Oct 17, 2011

Posted by | 2 Comments

Professor Layton and the Curious Village Review

Professor Layton and the Curious Village Review

*Originally published July 20, 2009. Reprinted for your convenience.

I have a confession: I bought Professor Layton and the Curious Village when I bought my DS Lite back in November 2008.  Yet it was only until recently that I finally finished it, partially spurred on by the upcoming sequel’s U.S. release in August, Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box. Don’t be fooled, however. The fact that I procrastinated for nearly a year with this game was not a result of any fault on the game’s part, but rather my own, partially out of a desire to stretch out my experience as much as possible, relishing every puzzle to the fullest, not wanting it to ever end.

For those of you who may not be familiar with this best-selling title, Professor Layton is a puzzle game at its very heart.  However, unlike Tetris and other traditional puzzle games, the Layton series (currently touting two full trilogies in Japan) combines puzzle prowess with point-and-click adventure gameplay. As a result, you get a full story to play through as you try to unravel the various mysteries of the village of St. Mystere. You play as Professor Layton, puzzler extraordinaire, and his sidekick, a young boy named Luke. You must explore the village, interviewing the villagers, many of whom will make you solve their puzzle before divulging any information they may know about the mystery at hand. You can also search the scene for hidden puzzles (many of which are much harder than the average puzzle a villager will give you) and uncover hint coins.

One of the things that lifts Layton above a ho-hum puzzler with a story added on is the quality of the puzzles. Unlike Puzzle Quest, where, despite occasional variations in gameplay, you are always playing the same match-three puzzle, in Curious Village, you will encounter all sorts of brain teasers. Many of these have a riddle quality to them, where you must pay careful attention to wording in order to succeed. Some you may recognize, such as the familiar “cross the river with the wolf, lettuce, and sheep” puzzle, while many will be fresh. The variety of puzzles means you will never be bored, and while some puzzles are repeated, succeeding variations amp up the difficulty so that having previously passed its predecessor won’t necessarily guarantee you an easy way out on the new version.

A nice element is the hint system. As mentioned before, you must search the environment (by clicking on different places in the scene) to find hint coins, which you can then redeem if you get stuck on a particular puzzle. Each puzzle has three hints that escalate in helpfulness, costing one hint coin each. For example, the first hint may just give you a clue of how to read the puzzle instructions, the second may give you a bigger hint, perhaps suggesting a starting point, whereas the third can vary from giving the solution away entirely to merely a second hint of “hint-level-2″ quality. However, the game does flex your brain and train you how to think in many ways, and although the puzzles generally increase in difficulty as you progress through the game, you may find they become easier in the sense that you have learned how to approach these problems. Having enough hint coins, however, is never a problem, as there are at least 100 to find.

Each puzzle has a difficulty level indicated by the number of “picarats” it is worth. For example, an easy puzzle might be worth 20 picarats, while a very hard one might be worth 70. Each time you enter a solution for a puzzle incorrectly, the number of picarats decreases (by how much usually depends on what the puzzle was originally worth, and after a certain point, it will not decrease any further). Once you successfully solve the puzzle, you will be awarded the number of picarats left. So, if you guessed wrong a few times on a 40 picarat puzzle, you might end up with 32 picarats instead of the full 40. These are totaled up as you progress, giving you a score of sorts and a way to mark your puzzle prowess. Personally, it was a little disappointing that the score is relatively meaningless: although almost treated as a currency, you cannot do anything with your picarats but admire them, or perhaps compare with friends. Another disappointing element is the fact that the game does nothing to prevent you from guessing away, then resetting and solving the puzzle correctly the first time to get the full picarat score. However, while some reviewers considered this a major fault of the game, the fact that the score doesn’t really matter doesn’t give you much reason to restart in the first place, unless you are really OCD.

Each time you solve a puzzle, you may be rewarded with a scrap of a painting or a piece of a gizmo; the first is a jigsaw puzzle mini-game, and the second will help you build something (I’ll try to not give anything away). In addition, you may also get, instead, a piece of furniture to decorate Layton’s and Luke’s rooms in the inn in which they are staying. Although you can tap on their portraits to figure out which character prefers which items, I couldn’t see any really purpose to this minigame other than creating a nice diversion or break from the story and the puzzles.