Professor Layton and the Curious Village | Level-5/Nintendo | DS | Puzzle
I gave it: A- | In retrospect, this was: Spot on, old boy.
Do you remember Professor Layton? Assuming your name isn’t Chris Kohler, you probably don’t. Like Burnout Paradise, Layton has become one of those cautionary tales about releasing good games at the beginning of the year. Gamers are like goldfish, with a three-month memory for games. If it launched before September, they forget about it by the time the end of the year rolls around. But please don’t forget about Professor Layton! We need to pester the crap out of Nintendo to release its sequels.
Admittedly, Layton’s forgettability probably has something to do with the fact that it has stunning low replay value. It’s a whimsical and at times challenging little adventure romp, but once you’ve solved the problems, there’s little else to be done. Nintendo thoughtfully offered additional weekly puzzles for a while (and maybe still? I stopped checking after a while) to convince gamers to dig up their copies from time to time. Yet even those DLC bonuses do nothing to refresh the main story, a lightweight adventure game built around solving a few hundred brain teasers. Once they’re solved, they’re solved, and you can’t revisit a given puzzle to challenge a harder version; in fact, many of the later puzzles are simply restructured takes on questions that appear earlier in the game.
That being said, the ten hours or so needed to complete Professor Layton are a lot of fun. I could have lived without tapping every pixel on the screen for coins, and some of the puzzle placement can be downright infuriating. Despite all these drawbacks, Layton coasts quite far on its charm, its abundance of interesting mind-teasers, and its appealing combination of adventure-game structure and brain-game stumpers. As often happens when developers mash two genres together, the results are far more interesting than they might have been on their own. Like curry and rice, both of which are fine on their own but become perfect when combined, Layton’s elementary mystery adventure give its riddles structure, while the riddles allow the adventure to be completed by doing something more interesting than inserting widget A into every available hotspot until you finally find socket B.
The warm, European-style artwork is a nice touch, too, offering a refreshing break from generic anime tropes that could fit right alongside with likes of Tintin or Asterix. The eponymous professor and his plucky companion (whose name I’ve completely forgotten) are affable, and the townspeople they meet in the course of their journey are just odd enough that you’re almost willing to accept that their collective, monomaniacal fixation on riddles is totally logical. (That the story actually does offer justification for this particular aspect of the game is a nice little bit of attention to detail.) Ultimately, Layton’s lack of replay appeal makes it a fairly disposable title, but one worth experiencing nevertheless.