QJ.NET reviews Professor Layton and the Curious Village

QJ.NET review: Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Nintendo DS - Image 1Phoenix Wright and Kyle Hyde might be getting too passé for some of you, so it’s time to roll in the latest thinker in DS town. This detective – oops, professor, rather – has an English accent and isn’t afraid to use it. What’s all the commotion about? Better put your thinking cap back on as we dive straight into the full article for an in-depth review of Professor Layton and the Curious Village. And we promise: we don’t have any natural tendency to suddenly drop unsuspecting puzzles on you right out of the blue.

*Article originally posted on February 18, 2008 at 2:37 p.m.

QJ.NET review: Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Nintendo DS - Image 1 

Step aside, Phoenix Wright and Kyle Hyde. Make way for the new thinker in DS town. He’s got an English accent, and he’s definitely not afraid to use it. With superb animations and a pretty solid storyline, Professor Layton and the Curious Village doesn’t fail to impress. Of course, that’s if you’re got enough patience to stick things through to the end.

Now Level 5‘s game might not be a hit for some people (much like how a round peg would fit in a square hole – in short, it just. won’t. work.). But if you’re the type of person who can’t get enough of brain teasers and mind-bending riddles, then get ready for some sleepless nights with the Professor and his prepubescent apprentice.

The game actually tries to redefine the puzzle genre by incorporating a point-and-click action adventure in between bouts of riddle-solving. Was Level 5 successful? That’s the puzzle I’ll try to solve today with a review. With Dark Cloud, Jeanne d’Arc, Dragon Quest, Rogue Galaxy, and the upcoming White Knight Chronicles, Level 5’s got quite a streak of impressive games.

Well, the Japanese are absolutely crazy about the classy, top-hatted debonaire for about a year now (heck, they’re so lucky they already even have the sequel). And only recently though was it introduced to the US. There wasn’t much fanfare for the game prior to its US release – it’s something that caught most people off guard.

Take it from our recent DS poll on what’s keeping our readers awake. Getting 24% of votes, Professor Layton is currently clocked at the top out of all ten games we’ve asked you to vote for. Trailing behind it at 18% is Pokemon Pearl/Diamond, and after that, Phantom Hourglass with 14%.

So put your thinking caps on – a berret or a top hat would do – and don your best British accent. We’ve got to turn that big question mark on top of your head into a light bulb. Time get this puzzle solved.

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Luke, here’s my answer… Another puzzle solved!

Professor Layton and the Curious Village has a fairly linear story line. Professor Layton – who time and time again explicitly reminds people he is not a detective – and his young apprentice, Luke, head to the town of St. Mystere after getting a letter from one Lady Dahlia. The facts are these:

  • The Lady Dahlia is the wife of the late Baron Reinhold and she wants Layton to investigate certain details about the Baron’s last will
  • It says that whoever could find the Golden Apple in St. Mystere would be given the fortune that the Baron has left

Pretty simple, yes? Of course, along the way, more curious incidents take place as Layton and Luke proceed with their investigation. You’ll be side tracked from time to time, and get waylaid from your quest to find the Golden Apple. Runaway cats here, crazy abductions there, oh and murder too, of course. (Yeah, we bet you saw that coming too.)

The characters in St. Mystere are all pretty unique. There’s  quite a handful of them, and to be honest, I couldn’t keep track of all their names. But they were memorable nonetheless. I had to go by my self-assigned nicknames like “that bar tender who kept on losing his measuring cup” or “that town official who keeps on asking me to fill up forms that are actually just puzzles in disguise.”

You could find yourself attached to some of them, especially with how endearingly eccentric they are. Some may be a bit miffed that these villagers (and cats and trees and windows too) have a natural tendency to give you or remind you of puzzles. Well, to each their own.

It might seem too surreal at first, this natural impulse of theirs – so let me give you this one suggestion: suspend you disbelief all the way to the end. Only then will you realize how curious this curious village really is.

Through the game, you collect little mysteries (filed in your suitcase) that are somehow connected to the overall plot your Golden Apple quest. They will eventually be solved towards the end of the game in one quick barrage, but you could probably start seeing the bigger picture earlier on.

As the plot thickens, so do your index of puzzles to solve get longer and harder. And that’s when things get a tad bit interesting – not to mention mind-grueling.

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Professor, I think I’ve got it!

We mentioned earlier that the game acts like a point and click adventure. You go around town, screen by screen, with use of the touch screen. The controls are intuitive and easy to pick up: you’ll rarely be using the buttons, which I understand could be a good or bad thing depending on who you ask. For me though, Professor Layton utilizes the touch screen effectively.

Your in-game menu is accessible via the suitcase icon on the top-right of the screen. In there you can access various features to help you with your case, as well as save your game – yes, you can save your game anytime (thus leading to the possibility of “cheating” your way through some puzzles, as I will discuss later).

