Okay, so Iâ€™ve got a difficult job ahead of me: informing you of the understated awesomeness of Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Itâ€™s difficult because the game admittedly sounds pretty naff when being talked about.
I discovered this first hand when trying to tell my indoor soccer team about the quirky DS adventure title after our match. There was general scoffing all round, with a few snide comments thrown in for good measure. I tried explaining one of the puzzles, which involved ferrying chickens and wolves across a river, but it was dismissed as something for kids. But later on in the evening, I busted the game out, and had soon hooked in doubting non-believers. So if the following explanation makes you think this game isnâ€™t worth your time, trust me: youâ€™re wrong.
Professor Layton is a curious blend of adventure game elements and puzzle solving. This sounds exactly like every adventure game known to man, except that the puzzles you solve are a range of logic-based riddles, from working out mathematical equations to moving matchsticks around. While that might not sound very fun, the puzzles are almost always engaging and thought provoking. They also vary in difficulty â€“ while some are pretty easy, especially early on, youâ€™ll come across many that will have you utterly stumped. The solution, however, always makes sense when you finally get it, so you rarely feel cheated â€“ just really stupid.
The adventure parts of the game, meanwhile, focus on Professor Layton - puzzle solving extraordinaire - and his kid sidekick Luke. They have been summoned to the mysterious town of St. Mestere (I know) upon the death of Baron Reinhold, a seemingly devious man who has hidden his inheritance somewhere in the town. Youâ€™ll soon get caught up in all sorts of mysteries, and every step of the way youâ€™ll be asked to solve puzzles to get to the bottom of it all.
These two rather distinct elements add up to something that is more than the sum of its parts. They complement each other well, providing a gameplay experience that is always varied enough to remain fun. This is in spite of the often terrible (in quite a hilarious way) justifications for the puzzles â€“ you might click on a dirty old jar, say, and hear Layton say â€śah, that dirty old jar reminds me of a puzzle!â€ť Citizens of the puzzle-mad town will only give up vital information if you solve a puzzle first, and so on. Itâ€™s almost like grinding in random battles in RPGs, except actually fun.
The presentation of the game goes a long way towards making it a fun experience. Itâ€™s got really charming visuals, combining painted backdrops with fully animated cartoon cut scenes for important moments. I also have to award points for the way characters zoom onto the screen in triumph when you get a puzzle right â€“ my girlfriend refused to keep playing with me until I stopped imitating it. The music and sound is also surprisingly good for a DS game â€“ I actually kept the volume up, something I rarely do when playing handheld titles.
The game itself will take you a good number of hours to complete â€“ there are over 150 puzzles spaced out between cut scenes and other adventure elements. However, the puzzles provide little in the way of replay value, so you probably wonâ€™t find yourself going back for a second play through. For your first time playing, though, thereâ€™s a lot to do, and youâ€™ll find itâ€™s a rich experience that is well worth the asking price. Like Hotel Dusk, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a great, quirky title that really shows off what the DS is capable of. Donâ€™t just wait around for the next generic action game â€“ pick up this title and actually exercise your brain a little.