Archaeologist, Detective, Gentleman: Professor Layton

There is nothing more terrifying than waking to an email from The Editor, the day before deadline, saying “Review please!” [Unfortunately, sometimes needs must. -Ed.] Especially, as I may have mentioned in my last review, I am fast running out of things to review. Or, and this is possible worse, I have several things that I could review, but they are things that I’m fairly ‘meh’ about, which makes it even more difficult.

So I thought, today, I would turn my attentions to a video game rather than a movie or a TV show or a book, because we’re having a heat-wave in Britain and I’m in no state of mind to think too hard.

Ironically, thinking is precisely the goal of the video game in question.

You see, I’m not really what you’d call a ‘gamer’. Actually, I’m not a gamer at all. My brother can sit and play Assassins’ Creed for what feels like days on end, but I don’t have the patience. Or the skills. Or the patience to learn the skills. (Update: said brother has informed me that in this context ‘skills’ is, in fact, spelt ‘skillz’. I’m not comfortable butchering the English language to that extent, but I promised him I would at least acknowledge that fact.)

What I do have is a pink Nintendo DS and three Professor Layton games. The Professor Layton franchise is one of the most successful Nintendo DS exclusive series – as of March 2012, over 13 million copies had been sold.

Professor Layton and the Curious Village boxart

The series consists of six games, one movie and several spin-offs, but for the sake of simplicity, I’m going to focus on the first game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village. When I say ‘first game’, I mean ‘first released’, since the creators seemed to have followed a Star Wars theme and released the games out of chronological order, making the Curious Village the fourth game chronologically.

Professor Layton and his assistant/apprentice, Luke Triton, have been summoned to the strange village of St Mystere by the beautiful Lady Dahlia Reinhold. Her late husband has left a most peculiar Will, stating that whoever solves the mystery of the Golden Apple will inherit his entire estate, but no one has even heard of such an object.

When the dynamic duo arrives, they learn that the village’s inhabitants have occasionally been disappearing. When the late Baron’s nephew dies and one of his servants disappears, it becomes clear that there is more to this strange village than meets the eye.

Mysteries aside, the main objective for all Professor Layton games is puzzles.

Hundreds of them.

In all, there is a mystery to be solved, aided by some strange and incredible people along the way, all of whom enjoy puzzles. Often, the player will need to solve a puzzle to gain information. At several points in the game, the player has to have solved a certain amount of puzzles to continue. Sometimes they will simply be given a puzzle for fun.

Some puzzles, therefore, are compulsory in order to proceed, whereas some can be returned to at a later date. There are also mini-games that are completed throughout play, which unlock extra puzzles. ‘Forgotten’ puzzles are sent to ‘Granny Riddleton’s’ Puzzle Shack at various points throughout the game, allowing the player to return to them later or increase their puzzle count in order to proceed.

As much as I enjoy the puzzles, it is the mystery I play for. Well-written and carefully constructed, there are some points in which the player can guess certain answers, but until the ‘big reveal’, it is as complex and intriguing as the puzzles themselves. As for the puzzles, there is something for everyone – logic, sliding, mathematical, riddles – and all come with three or four hints which can be obtained by collecting hint coins throughout the game.

Between the story and the puzzles, it would only be necessary for the ‘main’ characters to be interesting, but every character you meet has a strange quirk, whether it is in their appearance, or their mannerisms, or the way they speak. Some characters also pop up in later games unexpectedly.

Professor Layton not only trains Luke to be an archaeological detective like himself, but also a ‘true gentleman’, balancing Luke’s enthusiasm without dampening it in the slightest.

Compared to the other games I’ve played (the other two being Pandora’s Box/Diabolical Box and The Spectre’s Call/The Last Specter), Curious Village lacks a little – this is definitely a series that has improved with time – but that in no terms means that it is lacking in general.

Knowing little about game graphics, I will not presume to comment, and I’m sure there are some more experienced gamers who would disagree, but I quite enjoy the animation and simple layout.

Overall, I would give Curious Village 4 out of 5, comparing it to the other games in the series, but as a standalone, I would rate it 4.5.

Roxanne Williams (is flippin’ hot – and not in a good way)

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