Now, you can click on anything on screen to interact with the characters or objects – and I highly suggest you try to touch absolutely everything. This leaves you with less chances of missing a puzzle or a hint coin.

While you can back track and hunt for puzzles in a given chapter of the story, some of them will become unavailable later on.

If this happens, you can run to Granny’s Shack, where all missed puzzles from previous chapters get dumped. Safe to say, I never actually had to solve anything in her magic house – like I said, touch everything!

To help you keep track, there are 120 puzzles in story mode (the last twenty of them being “Hidden” puzzles), and 15 of them tucked under the Bonuses submenu – more on that later.

QJ.NET reviews Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Nintendo DS - Image 1Puzzles. You can access puzzles by either talking to people at different parts of the story or clicking on objects that’ll catapult either Layton or Luke to give the other a puzzle to solve.

There are different kinds of puzzles; from sliding puzzles to weighing scale puzzles, some puzzles will require you to input your specific answer (the text input reader is flawless).

Puzzles you encounter aren’t directly related to the actual story. Some people have described Professor Layton and the Curious Village as an interactive puzzle book – y’know, the kind you can see MENSA distributing – but with a story in between the puzzles.

Questions being asked require different ways of looking at the problem. They will test pretty much every aspect of  your mind. Some of them need simple logic while others require sheer persistence (that “Royal Escape” slide puzzle had me stumped, clocking well over a thousand moves before I could solve it), from matchstick puzzles to card riddles, from  optical illusions to geometric problems.

Now here’s a simple example, a problem which totally stumped me for quite some time and yet fellow bloggers Isaac C. and Max F. were able to solve in a matter of seconds:

Puzzle No.036: Too Many Mice

Mice are famous for their ability to multiply at breakneck speeds. The type of mouse we have here gives birth once a month, birthing 12 babies each time. Baby mice mature and can give birth two months after they are born.

You picked up one of these darling baby mice at the pet shop and brought it home the day after it was born. In 10 months from now, how many mice will you have?

Obviously, I made things more complicated than it should be and started calculating off the bat. Damn mice. (And no, I will not give you the answer for Puzzle No.036, and will make sure no one spoils it down at the comments. Woot!)

But moving on, the example above shows how different problems will take different people different amounts of time to answer. One puzzle for you might be so obviously simple for another person.

So, if you’re scared of all the numbers being thrown at you in a puzzle – hey, same here, I hate math – don’t worry. Not once did I have to reach out for a calculator. Just think things through and you’ll be fine. If you wish, hints are available to help you out, but they come at a price.

QJ.NET reviews Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Nintendo DS - Image 1Hint Coins. To help you out on the bigger brain stumpers are Hint Coins. These are hidden throughout the town of St. Mystere. As its name suggests, this acts like an in-game currency you can use to purchase hints in any puzzle. As you are first introduced to the concept of Hint Coins by “that scarf-wearing mustachioed man,” you’re told that there are a limited number of coins in the game, so try not to spend too much of it.

Besides, the hints are a mixed bag altogether. They could either help you or maybe even confuse you further. As always, just think puzzles through before you purchase your hints. Sometimes, you don’t have to make things more complicated than they actually are.

Picarats. Now with each puzzle solved, you earn a set number of Picarats. The number of Picarats you can get in a puzzle will also determine its difficulty. So beware once you get to puzzles that announce themselves to be worth 99 Picarats: it’s a signal telling you “get comfy, you’ll be here quite a while.”

The use of Picarats aren’t actually explained in story mode, so you might lack a bit of purpose at first. Why strive to achieve more points when I don’t know what they’re for? Well, aside from being able to boast to your friends (haha, I got over 5,312 by the time I finished my game), Picarats are actually used to unlock other media in the Bonuses section of the Start menu.

There are lots of goodies in this menu. Under the Top Secret section, you’ve got a movie gallery, music jukebox, character profiles, sound clips, the works. But see the thing about Picarats is that you’re awarded less of them every time you submit a wrong answer for a puzzle. So make sure you get your answers right in your first try.

QJ.NET reviews Professor Layton and the Curious Village - Nintendo DS - Image 1Bonuses. Aside from unlocking content with Picarats, you can access more of Layton’s Challenges. This is composed of five separate Houses, each containing three puzzles each.

To unlock a certain House, you have to accomplish different objectives filed in your suitcase during story mode. This gives puzzle-hunting that much more purpose.

Because some of the hidden puzzles you find the the game will award you with pieces of the painting that you have to complete, little gadgets to bolt together a gizmo, or pieces of furniture for your room. Complete these goals and you get to unlock their related House in the Bonuses.

Aside from being able to open it via your suitcase, the Puzzle Index, where all your discovered puzzles are filed, is also accessible in the Bonuses menu.

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Layton’s apprentice, saves the day!

