I haff tvelve metchsteek.
Professor Layton really needs to get a different hobby. He gets entirely too much pleasure out of solving brain-numbing puzzles. You can only imagine Layton’s glee when, upon arriving in the curious village of St. Mystere to solve an inheritance issue, he is greeted by townsfolk who are clinically obsessed with mindbending puzzles. These people have pulled out all the stops—slide puzzles, matchstick puzzles, logic puzzles, mathematical puzzles, trick question puzzles, and more. You’ll have to solve a whole bunch of them to reveal the mystery of Professor Layton and the Curious Village for Nintendo DS.
At its core, Layton is a point-and-click adventure. At all times you’re presented with a scene, and tapping on specific things with the stylus will let you talk to characters, find hint coins (more on this later), or move to different scenes. Talking to characters or tapping on certain pieces of landscape (like, oddly enough, a flower patch) usually results in a round of puzzle-solving (and Penny Arcade is right—nobody will tell you anything or help you in any way without first presenting you with a head-scratcher. This is the game’s most inventive, yet frustrating, aspect).
Puzzles are usually very straightforward. Some examples: there are three pitchers. One is eight gallons, one is five, and the last one is three. The eight-gallon pitcher is full of liquid. How can you make the eight and five-gallon pitchers have exactly four gallons each? Or: on one side of the river, there are three chicks and three wolves. If at any time the wolves outnumber the chicks, the wolves will eat the chicks. Can you get all six animals to the other side of the river? And finally: one germ is sitting in a jar. The germs split every minute, so after one minute there are two germs, and after two minutes there are four. After sixty minutes, the jar is full of germs. How long will it take to fill the jar if you start with two germs? As you can tell, there’s a lot of logic and deduction involved in solving these problems. Fortunately the puzzles do not have time limits, so you can take as long as you want and even make notes on the touch screen with the stylus.
Puzzles are “ranked” for difficulty based on how many “picarats” they are worth. Each time you present a wrong answer, the number of picarats decreases (although the puzzle’s difficulty does not). You can use hint coins (found throughout the landscapes by tapping things) to unlock hints. You can get up to three hints per puzzle, but obviously you are limited to the number of hint coins that you have in your possession. Unfortunately, the game does not auto-save when you fail a puzzle. That is, if you get an answer wrong, you can simply restart the game and try again without penalty. While this does alleviate some frustration, it also undercuts the game’s intention.
Puzzle solving, ironically, nets you more puzzles. As you play you’ll accrue pieces of a mechanical dog, furniture, and scraps of a portrait. The mechanical dog is fairly straightforward, but the furniture and portrait pieces eventually become variations on slide puzzles. You can also download a new puzzle once a week if you have access to Wi-Fi. Solved puzzles are saved in a log, and you can challenge yourself or friends to solve them all over again if you so desire.
The game looks great. Drawn in a European art style vaguely reminiscent of The Triplets of Belleville, Professor Layton is brimming with color and life. Although the backgrounds and character sprites are static images, basic mouth and arm movements and the occasional fully-animated cutscene really make Layton’s world pop off the screen. The cutscenes also employ well-spoken vocal dialogue, and the entire game is backlit with a mysterious musical score which fits St. Mystere’s unusual personality very well.
Overall, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is a very interesting game but it definitely caters to a niche audience. If you don’t like brain-teasers, it’s probably not for you. Despite its charming atmosphere and interesting plot, your patience for puzzles will ultimately decide how much you like this game, so consider yourself warned.