Release date: April 2008
Developer: Level 5
Format: Physical cart
Other platforms: NA
Price: ~$20 AUD
Though I played a lot of puzzle games as a child, I lost interest in them as an adult. I had heard a lot of people in various gaming sites and forums praising the Professor Layton series, but I still wasn’t motivated to actually try one. Then I was in Target one day and saw several games marked down for clearance, including Professor Layton and the Curious Village for $5. I decided to pick it up along with whatever new-release game I was buying at the time.
The story starts with Professor Layton and his assistant, Luke, driving to the small town of St. Mystere after receiving a letter from Lady Dahlia. Dahlia’s husband, the recently deceased Baron Augustus Reinhold, wrote in his will that his fortune would go to whoever solved the mystery of the Golden Apple; while many have tried, no one has yet succeeded. Not long after Layton and Luke start investigating, however, another member of the Baron’s family is murdered, and the duo soon discover that the Golden Apple is only the beginning of their mystery. I will admit that I went in expecting to be underwhelmed, but it’s actually an engaging story, and the personalities of the different characters make you care what happens to them.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is also beautifully presented in a charming cartoon style, with completely animated and voiced cut scenes delivering the story in between puzzles and exploration. This is surprising and impressive compared to a lot of other DS games, and these high production values make the story even more interesting. I also quite liked the music, though it did get repetitive after a while; I would have liked to see a greater variety of tracks included.
So, what’s the actual gameplay like? Exploring the town and its surrounds is essentially a point-and-click adventure, where you touch arrows on the screen to move into different areas. In each scene, different characters and objects can be interacted with; some people will only give you information to progress the story if you can solve a puzzle for them (everyone in Professor Layton games loves puzzles), while other objects might yield optional puzzles. You can also find Hint Coins hidden in some places, which are useful for when you get stuck on a puzzle.
The puzzles themselves are where the game really shines. There are many different types of puzzles, from slider puzzles (rearranging components to fit into a particular shape) to logic puzzles to mathematical puzzles. Each puzzle has a value in “picarats”, which in most cases decreases by 10% the first two times you get the puzzle wrong (the penalty is higher for multiple choice puzzles). Also, some puzzles can’t really be answered ‘incorrectly’ as they require you to move things around to achieve a certain objective (such as arranging items to fit within a particular shape). The picarats don’t seem to have any purpose other than indicating the difficulty of the puzzle, so losing them isn’t really a big deal. If you get stuck on a puzzle, you can quit it with no penalty and come back to it later, though there are some puzzles that are required before you can progress.
While some puzzles are easy and have obvious answers, some are incredibly difficult and even when you do work out the solution, it sometimes seems down to luck more than anything. There were a handful that I had to look up online, and my response when I saw the answer was to scratch my head and mutter, “huh?” Then again, I suppose it caters to different ways of thinking, so what seems ridiculous to me may be quite obvious to someone else.
In addition to the puzzles, there are also a few other mini-games to solve throughout the adventure. When completing puzzles, you will sometimes be rewarded with a gizmo, a portrait piece or furniture. Furniture can be used to decorate Layton and Luke’s rooms at the inn to make them happy, while portrait pieces can be assembled to complete a painting. The gizmos can be assembled to create a little robot dog who can sniff out Hint Coins or puzzles you might otherwise miss. These mini-games are completely optional.
I would definitely recommend picking up Professor Layton and the Curious Village if you find it, especially since it can be found so cheaply now. The beautifully presented story and the huge variety of puzzles will appeal to people of all ages. Just be prepared to have to go online to look up a puzzle solution every now and then, and some players may prefer to play with the volume off once the music becomes too repetitive.