When the famous problem-solver Professor Layton and his plucky assistant Luke head to the town of St Mystère to investigate the secret of the Golden Apple, they have no idea just how many mysteries await them. Fortunately, their problem-solving skills fit right into a town where every inhabitant is obsessed with setting puzzles and brainteasers, but even the trickiest riddle is just an appetiser compared to the deepest secrets of St Mystère.
The first in the Professor Layton series of puzzle games, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is the perfect game for casual DS players who are ready to move beyond Brain Training. A collection of riddles, puzzles and brain teasers, the game is easy to pick up and play, and what it lacks in replay value, it more than makes up for in addictiveness.
Set in the context of a framing story, the object of Professor Layton and the Curious Village is to go from place to place within St Mystère, talking to inhabitants and solving the puzzles they pose. These puzzles take the form of classic brainteasers, encompassing everything from moving blocks to try to free a ball from a maze to rearranging matchsticks and solving riddles. Many of the puzzles are straightforward for anyone with half a brain, but even the most experienced puzzle solver is likely to trip up once or twice. Fortunately, if you are well and truly stuck, it is possible to dip into your limited supply of Hint coins to unlock up to three hints per puzzle- and certainly, by the time you have the third one, it will be entirely obvious what to do.
In fact, a challenge greater than solving the puzzles is simply trying to find them all, for whilst some are essential for moving the story forward, many puzzles are optional. Talking to every character you meet is essential, as is investigating everything you can see- a random press of the stylus could reveal a hint coin or even a hidden puzzle. Luckily, any puzzles you might be in danger of missing forever are gathered up and sent to Granny Riddleton’s shack, a place where you can visit and solve them at their leisure.
To spur you on further, the game also has a number of extras in the menu. As you solve certain puzzles, you’ll unlock painting scraps which can be reassembled into a complete picture and furniture which can be used to customise Luke and Layton’s rooms at the inn (take care that you give the right furnishings to the right person). Completing the game also unlocks some challenging extra puzzles that will keep you coming back for that little bit more. True, these extras can only delay the inevitable moment when the game holds nothing more for you, but they do help to keep it interesting for longer.
As a mystery tale, it is no wonder that Professor Layton and the Curious Village spends most of the game setting up various plot points, before steadily revealing them all in the closing chapters. Perhaps surprisingly, you can’t reveal or investigate these main mysteries independently- instead, you are entirely confined to following the story as the game dictates. It’s something of a shame that you can’t have a guess at the main mysteries yourself, but ultimately the point of the game is to get you solving the smaller puzzles whilst it takes care of the larger ones.
Visually, Professor Layton sticks with a clean and simplistic look, eschewing the usual attractive anime styles for a more old-fashioned appearance that fits well with the series without being particularly aesthetically pleasing. Background music is similarly simple yet fitting, whilst the English voice acting is apt if stereotypical (imagine a typical English gentleman and his plucky Cockney sidekick). Overall the presentation isn’t anything special, but it fits the game well.
A fun and diverting puzzle game, Professor Layton may lack in replay value, but first time around it should prove absorbing for casual players and the more dedicated gamer alike. I probably won’t be returning to it anytime soon, but it was certainly enjoyable enough to have me looking forward to the imminent European release of the second instalment in the series.