“Josh, I want you to play this game.”
“It’s the first of the Professor Layton series, have you heard of it?”
“Yeah, but never played. What’s it about?”
“It’s about puzzles. Lots and lots of puzzles..”
My holiday break was a whole lot of fun, mainly because I got to spend a bunch of quality time with my brother — and by quality time, I mean nerdy hobby time. I had already beaten Professor Layton’s first installment months ago, but recalled having trouble through…well, most of the cleverly-worded brain teasers that made up the gameplay in its entirety. My brother, however, is typically better at math / creative problem solving than I am, so I wanted to see how well he’d do.
Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a point-and-click-and-solve adventure game for the Nintendo DS, the first in an ever-growing series named for its titular character. The games follow Hershel Layton, a professor of archaeology with a love for solving puzzles, and his young assistant Luke Triton. Layton and Luke set out to help investigate mysterious happenings, and are frequently (and by frequently I mean CONSTANTLY) required to solve various puzzles in order to progress through the story.
And these puzzles aren’t particularly involved with the story going on, either — they’re just sort of random brainteasers meant to test the Professor’s intellect. For example, in Curious Village, Layton and Luke search the village of St. Mystere for clues to a late baron’s hidden treasure — the Golden Apple. As they ask around town for information, every citizen you come across will ask for help/force a puzzle on you whether they have something interesting to say or not.
((I will add, however, that upon playing a bit of the sequel to Curious Village (Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box) myself, the game’s puzzles have grown to become more relevant to the plot. In fact, it seems like a lot of the game overall has improved between Curious Village and Diabolical Box, so keep that in mind while reading the rest of this article! ))
Back on point: Puzzles. There are tons and tons of puzzles, so many that I have to ponder how long it took for the writing team to come up with them all. Sure, there are several different kinds of the same puzzle (get from point A to point B but fulfill these listed conditions, solve the math problem, solve the riddle, etc.), but one has to admire the game designers’ dedication to trying to stump you!
And you know what? You’re probably going to have to look up the answers to some of them. I know I did! I’m not afraid to admit it. Some of these puzzles are hard, and although you can skip most of them (unsolved optional puzzles are stored away to be solved later if you want), there are some that are required to progress through the game. If you don’t put down the right answer, you cannot move on. Literally. At the end of the game, Layton and Luke ascend the ominous tower that looms over St. Mystere. In order to reach each floor, Layton must solve a puzzle to unlock the door. If you can’t….well, you’re out of luck unless you Google it.
To be fair, clicking around and exploring the town can earn the player “Hint Coins”, which can be used during puzzles to reveal some helpful information. Some of the hints, however, aren’t quite as helpful as you’d hope — and you can only learn up to three pieces of information per puzzle. If all those pieces of information don’t help you or tell you what you already knew, you just wasted three hint coins and you’re still stuck.
Still, that’s what you should expect from a puzzle game. Nothing too easy, nothing too hard, but a fairly linear style of gameplay meant to test your brain. And really, the game does an excellent job of that! I’m willing to bet that handing a kid these games could really help develop his or her creative thinking skills. It certainly gave my brother and I a good shot of humility, that’s for sure.
Gameplay aside, the story of Curious Village is enjoyable, if not a tad bit predictable. I had figured out the big secret of St. Mystere way earlier than our protagonists did, but didn’t mind too much. The comical, quirky characters and charmingly cartoony art style of the game were more than enough to keep me playing. More than that, though, I greatly appreciated the dark underlying theme of a whodunit murder mystery that lurks just below the surface of a silly puzzle game.
The Professor Layton series is an ever-growing collection of brain-teasing adventure that is sure to challenge even the most intelligent gamers, but if you prefer something with a bit more action and a lot less linear, you probably won’t embrace it as much as its hardcore fanbase. If you think it’s something you’ll enjoy, you can most likely pick up a copy of Professor Layton and the Curious Village for the Nintendo DS wherever video games are sold.