I want to be Professor Layton when I grow up. There, I said it. But there's really no shame in that, because Professor Layton is easily the smartest guy in the world. Or, at least, he is when it comes to brain teasers. His DS game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, combines a compelling-but-basic point-and-click adventure game with 135 logic puzzles and riddles. The combination of its charming presentation and tricky challenges makes for a terrific end product that fits perfectly onto the DS.
It'd be easy to forgive Layton for a substandard story line, because the puzzles and challenges are what give the game its lasting value. But the story, which has Layton and his young apprentice Luke scouting around a strange, puzzle-loving town in search of the mysterious treasure of a deceased noble, is great, too. There are just enough twists and turns in the mystery to keep you interested in what will happen next, and even though you may start to suspect where things are going before you reach the conclusion, getting there and seeing it for yourself is definitely worth it.
The game's puzzles are jammed into this standard adventure game structure. You'll encounter plenty of different characters on the streets, and more often than not, they'll drop a new puzzle in your lap. Don't they understand that you've got mysteries to solve? While you don't need to complete all of the game's puzzles to finish the game, you'll occasionally encounter roadblocks in the story that prevent you from moving forward until you've completed a specific number of puzzles. The puzzles are almost never related to what you're actually trying to accomplish in your investigation, so you may occasionally wonder why these goons are getting in your way with some mind-bender about wolves, sheep, and a raft when you're trying to get to the bottom of a murder. Layton, being the type of gentleman that I can only hope to become someday, patiently solves these puzzles, as opposed to open-hand-slapping them while shouting obscure early-90s rap slang.
If you've ever encountered a book of brain teasers, many of the puzzles in Curious Village will seem pretty familiar. Old standbys, like reorganizing matchsticks to change one picture into another, or Die-Hard-3-style liquid pouring challenges, or trying to place queens on a chessboard in such a way where no queen can attack any other queen are all present and accounted for.
While the puzzles at the front of the game are a bit easier than the ones you'll face near the end, the challenge comes from within. Even if you think you're reading things closely, you'll probably get tripped up here and there. If you do get stuck, the game offers three levels of hints for each puzzle, though you'll have to spend a hint coin each time you want to see one. Hint coins are hidden around the town, and you can usually find more by tapping garbage cans, doors, and other out-of-place objects. While the three levels of hints are supposed to become more and more helpful as you burn through them, one of the more frustrating moments in Professor Layton comes when you've seen all three hints for a puzzle and still have trouble figuring out the answer. But with a healthy helping of perseverance, most players should be able to complete enough tasks to see the game's ending without resorting to a FAQ. Once you've exhausted the main game's puzzles, you can go on to try a series of harder bonus puzzles that unlock as you complete certain in-game tasks. Or you can get online, as the developers are offering up one new downloadable puzzle every week. The downloadable puzzles are of roughly the same quality as the ones found in the main game, but when you remove the puzzles from the adventure, they aren't quite as meaningful.
All this adventuring and puzzling is wrapped up in a neat audiovisual package that ties it all together. You'll get full-motion video for the bigger story sequences, complete with some great character voices. Outside of that, though, the hand-drawn still images for characters and backgrounds look great and give the whole game a very warm feeling.
That's not a trait that one would commonly associate with a puzzle-based game that, when you break it down, probably has more in common with Nintendo's long list of brain training games than anything else. But that warmness is something that really sums up the entire experience. Professor Layton and the Curious Village has a certain warmth to it that makes it easy to love, even when you're up against a particularly annoying puzzle. Personally, I found this first adventure so strong that I'm already getting antsy just thinking about the next game in this planned trilogy.