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Professor Layton and the Curious Village


Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a game first built for Japanese audiences and recently translated for North American consumption. The narrative is built around the leaders of a small village seeking the help of a famous deductive professor in finding a hidden treasure called the Golden Apple. The Professor and his trusting apprentice venture off to the town and attempt to offer their services. What they discover is a place where the townspeople are obsessed with all kinds of puzzles and mysteries. It's a fairly unique story and the presentation elements are fantastic for a DS title. The game uses a variety of art slides to replicate motion and animate the game's characters. It adds life to an otherwise text heavy presentation.

Gameplay

In order to move the story along, the game uses a variety of puzzles to highlight aspects of the narrative. The puzzles vary between riddles, brain teasers, math problems and optical illusions. The professor or townsperson usually prefaces the puzzle for you and the info screen explains the puzzle clearly before beginning. Upon correctly solving a puzzle, the player is awarded picarats (points). The player must find and solve a certain number of puzzles before progressing at various points in the game as well.

As a habitual screen-tapper, I found myself excelling at this game for a couple reasons. Tapping on items that don't seem to be useful can bring about rewards such as hint points or secret puzzles. For instance, tapping on an old barrel on the street typically pops out a hint point or selecting a scale may bring up a puzzle on weight balance. Hint points offer a way to get hints about a puzzle, but they stay in limited supply for the majority of the game. Each puzzle has three hints that escalate in offering information about the puzzle. Although puzzles can be repeated, getting maximum points for a puzzle may be worth using a hint point or two.

The game also offers a selection of side quests to keep the player involved in the Professor's world. They are all collection based quests and offer rewards upon completion. The first is finding pieces of a torn painting and reassembling them. The pieces are typically awarded for solving puzzles, but which puzzles remains a mystery to the player. Puzzle rewards also come in the form of gizmos. These items are automatically assembled in the menu and just require collection. Finally, the Professor and apprentice have rooms at the local inn that require decoration. Again, puzzles will reward furniture for both characters. It's up to the player to figure out which character likes each piece of furniture.

The menu also offers a way to save your game at any point during play as well as read about story elements that have already been discovered in the journal. One very helpful feature the game offers is a recap every time you load a save. It's basically a short chapter outline of everything finished up to that point. It's fantastic for casual gamers that don't have much time to play each week and are experiencing the story in spurts. Finally, the menu also keeps track of mysteries and logs them automatically. Finishing up a mystery usually offers a nice reward pertaining to a collectible or new puzzle.

While there is no multiplayer mode to speak of for the title, the game does offer downloadable content in the form of new puzzles stating right at release. Once you play through the single player game, it's nice to see Level 3 supporting their title with additional content right from day one.

Graphics

Visually, the game uses a combination of old school animation and stills to illustrate the Professor's world. I found the color scheme to be a bit muted during the main video sequences, but it does fit the appearance of a dreary rural village. During actual gameplay sequences, the town is presented with colorful artwork and slightly animated characters. The character models have a distinct eastern design, but they do work well at bringing life to the story. The puzzle screens are surprisingly diverse. Each have their own custom background to match the puzzle and many are quite comical depending on the puzzle. Overall, the visuals worth well with the touch screen implementation and seem to have been highly polished before release.

Audio

When the story picks up at the beginning, you will be surprised to hear how much voice audio has been recorded for the game. While the game does rely on text for the majority of the conversations, the cutscenes feature voice audio clips. Similar to text, they have the ability to be skipped if you aren't in the mood or playing through the game a second time. The voice acting is top notch and gives the Professor a personality of his own. The apprentice is also voiced well, although his high pitched voice can be grating after many hours of play. The musical score works well with the game's mystery premise, but the combined melody of accordion and xylophone playing gets old after a while. The few sound effects are spot on and remind me Hotel Dusk: Room 215.

Conclusion

Professor Layton was an absolute joy to play and the variety of puzzles throughout the game keeps the experience fresh. While it's inevitable that you have heard many of the riddles or brain teasers before, there's a good chance that you've forgotten how to solve them. If you are a fan of DS titles like Picross or are just looking for a solid murder mystery adventure title, don't hesitate to pick up Professor Layton and the Curious Village as soon as possible.