Professor Layton and the Curious Village (PAL)  

The Nintendo DS has revived the concept of video games as a respectable hobby to the Daily Mail reading population. Before hand, they were claiming that video games rot the brain and that people who play them aren’t getting the most out of their lives. Mind you, these are the same people who believe tap water is a carcinogen. So in order to address the pants on head retarded individuals, Nintendo released a handheld device with a touch screen. This paved the way for a brain training game, which sole purpose, is to increase the mental arithmetic capacity of the global population. It has since sold in its hundreds of thousands of units worldwide, and the Daily Mail clientele have kind of retreated on their point since then. But there is only so far a game based upon furthering yourself can take you. Enter then Professor Layton and the Curious Village to blend the ideas of plot and brain teasing puzzles. But will this be a happy marriage of the two concepts, or will it end in a rather messy divorce settlement?

Our tale begins with Professor Layton and his young apprentice Luke driving to the small town of St. Mystere. They have been asked by the wife of the late Baron Augustus Reinhold to solve an inheritance dispute. In his will, he says that the one who finds the golden apple will be the owner of a grand treasure. One mystery slowly becomes several when a number of disappearances occur, along with the dark foreboding tower that looms over the village making strange sounds. The story is one that has more charm than a suave Hollywood actor/actress, together with some fantastic dialogue and voice work. Everything is incredibly immersive, until you realise that the plot is merely a facade. It seems that everyone has a puzzle to block progression with that you have to solve.

Half of the mystery surrounding St Mystere is why people look at walls for hours on end.

Despite the sometimes tenuous links between plot and puzzle, the brainteasers are fantastically designed. Most of them require logical thinking, there are also shifting puzzles that require you to move one thing to another location in as few moves as possible. There are also a fair number of trick puzzles to throw you off the beaten track, so it pays to read the instructions on each puzzle as carefully as possible. There is an emphasis on solving the puzzles first time, as there will be a number of “Picarats” awarded depending on how many guesses it took to solve them. All is not lost if you get stumped however as scattered throughout the game in hidden locations are hint coins. You can use up to three of them to assist in particularly difficult puzzles. While having the hint coins are a nice idea, there is nothing like being able to work things out without having to resort to whipping out the pen and paper. It is unfortunate that you have to literally resort to this as Professor Layton and the Curious Village doesn’t have a memo pad.

While the bulk of the game consists of wandering aimlessly around St. Mystere like a headless bamboozled chicken, there are one or two mini games to occupy some of your time with. Some of the more hidden puzzles can reward you with parts of a robotic dog, furniture, or scraps ancient artwork. Putting these back together will bestow more puzzles at the end of the game, with the dog in particular adding to the experience by detecting hint coins for you. Adding to these unlockable puzzles are the weekly downloadable puzzles. One suspects these are on the cartridge anyway, but having locked away content is a nice touch. It is nice to see a game that rewards players by giving them more of a challenge. While most opt for a “hard mode” of sorts, Professor Layton and the Curious Village just has a couple of harder puzzles. Those Picarats you obtain also help to unlock bonus content, but that is of the more conventional variety such as profiles and concept art.

This one is an easy one, but I'll let you figure it out...

St. Mystere is a rather baffling place, but if it was real you’d probably want to take a holiday there. The presentation is top notch with some unique and beautiful artwork to help keep this from being yet another Dr Kawashima’s Brain Training: How Old is your Brain?, albeit the loose links between plot and puzzle do spoil it somewhat. It helps that the voice acting and dialogue are well done. Just goes to show just how well a predominantly British cast can do things. A thing to note however is the difference between the UK and US versions. Having played both, it is interesting to hear the difference in voice casting for Luke. In the American version, he sounds posh. In the UK version he is a cockney geezer. Also to note are the unique puzzles for each version, as while the US might have a puzzle involving the digital clock, the British version has one involving an analogue clock. It is a little baffling as to why this is because some people in America are as familiar with analogue clocks as us Brits, and some Brits can’t tell the difference between 12am and 12pm!

There is a reason why Nintendo show trailer upon trailer of people playing this game, no matter where you are from. It is one of the most unique titles to grace a gaming format, let alone a handheld. The happy marriage between a mystery and puzzle solving without the need for point and click aspects is one with unusual circumstances. The groom; being the plot and presentation are expertly done, while the logic based puzzle bride makes you think outside and indeed inside the box to solve her many questions. But like all marriages there is a problem. The sense of immersion is tampered with too much to really get to grips with the adventure. It also doesn’t help that when solving puzzles, that you will probably need some paper. In a day and age where a built in memo pad for each puzzle isn’t beyond the medium, it just seems lazy. Having said all this though, the complaints are minor compared to the praise. In a way, it doesn’t matter what kind of DS owner you are. If you like training your brain, this game’s puzzles will satisfy you for a long time. If you like the point and click adventures of old, this game will feel like one. All that is left is for Professor Layton to hold a gun, though to be honest, he’d probably be reminded of yet another puzzle…