kowbrainz's Professor Layton and the Curious Village (Nintendo DS) review

Just solve this puzzle first...

I’d find it very unnerving if, upon travelling to a new town and asking a local where the nearest bathroom was, they told me to solve a puzzle of theirs first. But such is the world of Professor Layton, a point-and-click style mystery/adventure game for the DS, comprised of tricky brainteasers which the player must complete in order to progress through the game. While it’s likely that players who have picked up a brainteaser book in the past will be familiar with a lot of the puzzles here, there’s a very enticing part of Layton and the way it strings together the puzzles over the course of your adventure which keeps you from putting the game down.

The game puts you behind Professor Layton and his trusty sidekick/slave-boy Luke, who are off to a small village named St. Mystere to solve the mystery of the Golden Apple. It’s a quirky tale characterised by a very charming cartoon art style which looks stunning on the DS. Every now and then you’ll also be treated to a full animated cutscene for plot advancement, and it’s at these moments where the game’s visual style really shines. The music is also a standout for the game, Layton’s soundtrack including several European tunes which fit right in with the visual style and really add to the immersion as you’re exploring the streets of St. Mystere. The game also includes voice acting during cutscenes and puzzles, which is done rather well for the most part with the exception of a few annoying, high-pitched lines which slip out of young Luke’s mouth after answering a puzzle.

The puzzles themselves are nicely varied, and while you’ll be able to spot the answer to some from a mile away, others will have you scratching your head for ages before everything finally clicks. When you finally do figure out the answer to that tricky puzzle, though, the game isn’t just rewarding – it makes you feel like the smartest person on the planet. In the case that you do get genuinely stuck, you’ll be able to use hint coins collected from your travels through town in order to gain a few clues about certain puzzles. Most of the time you’ll be given enough to work with from the first two clues so that the third practically gives the solution away, but there are a few situations where the puzzle isn’t very clear and the clues don’t do anything to help either.

These annoying situations are very rare, though, and most of the time you’ll only get stuck on a puzzle if you’re not thinking the right way. You’ll never require much knowledge of mathematics or physics – half of the trick to each of the puzzles is finding out the logic behind them, or thinking outside of the box in the right way. You’ll also have to pay good attention to keywords of the question at times, as there are numerous occasions where the game will throw a couple of wordy puzzles with several red herrings to throw you off the scent. The game may have more than a dozen tricks up its sleeves, but it’s the feeling you get once you figure out these tricks which makes everything oh-so worthwhile.

All in all, Professor Layton will take players roughly 12 hours to complete as they go through, and maybe a few hours more if they decide to go after all of the game’s 135 puzzles. Those worried about the game’s replay value after completing everything needn’t fear, as the developers have been releasing weekly puzzles over Nintendo’s Wi-Fi connection to keep people busy. While these puzzles may be just as hard as the ones in the main game, you may soon realise where the real charm of Professor Layton lies – not in the puzzles themselves, but in the characters and narrative which string them together in a very lovable manner. It was then that I realised my real appreciation for the game and the way it has differentiated itself from the other brain training or puzzle games on the market, and now I can only eagerly look forward to the sequel to this fantastic game. Professor Layton is a game I can recommend to all DS enthusiasts with ease.

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