Quick wits and imaginative thinking go a long way in the Curious
Despite its looks, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is far from being a game just for kids. Developed by Level-5, the studio behind Dragon Quest VIII and Dark Cloud, it combines two brain twisting genres into an unique title on the Nintendo DS.
The story begins when Professor Layton, a puzzle fanatic and part time detective, and his side kick, Luke, receive a message from Lady Dhalia, a rich widow in search of a lost valuable memento left by her late husband, called the Golden Apple. Before even setting foot in St. Mystérie, the tone of the game reveals itself, throwing a puzzle the player's way in order to discover the actual location of the village. Along the way to solve the Golden Apple and the many other mysteries found in St. Mystérie, the villagers present brainteasers that sometimes lead to clues when solved. Upon exploration of the environment, more puzzles can be discovered, amassing to around 150 puzzles total. However, only a fraction of these has to be solved in order to complete the game's story.
The puzzles themselves range from all kinds of problems, mixing mathematically heavy enigmas, simple jigsaw puzzles and even Tetris-like block pushers. For each of these, a certain amount of piccarats, the game's currency, is awarded. These are used to acquire the many bonuses locked up in the bonus menu found outside the story mode, and range from a variety of puzzles. There is no time limit to solving the problems presented, but for each wrong answer, a certain amount of piccarats is taken away. However, they are never completely zeroed out, stopping at a certain minimum number available to earn. Tips can also be used at the cost of hint coins, which can be found through good, old fashioned, pixel hunting of the village's backgrounds, in the form of stylus tapping. Even though there are lots of possibilities to get help, the puzzles are no push overs, and often provide interesting challenges that require an "outside the box" method of thinking. These were created with the help of Chiba University's Professor Akira Tago, which is a known Japanese puzzle creator, author of many books in the subject.
Artistically, Professor Layton and the Curious Village has high production values. The visual style is influenced by European art, with a color palette and character design that is clearly based on The Triplets of Belleville. No two characters look alike, all with their own spirit and personality brought by a simple, yet charismatic line of drawing. The story moves in the form of dialog bubbles with character stills similar to the Phoenix Wright games, but important elements are presented through fully animated cut scenes, with voice acting. The overall quality of the presentation is very, very high, which provides are great deal of the immersion, sharing space with the main objective of the game, that is, presenting increasingly challenging puzzles. Controls rely on the DS touch screen almost completely, and are precise up to a certain limit of the screen sensitivity space.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village will provide a drawn out experience to the casual DS player, with around ten hours in the main story mode, with even more challenges after its completion. Bonus sections open up after the story closes, and the puzzles that were missed during play through can be solved by going to a sort of puzzle house located in the village. Also, there are special puzzle rooms that can be unlocked by collecting pieces of furniture, a painting and a robotic creature, given by specific puzzles found in St. Mystérie. More puzzles also be obtained through the DS' wireless connection, as weekly additions make their way to your personal collection. The occasionally head scratching and random pixel hunt might turn some more impatient players away, but for those looking for an intelligent and unique adventure game for their DS, their is no need to look much further.
Just knock on the Professor's door.