Professor Layton And The Curious Village Review
Having found huge success with their expanded audience titles like Brain Training, Nintendogs and Wii Sports Nintendo were keen to introduce so-called ‘bridge’ titles – games that would lead non-gamers into more traditional video game territory. So far Mario Kart Wii could be held up as the best title that encapsulates this vision more than any other; taking an established franchise, adding a simplified and fun control mechanism in the form of the Wii Wheel, then marketing the hell out of it with lifestyle ads. The worldwide sales show just how powerful this combination can be, even if the hardcore followers have expressed concern over the apparent watering down of one of their favourite franchises.
There haven’t been a great deal of other games that can boast the same wide-ranging appeal, but Level 5 may have come up with the perfect solution in Professor Layton and the Curious Village. Taking the well-established graphic adventure genre and supplanting Brain Training-style puzzles appears to be a stroke of genius, especially as both styles sit perfectly with the DS’ stylus control system and the portable nature of the system. Add a unique and charming graphical style and an intriguing and compelling ‘who-dunnit’ plot and you have a winner on your hands. Nintendo and Level 5 seemed to have pitched their marketing just right with a title that could appeal to gamers young and old.
Curious Village’s story takes place in the village of St. Mystere shortly after the death of Baron Reinhold who has left his entire fortune to whoever can find the mysterious Golden Apple. Professor Hershel Layton the world-renowned puzzle-solving architect and his young assistant Luke have been asked by the Baron’s widow to solve the mystery and locate the lost treasure. The entire village is filled with puzzles, which the Professor has to tackle to get clues on the Golden Apple and its whereabouts. It’s these puzzles that make up the majority of the gameplay and there are some real head-scratchers to get past if you want to see the end of the game.
Even amongst the first twenty or so puzzles you’ll come across there are some that are likely to have you pulling your hair out and reaching for the nearest FAQ. If you get really stuck you can use a hint coin, which can be found hidden in the village (tap any conspicuous barrels around the village and you’re sure to find a few) and will come in very handy for getting through the ten-hours of puzzling ahead of you. Each puzzle is worth a certain amount of points. Complete it on your first go and get maximum points; mess up and points will be dropped from your possible reward. Aside from points you can also win mystery items and other such things to help you on your way.
Completing one that has had you stumped for a while without resorting to using hints is immensely satisfying and is why Professor Layton is such a hard game to put down. Not all of them are essential to complete to get through the game but you’ll be keen to find as many as you can. Most can be found by tapping at any objects that catch your eye in each scene. There’s a large variety amongst the 130 puzzles, with a mix of logic, maths and visual tasks and for the most part they are integrated nicely into the story and environments.
Speaking of which, the presentation is one of the other big selling points for Curious Village; the soft watercolour style is unlike anything out on the market at the moment. It looks a bit like French children’s book illustrations from the early 20th century, with a touch of Studio Ghibli (who incidentally will be having a hand in Level 5’s latest RPG). The cut-scenes that divulge story elements are fluidly animated and look great on the small DS screen. Level 5 should also be commended for the excellent soundtrack that plays quietly in the background; clearly taking inspiration from French folk music, this accompanies the art-style perfectly.
It’s hard to pick any faults with Professor Layton’s first adventure, but any main concerns would have to lie with the difficulty curve, which is more like an uneven road than a well-defined hill. You can be stumped for ages on one puzzle then whiz through the next few without much thought. Although this is partly due to the variety of puzzles and how peoples brains are tuned; some will naturally find the logic puzzles more difficult than the visual ones or vice versa, which isn’t really the game’s fault.
Level 5 have already found great success in the US and Japan (where Professor Layton and it’s sequels have become huge sellers) and that looks set to continue in the UK. Debuting at a well-deserved number six in the UK games chart is no small feat for a new handheld IP and will hopefully mean that we’ll be able to sample Layton’s next two adventures. If you or your family enjoyed the brain training games but wished they had a bit more substance, Professor Layton is the perfect solution.