Innovation is an interesting topic in the video game industry. We often hear complaints about publishers relying too heavily on sequels that don’t introduce enough new ideas to tried-and-true formulas. On the other hand, some truly new and innovative ideas go largely unnoticed by consumers. Perhaps, then, the success of recent titles like Puzzle Quest and Patapon suggest a new direction for developers. Rather than take risks with unproven design philosophies, it may be best to take successful ideas from different genres and blend them together to create new yet familiar experiences. Professor Layton and the Curious Village does just that. Borrowing the best aspects of adventure and puzzle games, Level 5 creates an experience that is both familiar and refreshing.
As the story begins, Professor Layton and his young apprentice, Luke, are called to the village of St. Mystere to investigate a mysterious will. It seems that Lady Dahlia requires your assistance to recover the Golden Apple, an heirloom that will dictate how her late husband’s fortune will be divided. To find the treasure and solve the mystery of St. Mystere, you’ll explore the streets of the village, talk with the inhabitants, and collect clues. In this way, Curious Village resembles traditional point-and-click adventure games as you use your stylus to move, talk, and search for clues.
Along the way, you’ll find that the villagers are hesitant to cooperate with your investigation unless you first help them solve a riddle. Solving these riddles takes up the majority of your time in St. Mystere, and for good reason. They’re quite difficult. Puzzles range in theme from simple word play and mathematics to involved logic puzzles and obtuse brainteasers. If you get stuck on one problem, you can always come back to it later armed with up to three hint coins that you find hidden throughout the village. There are a limited number of these coins available, but you should always have enough to get you through the most difficult puzzles. You’re also given an unlimited amount of time to solve the brainteasers, as many of them involve computations or scenarios that must be worked out with your stylus on the screen.
Playing through the adventure will take most people about 15 hours, but there is plenty to do once you’ve completed the story. The game has well over 120 puzzles, and you only need to complete two thirds of them to finish the game. You’ll want to explore the village to find hidden puzzles and collect objects to unlock more challenging brainteasers. Nintendo is also offering free, weekly puzzles for download via the Nintendo WiFi Connection, so you’ll certainly get your money’s worth for purchasing the game.
Speaking of value, you’ll notice a consistently high production level throughout Professor Layton. The game’s charming visuals are conveyed through impressive FMV sequences or artful still shots reminiscent of childhood storybook classics. Voice acting, a rare treat for a Nintendo title, is of similarly high quality. Unfortunately, most of the time you’ll find yourself playing with the audio turned down because the music can easily become repetitive and grating.
If you enjoy adventure games for their story or puzzle games for their imaginative brainteasers, Professor Layton and the Curious Village is easy to recommend. As long as you can handle the occasional obtuse riddle, Level 5 has created a great addition to your portable library that’s easy to pick up and play for a few minutes or long stretches of time. They’ve also proven that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel to create a unique game experience.