The first thing that appealed to me upon starting a new game was the intro clip. For some reason, it reminds me of how Spirited Away, one of Studio Ghibli’s animated films, starts. Later on, I was also reminded of Howl’s Moving Castle. Which is a claim I will not back down on. These animated clips aren’t a thing to shrug off.

The animation, the art style, the water colors and all – they’re gorgeous. Heck, the voice acting was very well done too, bringing all the characters to life. Not only am I seeing what I think are some of the best animation sequences to ever run on a Nintendo DS – I actually believe they are at par with other feature length animated movies.

Good as that might sound, that’s also one shortcoming of the game: there aren’t enough movie clips to go by with. The most intense parts of the story are told in animation clips (which I watch over and over again in the Movie Gallery, BTW), and that’s well and good. But for some reason, they just make you wanting more. How I wish Level 5 could have squeezed more videos into their game.

Aside from the animated clips, the rest of the game still keeps up with the art style and colors of a 1900-ish English setting. The look and feel of the hand-drawn graphics still manage to lend the game a bit of life despite using mostly beige, blue, brown, or maroon.

As for the background music, you’ll be pretty surprised how conducive it is for all that critical thinking. Not once did I actually find the tunes annoying – I’d say they might actually help you stimulate those brain cogs into full throttle.

The audio tracks may all sound similar since most of them follow the same theme, using the same harpsichord-accordion tunes stringing through out, but it still goes well with the overall story. The music and graphics work well with each other in Professor Layton. And Level 5’s done a good job at it.

(To go off-tangent for a bit, the presentation of this game leaves one into thinking if some studio might pick it up and do an animated feature length movie based on this franchise. And from what I hear, there already are talks of a movie proposal. The bad news there is someone’s decided to make it live-action. D’oh!)

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There we go! Every puzzle has an answer.

Aside from there being less video clips than you’d wish for, there are two other things that stand out as a big blot of ink in Professor Layton‘s journal. One of which is its replay value, the other, how saving could allow you to cheat through the game (the one I hinted of earlier).

Replay value. Once you finish the game and complete all the puzzles, there’s not much to do any more. Take me for example. Once I finished the game, all 135 puzzles found and solved, there was a sudden gaping hole in my existence, the kind that usually leads to the ubiquitous “So… What now?” feeling.

Which isn’t altogether that surprising, because once you solve a puzzle and know how to answer it already, then you’re pretty much done with it.

Level 5 was able to solve this, to an extent, by giving you the Bonuses section, and definitely not least of all is the Wi-Fi download. Yep. Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the first ever Nintendo DS game that supports downloadable content.

Each week, a new puzzle is made available over the Nintendo Wi-Fi network, just to keep you going. But while I believe it’s a very notable achievement for Level 5, I feel as if one puzzle a week is just too little to go by with.

The way I see it, Level 5 has done more than they could ever do in the replay value. I’m thinking they probably knew that a game that “acts like a puzzlebook” would have little replay value once you’ve penciled in all your answers, and that’s probably why they considered the DLC option. Very keen judgment on their part. So, props to them for that.

Saving. You can actually use the save function to “cheat” through some puzzles. Of course, “cheat” here is taken loosely.

Given that you could check out any puzzle, purchase all the hints, and try out a couple of answers, what’s stopping you from turning off your DS and reloading that “clean” file? You’ve got the hints, you remember them, and more importantly, after trying so many possibilities to get the final answer, you don’t have to worry about losing Hint Coins and Picarats.

Now Level 5 may or may not have deliberately included this little loophole, but in the end, it’s still up to you whether you wanna take advantage of it or not. Resorting to this method could cause you to water down the entire experience of Professor Layton. It’s like robbing yourself off of all the fun in trying your best to think out of the box.

And that’s definitely something no gentleman would do.

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That should do it… Critical thinking is key to a success!

Yeah, Professor Layton and the Curious Village may have its drawbacks, but they’re pretty negligible compared to the entire experience of solving the case of St. Mystere. If you’re still pretty bummed out with the whole replay value thing, don’t worry. The sequel is coming out eventually.

And the cool thing is… Once the sequel gets released, you’re supposedly going to stumble onto a password that you can use in Curious Village to unlock the Hidden Door under the Top Secret section. So how’s that for some ingenious marketing? Also gives a sense of replay value too.

For now, get yourselves lost in all the puzzle solving. It’s an entirely different experience altogether – a feat that Level 5 was able to pull off without a doubt. You’ve got movie-quality presentation, an engaging story, memorable characters, and of course, bulk loads of puzzles to pickle your brain with.

Get ready for sleepless nights or extended coffee breaks. And expect yourself to keep muttering “oh, let me just answer one more puzzle pleeeaaase!” Addiction levels can get pretty high with this game – as would your temper at times.

And for all the naysayers who still insist that it’s too absurd for all the villagers to keep on badgering you with puzzles, just keep at it. oh, and don’t forget to touch everything.

Originally posted on February 18, 2008 at 2:37 p.m.

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