Review by Tranzience

Reviewed: 12/18/08

Simply marvelous

The first entry in a planned trilogy, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is one of those rare games that has something for everyone – everyone who enjoys a good puzzle, that is. Its developer, Level-5, has released precious few other titles, with those being such under-the-radar games as Rogue Galaxy, Jeanne d’Arc, and Dark Cloud. Whereas most if not all of their other games were RPGs, Professor Layton is a mix of the puzzle genre and the point-and-click genre that the DS has come to enjoy since its release. With that bit of general background in place, let us examine the details of the game a bit closer.

First, it is important to know how the game plays out. The game is first of all divided into chapters. The bulk of the game’s story is told at the beginning and end of each chapter though there is plenty of it interspersed throughout each chapter. During each chapter the player will move through various areas of the village examining objects and talking to the village’s residents as he/she goes. After a bit of dialogue between the characters, the player will be presented with some sort of riddle or puzzle to be solved.

The great thing about the puzzles in Professor Layton is that they are many and varied, numbering close to 150 in all with the WiFi and bonus puzzles included. The puzzles span across many different types: matchstick puzzles, sliding puzzles, spot the difference puzzles, mazes, optical illusions, logic puzzles, jigsaw puzzles and many types that do not fall into any sort of traditional puzzle category. This makes for a great way to hold the player’s interest since there is always some new sort of challenge to take on if one gets too frustrated with one puzzle or finds some types too easy or too time consuming or short or what have you. The game also only requires the solving of a number of the puzzles to advance in the story, just in case a certain puzzle proves too tough or troublesome. Any puzzles skipped over will be accessible again in one area of the village, should the desire rise to take another crack at them later.

Of course, one of the best parts about this game is that it makes full use of the touch screen on the DS, allowing some of the puzzles to have a much more interactive element than any ordinary puzzle book could allow. For example, there are a few puzzles where the player must move objects out of the path of a ball or an animal so that it can reach its destination. Or, for another example, those sliding puzzles most people are familiar with where there are a number of tiles that make up a scrambled picture with one tile missing where the object of the puzzle is to rearrange the picture by using – in this case – the touch screen to slide the tiles around. The way the game requires the player to input numbers and letters takes a slight bit of getting used to, but once it grows familiar it really is a much quicker method than the use of touch-screen keyboard that many other games opt to use. Though much of the game could indeed have been done without the touch screen features, they are a welcome addition that makes the game that much more fun.

But hold on, there is more to this game than a mere collection of brain teasers slapped onto the DS. As mentioned earlier, the game has a story through which the story progresses. This is what sets Layton apart and makes it outshine other games like Brain Age or Big Brain Academy that are a mere collection of puzzles without point: There is a tale to be told here, and it is a good one told with the utmost care.

When the player starts up the adventure for the first time, he/she will be greeted with an animated cutscene like that out of a children’s book. The art style used for this cutscene – and indeed for everything else in the game – is rather unique and quite charming. Everything has a sort of simplistic look to it that still manages to convey its personality without mucking it up with unnecessary detail. If you could not understand a word of that, just look up some screenshots for yourself and look at the character designs and the various backgrounds to the game. Gorgeous, are they not? The fact that there are multiple scenes outside of the intro that are animated is only icing on the cake to help the beautiful art direction keep the player wrapped up in the game. Yet the game continues to give.

Ah yes, the sounds to the game. One of the other things the player is bound to notice in that first cutscene is that it is voiced, and competently so by voice actors whose accents help flesh out the character they represent. Though much of the game is told purely through animations and text, there is a good bit of this voice-acting throughout the game, which is always welcome given the high quality. What is more is that the game has a wonderful soundtrack that manages to capture the eerie quality of the curious village that the game takes place in. Though there are not altogether too many songs to the soundtrack, they are all quite memorable – the catchy kind of stuff one might find him/herself humming after getting in a couple of hours of playing it. I highly recommend playing the game with headphones or at least with the volume up to get the fullest enjoyment out of it.

None of this painstaking effort into making the game look and sound beautiful would matter, however, if the game was not fun or the story was simply boring. Thankfully, it is both fun and engrossing. From the Professor himself with his carefree attitude and several sayings and his youthful, eager assistant to the many residents of the village they have come to in order to solve the mystery of a dead man’s will, the cast is always a delight. The plot is ripe with intrigue and twists, too, so there is never a dull moment. It becomes a tough choice at times trying to decide whether to hunt down every puzzle at once or to save some for later and simply move forward in the story, but either way the game will not disappoint.

So what can ultimately be said about Professor Layton and the Curious Village? First off, it is a delight to watch and listen to; there is no shortage of effort spent on making the game as polished as possible. Secondly, it has an engrossing storyline that makes the game standout whereas other puzzlers simply have no point in sight other than that high score. Lastly, it has a wide range of puzzles that are all sorts of fun. That’s what it comes down to in the end, right? An enjoyable way to pass the time at home or on the bus, Professor Layton is one of the greatest titles released for the DS and a must-play title for anyone who even remotely enjoys puzzles. Here’s to hoping the rest of the trilogy makes its way out of Japan.

Rating: 10

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

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