation. Bottom line: the graphics are perfect for the intent of the game.

The game also includes some animated cut scenes featuring voice acting that are very well done. I hear they're making a Professor Layton movie; I can believe it, after seeing the cut scenes, and I look forward to it.

The games music is very interesting, with a French-sounding style featuring an accordion, that I liked very much. It is suitably mysterious and thought provoking, though sometimes distracting, especially the Jeopardy-theme-sounding music featured when trying to solve a puzzle. The main theme of the game is incorporated throughout.

The best sounding parts of the game are the cut scenes, featuring very well-cast voice acting and superb sound effects. The incidental music in the cut scenes is also well-tailored and pleasant. My only major beef with the sound is that whenever you solve a puzzle, either the professor or Luke will exclaim one of a limited number of phrases that basically mean "Good Job!" Normally I wouldn't mind, but after 130+ puzzles, it gets a little repetitive.

Play Time/Replayability:
I beat this game in about 10 hours. For a portable game, that's not bad, especially since the story is fun and solving puzzles is so satisfying. As I mentioned before, there are tons of puzzles to unlock, including over a dozen that are downloadable via a wireless access point. That's a lot of puzzles to solve.

Unfortunately, I'd have to give this a low replayability rating. Sure the story was great, and yeah it was highly satisfying solving puzzles, but once you've solved a puzzle, it's done. You already know the answer, so solving it gives no more satisfaction. Sure some of the block-moving-style puzzles ask you to try to complete it in fewer moves, but I don't really know anyone that masochistic. Still, it can be fun to foist a tough one off on your friends and watch them sweat over the answer.

Final Recommendation:
In conclusion, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is one the most surprisingly enjoyable game experiences I've had in a long while, and I urge you to try it. It may not have Brain Age's PhD pedigree, but it's way more fun.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 01/13/09

Game Release: Professor Layton and the Curious Village (US, 02/10/08)

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