Professor Layton and the Curious Village. It's not exactly a title that quickens your pulse and compels you to grab the box while extracting crumpled cash from your front pocket. A down and dirty description might not change your mind either. Professor Layton is not that kind of game. It's a Japanese import that is a little off the beaten track; a puzzle game with a story. Unfortunately, the concept and its curious title might cause the causal DS crowd to overlook it. It would be their loss. This might be a quirky Japanese import, but even after only a few minutes you can quickly see that we're lucky a translated version reached our shores.
A puzzle game with a story? I know you're asking yourself what sort of story there could possibly be in a puzzle game. Set your fears aside. Layton is a different kind of puzzle game, having melded all its puzzles to a traditional adventure mode. Guiding you through the adventure (and subsequent puzzles) is the world famous archeologist, Professor Layton. Layton is well known for being a complete wiz at all things puzzling and mysterious. Therefore it is easy to see that there is no better person to solve the riddle of the last will and testament of Baron Augustus Reinhold and his connection to the odd village of St. Mystere. Accompanying Professor Layton in the search for the Baron's fortune is his trusty assistant/sidekick, Luke. Together, they take on the task of locating the Golden Apple, the key to securing the Baron's riches. All that sits in their way is over 100 puzzles of varying difficulty.
This might be a quirky Japanese import, but even after only a few minutes you can quickly see that we're lucky a translated version reached our shores.
As you explore the village in search of answers, you will come across a wide variety of wacky characters. They almost always have a puzzle for you to solve, and when you bump into them again, they will likely have another. You'd think they'd have something better to do with their time, but the people of St. Mystere love their puzzles and they will constantly challenge you with them. There are a wide variety of puzzles with roots in logic, reasoning, math and even the occasional visual riddle. Failure will lead to another attempt, while solving the puzzle may provide you with a key piece of information, or sometimes just a hearty pat on the back for your assistance.
Don't worry though, there are rewards to be had, regardless of the willingness of the villagers to help you out. Each puzzle is worth a set amount of picarats. They won't provide you with an immediate benefit, but they can be collected to unlock additional game content. Of course, reaching an incorrect answer will decrease the amount of picarats that solving the puzzle will yield. However, there is a cutoff, so that eventually coming up with the correct answer will score you a majority of the loot. It's nice to know that after a few wrong answers you can guess ‘til your heart's content.
Overall, the puzzles are fantastic and my only real complaint is that some of the explanations of what is required to solve the puzzle are sometimes a bit confusing. There were a few puzzles that I couldn't properly solve without hints because I didn't quite understand what they were asking me. Similarly, there are times when the hints are completely useless. Often a beacon in a dark cloud of a tough puzzle, sometimes they shed no light on the situation. Good thing you don't have to solve all the puzzles to beat the game, or it could have turned a pleasant experience into a frustrating affair.
The game features a real story though, aside from all the puzzling. From the outset of the Golden Apple mystery, other mysteries quickly pop up and multiply. By the end, there will be plenty of oddities and mysteries that require answers. Some of this information is imparted to you via wonderfully rendered and animated cutscenes. Such cutscenes are rarely seen on the DS, and it's a function you almost forget the little machine can perform. Those cutscenes combined with the great voice acting really help prop up the story and make it endearing. When you finally hold all the answers to all the mysteries you may question the wackiness of it all, but it doesn't matter. The story is thoughtfully presented and works to give all those puzzles some overarching purpose.
There is still plenty to do after the book is closed on the Golden Apple mystery, as there is a bunch of unlockable content and bonus puzzles. The more puzzles you solve during the game, the more added bonuses you will have access to after its completion. During the main story, there are a couple of mini games that you can play to take a break from the action. Solving puzzles can net pieces of a mysterious painting to put together. You will also win access to some furnishings for your rooms at the inn. Finally, you will get yourself some gizmos with which you can construct something. While these mini games aren't terrible deep, finishing them will unlock some bonus puzzles to solve.
All of this bonus content is in addition to the fact that there are new, downloadable puzzles. Brand new puzzles will be available once a week and can be downloaded via Nintendo's Wi-Fi Connection. It's nice to see such support for the title, and I can absolutely see myself coming back to this game on weekly basis to take a look at the new puzzles. But what excites me even more are hints that the sequel may already be in the process of making its may Stateside. A particular piece of bonus content states it requires a password that will available in manual of the sequel. I can't tell you how happy I was to see that Nintendo is already committing themselves to the bringing the sequel to the US. Puzzle fans everywhere should rejoice. Mysteries are a lot easier to solve when they're in your native tongue.