In this new era where the once-dreaded “edutainment” titles are achieving dominance thanks largely to Nintendo’s unexpected triumph, it’s genuinely nice to discover that Professor Layton and the Curious Village succeeds where many other brain-teasing titles have not; it actually feels like a good old-fashioned point and click adventure albeit with added cerebral girth.
Following the perpetually perturbed puzzle fetishist Professor Layton (think Jon Pertwee in a top hat) and his nubile young companion Luke, the story sees the two arrive in a strange suburb populated by an assortment of European stereotypes all with a regard for riddles. Layton must not only sate their undying enjoyment of enigmas but also solve a murder, locate the whereabouts of mysterious artefact The Golden Apple and uncover the secret behind the gurgling black tower which dominates the local skyline.
One of Layton’s chief achievements is its flawless presentation. Marrying Studio Ghibli with Belleville Rendezvous to achieve perpetual beauty, the village itself is racked with intricacies and subtle nuances which add to the game’s delightfully cosy feel. Furthermore, the character design is, by and large, exceptional; with distinct echoes of Tintin, the game teems with freakishly malformed – yet strangely adorable – yokels straight out of The Wicker Man’s nightmares. Layton even gets a cape-wearing moustachioed antagonist named “Don Paolo” to tackle, and if that’s not a game-maker I don’t know what is.
However, Layton’s main draw is, of course, its array of problematic posers, and they never fail to disappoint. Totalling in at around 120 and encompassing every kind of mental challenge your puny human brain can dream of, they are simply excellent and genuinely difficult at times. Even the game’s storyline is superb, channelling some surprisingly potent twists (albeit ones that the more genre-savvy players will guess within half an hour’s worth of play) and emotional moments. The fully-animated cut-scenes, meanwhile, which further the tale every now and then are terrific, accompanied by a wonderful Gallic soundtrack, with more accordions than you can shake a puzzle at.
Layton is a delightful romp of a game which will last you a significant length of time and never fails to raise a smile on your face (well, except when the block-pushing puzzles drive you to homicide, although they pale in comparison to the dismal horrors encountered in Sonic Unleashed). Here’s hoping the next two games – which see the conundrum-collecting pair tackle Pandora’s Box and travel through time – are translated immediately.
After all, I still have a whole bunch of puzzle synonyms to use up.