A gamer and writer at heart who wants to combine his hobbies into one. I am 25 years old and I'm from the Netherlands. Having played many games over the years, I wanted to express my love for them, however obscure they may be!
This is the first game in the Professor Layton franchise, and conveniently also my own first experience with this series of games. Therefore, this review will be exclusively focussed on this game alone with no knowledge about how future games improve (or not). I do really enjoy puzzles, but I am by no means a genius who solves them all with ease. That said, I have finished every puzzle available in the game before I started writing this review. This obviously does not involve the online puzzles, since (official) online support on the Nintendo DS is dead.
I believe this is my first attempt at a Puzzle game review! The Puzzle genre is definitely one I enjoy, but also one that I rarely talk about since a lot of them are just that: puzzles. I could definitely write a review about a Sudoku game, but I could also sum it up in ”yeah it’s Sudoku alright” and go back to my well-deserved sleep. Fortunately, not all games are born equal as seen with the Professor Layton series, which specializes in a wide variety of puzzles while also having an engaging story to boot. I’ve only just experienced the franchise for the first time a few weeks ago–mostly because I never really came across the game when shopping. But I did hear good stories about them so when I saw my chance to get them, I went in and here we are! Join me today as I review Professor Layton and the Curious Village!
Professor Layton and the Curious Village was developed by Level-5, with the president of the company, Akihiro Hino, serving as the producer. This game’s existence is also a direct result of Hino’s love for puzzles, in particular the Japanese Head Gymnastics series of puzzle books. Many of the puzzles were taken from these books and for good reason, as the supervising director of the game is also the author of these books! Professor Akira Tago from the Chiba University implemented many of his puzzles into the game, as well as 30 brand new ones, and made them all work with the Nintendo DS’ touch screen in mind. Furthermore, there’s also a French inspiration for the game, seen in both the setting but also the original soundtrack by Tomohito Nishiura. The latter unfortunately wasn’t very popular and was the main criticism of reviewers at the time of an otherwise very well-received title, receiving many awards and even an HD port to mobile. For your daily dose of trivia: Over here in Europe, Professor Layton and the Curious Village was marketed as a puzzle compilation similar to the Brain Age games, even though Hino objected since he felt it’s far more than just that. Funnily enough however, this marketing actually worked in their favour as the European sales of the game far exceeded that of any other region. It’s also one of only three games in the franchise to share the same name across all regions! That saves me a lot of trouble… for now.
The game starts with a beautiful hand-drawn art style, alternating between animated cutscenes and stale images where the characters talk to each other. I really love this art style, as it keeps up very well and remains consistent for the entire game. Not only that, but this is yet another good example of an art style that you can immediately connect to one game- or franchise in particular.
After a short conversation, you’re thrown into the first puzzle. The top screen gives you the summary of what you’re supposed to do, while you solve the actual puzzle on the bottom screen. There is a small gripe I have with the bottom screen though, being that you can’t always make notes. Some puzzles allow you to use the bottom screen in any way you want, but others are just stale images where you can only press a button for example. Most of the fun I personally have in solving puzzles–such as the ones Layton will provide me with–lie in working them out completely before coming to an answer, just to discover I was being dumb and getting them wrong. This gripe doesn’t always apply, but some sort of notepad or overlay would have been something I could have benefited from.
Upon entering the curious village, you’re taught how to move around. Everything you do in the game requires your stylus, and most of the gameplay outside of puzzles is similar to a Point & Click adventure. Clicking on the first person in sight immediately learns you that you should also click everything on the map that looks interesting or out-of-place for a hint coin or a new puzzle, which translates to literally clicking every single pixel on the map for me. Don’t pretend like you’re not doing that!
Before you reach your destination, you’ll come across a few characters who have something to say–which most of the times end in a puzzle. I am not sure if the developers had the intention when creating this game, but some of the ways you’re given puzzles made me laugh out loud real bad. The villagers are obsessed with puzzles, and will stop at nothing to shove them down your throat. Someone is painting his house? Layton knows a puzzle that involves someone painting his house. There’s a murder? That’s really sad and all, but do you know about this puzzle that involves a murder case? I didn’t make that last one up by the way; you literally get a puzzle on a murder scene, and I love how they just don’t care about the atmosphere.
There are a total of 120 puzzles, some mandatory but most completely optional. This is a good incentive because some puzzles are definitely harder than others, indicated by the Picarats system. The more Picarats you can earn from a puzzle, the tougher it is. You lose some Picarats after every wrong answer up till three, but that’s not something you should sweat about because they’re honestly kinda pointless. A woman at the start of the game mentions that you get nice bonuses for collecting as many as possible, but I’m fairly certain you get every bonus in the game just by solving every puzzle.
You lose some Picarats after every wrong answer up till three, but that’s not something you should sweat about because they’re honestly kinda pointless.
I should probably also mention that it’s a good idea to mainly focus on what puzzles you can- and want to do. I did the opposite because of my obsessive completionist mindset. I often got stuck on a difficult puzzle and had a desire to solve it before moving on, which ruined the pace of the story for me because I took too long with them. There are no missables in this game at all, and puzzles that you miss out on in a chapter just become available in a specific area where they’re all gathered up. So don’t be like Nepiki and just play the way you want to. That advice is of course always relevant, but I definitely learned my lesson here.
Overall, I’d say the quality of the puzzles is, for the most part, good. I enjoyed doing most, but there were some real stinkers in there as well. Not because they were necessarily difficult, but because there were quite a lot of trick questions where the answer is already given to you but in a cryptic way. This frustrated me at first, but afterwards I just accepted it being a thing. Whenever a question has a lot of math and high digits, you can immediately expect the answer to be very simple; the answers to these questions often lay in the questions themselves. It’s subjective, but I was occasionally annoyed at them. My favourite puzzles were probably the ones that let you experiment a lot before giving a final answer, or that lets you create a pattern. For example, using three measurement cups to have an equal amount in two of them, or separate areas of an image with given restrictions.
Whenever a question has a lot of math and high digits, you can immediately expect the answer to be very simple; the answers to these questions often lay in the questions themselves.
In case a puzzle is too difficult, there are hint coins to ahem help you out. These are rewarded by clicking everywhere on the map like a maniac until you find something, and every puzzle has a total of three hints. This is fine and all but boy, I noticed that some hints on puzzles that I used them on felt completely worthless, at least the first and possibly even the second hint. It felt like such a waste of hint coins… even though I had more than enough after finishing the game. Sometimes the explanation of the solution that’s shown to you after finishing the puzzle made me even more confused. There’s this puzzle that I didn’t understand at all (the one-line puzzle) and the explanation was that it will be shown to you the next time you do a similar puzzle. Gee, thanks game! There was also this puzzle where you had to look for a monster in a picture which was apparently the moon, and I still have no idea why. I should stress that all of my complaints probably only influence a maximum of 10 to 20% of the puzzles, so this won’t happen too often; it just sucks when it does.
Given that I don’t really have much else to talk about regarding my likes- or dislikes, it’s probably a good time to wrap it up with the story of the game. The Layton games aren’t just popular for just their puzzles after all, and while I didn’t care for the story itself too much here, I genuinely enjoyed the setting and plot-twists. This village is full of mysteries with a cast of unique and distinct characters. My praises also go out to the character designer(s) in this regard, as they literally designed the characters around their single personalities. Due to this setting, it certainly is an engaging game in that regard that keeps you coming back for more. It didn’t engage me as much, but that’s probably because of my before-mentioned obsession with solving puzzles, therefore ruining the pace of the story. I definitely know how to approach future Layton games now though.
There is one character that I truly cannot stand however, but I have to delve into spoiler territory for that because it involves a prominent character of the not-so-nice variety. Of course, I’m talking about none other than Don Paolo, the main antagonist. I know he’s sort-of made to be hateable, but I don’t hate him for the reason they made him hateable. This man is the self-proclaimed ”archnemesis” of Layton, and apparently has a massive hate-boner for him. Do you or anyone else in the story of the first game know why? Nope. He discovered one of the main mysteries behind the curious village and wanted to keep this discovery for himself which is fine and all, nothing wrong here. But then the story takes a turn for the weird as he actively tries to murder Layton. This man has absolutely no reason to murder, but he just does it anyway. And he doesn’t particularly have any screws loose or something, which is the part which confuses me to begin with. Why is this person so unnecessarily evil? I know the best villains are evil because they have no motives to be evil, but that really does not apply here. Maybe the future games will go into this more?
With a beautiful hand-drawn art style and a unique setting, Professor Layton and the Curious Village has definitely intrigued me to try out more of this franchise in due time. The characters are vibrant and designed around their personalities, and their obsessive nature with handing out puzzles at the most awkward of times made me laugh more than it probably was intended to. I also felt the puzzles were good for the most part, but there were some real stinkers in there that I disliked due to them intentionally trying to trick you… which ruined every trick question that came afterwards due to me already expecting them. I will admit that I had less fun than I wanted to due to my completionist mindset, but I have learned my lesson and will apply this knowledge to future games for sure.
- Interesting setting and plot to make you feel you're playing more than just a puzzle game.
- Good puzzles for the most part.
- Unintentionally made me laugh all the time with how obsessed the characters are with puzzles.
- Decently high number of trick questions/the answer is in the question itself.
- Hints very rarely helped me.
Thank you for reading! This was definitely an interesting review to make for me. Putting the story aside for now, this is still more-or-less a review of the puzzles themselves, as it’s the main gameplay. I hope I was able to get my points across regarding the puzzles themselves, mainly the part of them trying to trick you which makes it obvious in questions that follow. I’m definitely looking forward to revisiting this franchise in due time, and this time without a completionist mindset for the main game.
For the next review, I’ll probably make another miniview? I am not sure yet on that one–the review is in progress, so we’ll see how it goes.
What is a game you didn’t like as much as you wanted to, with the reason being your approach to the game itself? For example, you were so obsessed with grinding for a weapon in an RPG which took many hours, which ruined the pace.
I have not beaten this game yet fortunately, and I will definitely start all over again doing everything but my original playthrough, but I ruined The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion for myself when I first played it. This game came out during a period where I was obsessed with achievement hunting, which resulted in me playing Oblivion with a guide to my side constantly. I feel like games such as Oblivion are meant to be played completely blind, as it basically throws you in a playground where you are free to do whatever you wish.